As a result of my developing relationship with Sister Elizabeth, I came to know Sister Janice Ryan, her close friend, confidant, and successor as President of Trinity College, as well as crusader against land mines and other global issues. The three of us stayed in touch throughout my career, until Elizabeth's death, and in Sister Janice's case, up to this day.
Sister Janice helped me see my way down one of the toughest paths I have ever had to follow: Deciding what to do when I left the Congress in 1991.
I first had determined that making yet another political comeback was not in the cards. If you bat .550 in baseball, you go to the Hall of Fame. But if you bat .550 in politics, you need to find another line of work!
I had also decided that, as much as I respected those occupations, I was simply not cut out to be in the insurance or real estate fields. There were opportunities in each that would keep me in Vermont, but I had concluded that education, helping people learn things that mattered, was where my heart and my passion lay.
Yet, the opportunities for me in Vermont higher education were, at best, limited. Because I was a recovering politician, some people were suspect of my long-term plans and, hence, reliability in a leading educational job. Furthermore, my ten year battle to found and institutionalize the Community College of Vermont had, as Sister Janice would confirm, earned me some long-term enemies.
An educational job opportunity had just eluded me and I found myself in Sister Janice's presidential office at Trinity, looking for advice.
She listened carefully as I laid out my situation, walking through the points I had analyzed, but still looking for direction. Then, very gently, she asked me whether I wanted to be president of one or two colleges that were new and in need of leadership. I answered, “No. I have done that already here. I need something more.” Sister Janice sighed and said, “Then you are going to have to leave Vermont. Maybe you will come back, maybe you will not. But the future you are seeking is not here right now.”
I sat in her office, tears in my eyes, as the truth of what she had said, sunk in. And at that moment, the second half of my professional and personal life began. A life away from the Vermont I loved. But also a life full of richness and challenge that has taken me across the country and around the world in my ongoing love affair with learning. And Sister Janice, my friend and mentor, was the one who showed the way.