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Special commission: UF College of Pharmacy dean send-off

Special commission: UF College of Pharmacy dean send-off

DeanJohnsonReceptionJuly2022__92I recently had the unexpected pleasure of being asked if I would consider writing and reading a poem to set the tone at a farewell celebration gala for Dr. Julie Johnson, longtime dean of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy. The request came out of the blue, and the concept of writing a poem with a focus on leadership, vision and legacy was one I had to step back to wrap my head around….not exactly my usual subject matter, which tends more to…well, grief, loss, desire, the normal poetic subject matter, right?  I immediately recognized this request as both an opportunity and a challenge. Kind of like writing to a prompt, which poets do all the time — but different because of the sensitivities of honoring someone with the written and the spoken word, and doing so in a reverent and appropriate way. This poem had to be authentic, come from the heart, and honor Julie specifically for her vision and many accomplishments while nodding to the broader context of history and a certain hopefulness for a future in which her own legacy will inspire others. No pressure, right?!

I received the request in early July, and the event itself, at the UF Harn Museum of Art, was July 15 — so there was not a much time to  make a decision. I took a day to think about it before committing as I absolutely did not want to take this on without being sure I could go into it with both confidence and humility (hoo boy, that wasn’t hard! I wasn’t sure I could come up with something on such short notice that was up to the task.) That night, I managed to write a first draft. As fate would have it, I’d been working on a new poem having to do with watching how the light changes at sunset where I live. I’d only written a few opening lines, so it was fresh in my mind.

I realized the poem I hoped to write could reference the sunsetting of a chapter of someone’s life as they move on to that next stage or chapter, whatever that is. Maybe I could change course, I thought: take the concept of my work-in-progress poem and modify it into a different shape…one that might fit the purpose of this event.

Long story longer, I shared the first draft with the event planner, who liked it but then provided a bit more information about how the scene would be set at this event and how the program was envisioned to unfold. With that additional insight, I made a few tweaks, including changing the title. I asked a poet friend, the wonderful Dr. Lisa Zimmerman, if she would mind giving it a preview read, which she graciously did, with very little notice.

The event unfolded magically! After an hour or so of mingling and music, the program commenced with me offering “the spoken word”: my poem, “The Light We Carry.” The remainder consisted of video and oral tributes to Dr. Johnson, who is stepping away from the deanship to take a  year’s sabbatical before rejoining the College of Pharmacy faculty. I wish her the best and will forever be grateful for this opportunity.

My poem, — Julie’s poem —  is below. I hope you enjoy it.

The Light We Carry

The sun takes its time, sinking.
Red bleeds to pink and into the lace-
patterned shadows below the tree line

as we conjure the hours that came before
and how we danced our way into the moment,
seized the day. Carpe diem! How our vision changed

with what we knew, and how we claimed
our witness. How we grew to stake a claim,
and pondered what it meant

to stand for good— to forge ahead, to brave
the elements of change, to right a ship, to chart
a stable course. How even as the sun rose

overhead, we took the heat
and leveraged it, and burned still brighter
on the heels of those who brought us here

through grace, happenstance, and perseverance.
Even as the hues of evening come
we dream a rainbow’s spectrum, set our eyes to sky,

where all the selves we could have been
and can still be, meet legacy to legacy
in this kaleidoscope of life, to rise and fall

like breath. Having passed the torch,
we rest. Before we flip a switch to let the light go
where it will, and wish the constellations well,

we toast the evening, flush with hope
for all that lies ahead.