One of the many end-of-semester things I had to do this past week was organizing and hosting an induction ceremony for the student honor society in our department. I agreed to become the faculty co-sponsor only because I really like the guy who asked me to do it with him -- he's a great older guy, very pleasant and wise. And it's really not that much extra work, if the students are on the ball. But the group had basically fallen apart last year, so there were no student officers to help plan the lunch and ceremony. So it was up to me and my colleague. I did all the clerical stuff (sending out invitation letters to 90 qualified students, dealing with the forms and fees for the 20 who replied, sending out letters inviting them to the lunch, etc etc) and made him deal with the caterers and flowers etc., which is the stuff that makes me more anxious. The clerical stuff is tedious but he certainly wouldn't have been organized or competent enough to do it. So it was a good division of labor. (Though, I should probably note that if he were sharing the job with another old guy, they would have found a secretary to do some of the work. But that's not how it works for younger faculty, who don't have privileges to request things from staff.)
I also agreed to be the co-sponsor because I think such a group has potential on a campus like ours, potential that isn't often realized. As an urban school with a mostly commuter student base, there aren't a lot of ways for students to get to know each other outside of class. And few opportunities for us as a department to recognize and honor our best students. Some years this honor society group doesn't really do anything; some years they have theatre outings or activities like literary readings -- things for literature nerds to do. And I feel like I have to support the nerds, you know?
The lunch & ceremony went off pretty well -- the students seemed to like it, the former faculty sponsors, who are always invited, said it was nice, and (perhaps best of all) I heard two of these colleagues in the women's bathroom later that day saying "that was nice" "yes, the lunch was nice" "yes, I liked the chicken" -- since I was in the stall unbeknownst to them, I guess it means they liked the lunch. I was a little worried that they'd say something less complimentary and then I'd either have to come out and face them or hide in the stall for a while.
But as I was up at the podium reading my part in the induction ceremony (it is a script from the national organization) I had one of those moments of looking down at the scene as if from a great distance, and I thought "what the heck am I doing up here?" Because not only was I never a member of a student club, I have never been a part of any organization that involves a ceremony for joining. Nor any organization that elects officers, except for the MLA. I'm all for community -- I've been part of various discussion groups and social gatherings and political things at various points in my life. But never in this sort of mainstream official sense. I was never in student government. I've never been a part of anything with the word "club" in the title. At heart, I'm suspicious of organized community, suspicious of any group that would make it easy for me to be a part of it. (As you can probably tell, I don't come from a church/temple background either.)
And yet, here I am, shaking these students' hands and encouraging them to become active participants in the organization. Very, very weird. I don't think it's quite "selling out," since I have nothing against student clubs in principle. But it doesn't feel quite like me, either. It's just part of my job. And, thankfully, one part of my job that is over until next year.