Support for Your Journey: Advice for New and Continuing Students from a Veteran of Georgetown

The pilgrimage is a popular image in the spirituality of the Jesuits. It comes from the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, who thought of himself as a pilgrim always on the road. There is an innate freedom in being a pilgrim and the thing about journeys is that they begin someplace but never really end. This is one way we might think about the shared project, as students, staff, faculty, alumni, of a Georgetown education. 

As we enter into the fall semester, Mission in Motion pauses this week to recognize the beginning of something new. This week we asked Michael Canter, SCS Senior Associate Dean for Students and Academic Operations and long-time member of the Georgetown community, for his advice to new and continuing students beginning their own educational journeys this fall.

One potentially helpful way of fully entering into a new semester is by imagining oneself on a continuous journey or pilgrimage. Where are you headed in your educational goals and how do you want to get there?

1. You’ve spent a considerable part of your life in the Georgetown community, both as a student and as a staff member. What can you say about Georgetown to a new student experiencing the university for the first time? 

Oftentimes, I hear from students that they feel intimidated to be here or can’t believe that they are attending Georgetown. Some wonder whether they can handle the experience. They are always surprised when I share that as both a student and a staff member there have been times when I’ve felt the same way. Why am I here? What do I bring? 

I’m a first generation college student. Education wasn’t a major push in my family. Most barely graduated middle or high school. Many spent time incarcerated. A few suffered from substance abuse issues.  I share these facts not in any judgment of my family but to provide that my upbringing was challenging in parts. And all of these parts made me who I am today. I brought all of this with me when I entered the gates at 37th & O Streets N.W. many years ago and I bring this with me every day to my current position. I’m better for it. And Georgetown is too. 

We don’t arrive at Georgetown with clean slates. We bring a life that has been lived. Experiences. Perspectives. Students bring all of that power with them. They have the ability  to shape and define what it means to be a member of this community. The landscape should be evolving. Ever changing. We need their voices. We need their stories. But most of all we need their honesty. All of this is what makes Georgetown a fantastic place to grow and explore. I invite all students to bring their full selves to this experience and to our community. They’ll be better for it. And so will we. 

In this week’s Mission in Motion, Michael Canter, SCS Senior Associate Dean for Students and Academic Operations, offers some wisdom for new and continuing students as the fall semester at Georgetown gets underway. 

2. Can you share more about your role at SCS and how you and your team support student experience at the school? 

Currently, I’m the Senior Associate Dean of Students and Academic Operations where I oversee the department that manages the student experience and administrative functions for all the degree seeking programs at SCS. Our team covers new student onboarding, advising, course scheduling, faculty contracting, student events, student communications, and many other fun administrative projects that help the degree programs function. Our team works side-by-side with our awesome Faculty Directors who oversee the curriculum for our academic programs and manage their specific faculty communities. 

From a team perspective, I count myself pretty lucky. The team is filled with diverse, talented and driven individuals who bring a tremendous amount of passion and creativity to their work. They truly enjoy the connection with students and the ability to work with cross functional teams across the school to create new opportunities for our community. We are a team that constantly wants to improve and so thrives upon feedback from our students. Feedback can be a loaded term but I truly mean it. 

I say this to share with students that we welcome all feedback. We genuinely enjoy meeting with students to hear their ideas, good experiences, or possibly areas where we didn’t quite meet their expectations. All of the above are the reasons why we do the work that we do. We want your time with us to be transformative and fulfilling so don’t hesitate to reach out to us. 

3. Of all of the values in the Spirit of Georgetown, which one resonates the most with you and why? How have you brought this value into your work at Georgetown? 

I always want to say, “Cura Personalis.” I feel like that is more a fan favorite.  But I prefer to give some love to another key value “Educating the Whole Person.”  I find a substantial amount of fulfillment in creating opportunities for individuals to grow both personally and professionally. It is what first drew me to returning to Georgetown in the first place. As a student, I felt the power of the staff and faculty. It was almost overwhelming at first because I didn’t know or understand how to accept that kind of commitment to my success. Yet, these teams pushed me towards new heights and helped me to uncover areas of my life that I hadn’t yet fully realized. They created and offered opportunities to me that I could not have produced on my own.

Dr. O’Connor, Dr. Glavin, Dr. Hirsch, Dr. Ortiz, and Dean Chiarolanzio were major influences on my collegial journey. I was never the best student but they treated me as such. The lessons that they shared with me are lessons that have inspired some of the most creative endeavors of my life. I joined the US Marine Corps. Completed further degrees. And even started writing music. 

I show up to work each day hoping to have that kind of influence on my team, colleagues, but most especially our students. I’m no saint. My execution is sometimes flawed. I can have an “off” day or two or ten. But my greatest joy in life is seeing others succeed. For me, that is part of the magic of what we do here. If I can help one person, I’m a success.

4. What advice do you have for students as they proceed into the fall semester? 

Work each day to block out the negativity that abounds when you are attempting to succeed at something new. People love to hate on things that they might not be able to understand. Cancel out the noise. Forget what that member of your circle said about who you are and what they believe you should do. Forget them. Leave it at the door. You deserve to be here. You deserve to have this experience. And you deserve to have the opportunity to evolve. Do it! 

Communicate with your team at SCS. I’m talking about your program support, your faculty directors, your faculty members, your classmates, your resource center representatives, your amazing operations and security team (when we are back in the building)…

Did you notice what I did there? Your team is pretty large and all here to help YOU. Use them! 

5. Anything else to share? 

Of course! You’ve made it this far so the least I can do is leave you with few recommendations for non-school activities:

Books on my desk this week:

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (A book Mr. Kralovec recommended to me.)

The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison (I keep referring back to many essays in this book. I share her Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address and The Individual Artists as highlights.) 

Music in my ears this week:

Silences by Adia Victoria

The Balladeer by Lori McKenna

Janet. by Janet Jackson 

In A Dream by Troye Sivan

In Search of Lost Time by Protoje

And finally a joke:

Q: Why do magicians do so well in school?

A: Because they’re good at trick questions!