This article originally appeared as the Executive Director’s Message in the May/June 2021 issue of Archival Outlook.
Too much screen time and eye strain in the past year has led me to Audible and, at long last, to Angela Duckworth’s narration of her 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. A teacher, psychologist, neuroscientist, researcher, mother, and general overachiever, she explores the predictability of success—graduating from West Point (when one in five cadets drops out) or from a Chicago public high school (when 12% of students don’t), selling vacation time-shares (can’t imagine anything less rewarding), or winning the National Spelling Bee. Talent and luck help, of course. But, she concludes: “In sum, no matter the domain, the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking. Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance that made high achievers special. In a word, they had grit.”
What has struck me, in the context of both the past year and my time at SAA, is the number of high achievers in my life and work who have had that extraordinary combination. None has attained celebrity or wealth, but each has had success in making a significant difference in the lives and work of others.
My father, the son of very poor Jewish immigrants and a Class of ’41 USMA graduate whose proudest achievement (on top of becoming a pilot at all) was leading a C-54 squadron in the Berlin Airlift. My mother, who made a home 47 times as the partner of an Army/Air Corps trainee and Air Force officer—including in a converted chicken coop in Pampa, Texas, in the summer of 1943, with an infant in cloth diapers. And my beloved big sister, P.K., who raised an amazing family, who completed her college degree at the age of 54—summa cum laude while working full time—and whose ten-year battle with Parkinson’s disease ended on August 19, 2018. My real-life heroes had grit.
I’ve never been one to consider SAA leaders or staff my “family” (as in “one big happy family”); “community” is how I prefer to view our relationships. But I can say that ours has been a very special community, born of a commitment shared by some really smart people and nurtured by countless hours of determination and teamwork.
Each year for the past eighteen years, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the individuals who put themselves forward to serve as SAA President. Their motivations differed: some had a passion for the profession writ large, some hoped to advance a particular agenda. Each brought talent to the job, and some were luckier than others. Every single one of them was called on, once or several times, to work through a crisis or calamity or challenge or opportunity that required them to dig deep to see it through. I thank you for your grit, Peter Hirtle, Tim Ericson, Rand Jimerson, Richard Pearce-Moses, Elizabeth Adkins, Mark Greene (may his memory be a blessing), Frank Boles, Peter Gottlieb, Helen Tibbo, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall (may he rest in peace), Jackie Dooley, Danna Bell, Kathleen Roe, Dennis Meissner, Nance McGovern, Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Meredith Evans, and Rachel Vagts.
On the SAA Foundation side: Founding President Fynnette Eaton set the tone with her ferocious passion for creating the SAA Foundation, and Presidents Scott Cline and Margery Sly have polished this gem over time with great skill and perseverance.
The SAA staff, whom I can’t help but name at every opportunity, have shown an unrivaled determination to serve SAA’s members and the archives profession well. My thanks and admiration to current staff members Matt Black, Teresa Brinati, Abigail Christian, Peter Carlson, Felicia Owens, Akila Ruffin, Carlos Salgado, Rana Salzmann, Michael Santiago, and Lakesha Thaddis. To former staff members Taylor Camara, Solveig DeSutter, Lee Gonzalez, Tom Jurczak, Rene Mueller, Patti O’Hara, and Jeanette Spears. To our conference team members Stacey Ogren, Allison Perrelli, and Paul Henning. To Paula Ashley.
And just because I can: I thank Paul, my love, my partner, and the best and grittiest association executive I know, for his unwavering support.
The SAA membership is rich with high achievers. I hope that you will match your talent with the power of passion and perseverance. Be gritty. Be kind. Have your value-of-archives-and-archivists elevator speech ready. And please take good care.