Breaking ground

This is not a lost picture of the ground-breaking for the new Science Center. Neither is it the start of a new landscape plan, tree planting, or irrigation project (although we have several of those going on). And, thankfully, the ground here is not being prepared by a band of merry grave diggers for the internment of the guy in the suit. No, this is a sacred rite of spring that is for me one of the University of Puget Sound’s defining moments: preparing for the annual Hui O Hawai'i Lu'au pig roast, which by tradition is performed in an “imu” (an underground oven) by the men of the tribe.

Why a defining moment? There are a lot of reasons. First, the picture tells a story about this university’s reach and its embrace. Several of the men of the tribe are from Hawai'i. One is from Montana. Another is from California, and a couple are from Washington. I’m from New Jersey. And we have all pitched in to celebrate the cultural heritage of Hawai'i and its rich contributions to our lives together. For this moment and throughout this weekend, for more than 35 years, we are all Pacific Islanders. Even the guy in the suit.

This picture also tells me something about the spirit of ingenuity and initiative that is a defining mark of our students. The tradition was originally organized and implemented by our Hawai'ian students who wanted to bring the sunshine of the islands to the showery sun breaks of spring in the Pacific Northwest. Every April they do, and they have always welcomed all of us in the celebration. The weekend is an impressive culinary and artistic achievement, culminating in the remarkable performances of traditional dances on Saturday night in the fieldhouse—a production still entirely planned, choreographed, and run by students. I am constantly amazed to see what our students are prepared to do on their own—successfully drawing in their families and friends and the rest of us—to make this place their own, to make their mark on the landscape of this campus, and to make a difference in their world.

I also see in this picture the faces of people who love this university and the extraordinary experience in living and learning that is offered here. Like the many faces of faculty and staff and students I see and greet on campus every day, these are people who have, quite literally, dug into the land and have themselves been marked by the influence and power of this place. The underground oven of the imu is what gives the Kalua pig its distinctive flavor: it cooks in the land beneath our feet, fired by the rocks under the earth, wrapped in the dampened leaves that grow on our trees. It takes on the character of the place that becomes inextricably blended with it. So do we all.

This annual ritual of digging up the South Quad teaches us something about ourselves and about the place in which we live. That lesson is what the Tapestry of Learning master plan is really about and what it seeks to foster. That is the ground we are preparing for the next generation of students to be transformed by a place that is like no other. We are in this together.

And by the way, I did finally take off my suit. But I didn’t lose my shirt.