Progress is a Choice

by Beth Paul

students holding candles at Convocation

Following Convocation 2021, new students attended First Night, a candlelight ceremony to reflect on their role in living out the legacy of Nazareth’s founders on our campus and throughout our world.

Imagine living in a time like this: A pandemic has coursed through the world, interrupting and ravaging lives, communities, and economic stability. As the virus subsides, we emerge with wild abandon, pushing every social boundary and overriding long-held mores. Deep cultural conflict rages, fueled by major shifts in the demography of race, a widening gap between the haves and have-nots, and intergenerational traditionalist vs. modernist views. We are suspended in struggle, between old and new America.

That description of 1924, at the precipice of our College’s founding, could as much recount current times. The five visionary Sisters of St. Joseph, our founders, saw that the future needed Nazareth changemakers, to unleash the revolutionary potential of the times. The same is true today. When challenges and changes riddle society, in times of hard, swirling change — social progress is most possible.

Challenge and change are endemic to life. Progress is a choice. Nazareth College chooses progress as we educate students to choose and make progress for the common good – to be changemakers.

There are many parallels to inspire us as we look to our College’s future and celebrate the uniqueness of a Nazareth education. Our founders chose to make progress by going against the current — forming an uncommon college that would educate people who otherwise were restricted from quality education, and thereby restricted from being leaders of progress. That founding Nazareth vision stands strong as we continue to bring forward, through education, new leaders to innovate and advance social progress and social justice.

A Nazareth education is as unique, rigorous, and substantive as originally intended – an integration of liberal arts and sciences and experiential interrogation of the challenges of the times. Our students, inspired by the love of learning, free their minds of limitations; experience and address the complex lived realities of their neighbors; and learn to be innovative changemakers in the pursuit of social progress and social justice for all, following in the footsteps of the purpose-filled lives of the Nazareth graduates in whose steps they walk.

Being a Nazareth changemaker is to find one’s agency in the dynamism of life. It is all too common to feel that change happens to us and life is about rolling with the punches. Nazareth changemakers are awed, rather than daunted, by the vagaries of life.

Nazareth changemakers steep themselves in the lived realities of people and communities. Challenges fascinate them and ignite critical thinking, drawing from different perspectives and knowledge. In challenge and change, they see potential and possibility, and envision ways forward. They join together and take action, creating a bridge to progress.

As our founding changemakers showed us, being a Nazareth changemaker takes education, daring, ingenuity, ethics, collaboration, and grit. Through practice and collective momentum, changemaking becomes a way of life — defining, directing and distinguishing our life’s work.

The parallels between the 1920s and 2020s are striking and profound. I find myself thinking about the integrity, daring, and resilience of our founders, and I wonder what those Nazareth changemakers would do now to choose progress. Nazareth College is in our hands now. Together, let’s choose progress, and advance our founding mission of educating changemakers for the common good.

Beth Paul, Ph.D., is the president of Nazareth College.

Beth Paul posing for a photo with Robert Newell at Commencement

President Beth Paul with Robert Newell ‘20G (December 2020 graduate, inclusive adolescence) at the May 2021 Commencement. Trustee Justin Stevens ‘09 is at right.

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