Mary Ellen Woods | Thursday, April 14, 2022
One of the areas we explored in the Fellows Class of the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) Fellows is the concept of gratitude. Our discussion focused on gratitude as a way of life — being truly appreciative of the joys in life, both small and large. As my time in ILI and on-campus draws to a close, I must explore the many things for which I am grateful. This, therefore, is my thank you to you.
My interest in Notre Dame started as a young child. My godfather and cousin, Dan McGinnis was ND ’61. I adored Dan and aspired to be like him in many ways. So certainly, when asked, I said that I wanted to attend ND like Dan. Why not? Well, back in my youth, some well-meaning adult, told me emphatically that I could not. Women could not attend the college of my dreams. Legend has it that I announced that I would be among the first girls to attend Our Lady’s University. Notre Dame has played a central role in developing me as a person. I came here for my formative undergraduate education. I made life-long friends and I serve my alma mater as class secretary and in a leadership role with the Chicago Club’s Scholarship Foundation. I have also been fortunate to be admitted to the ILI program and have relished spending this academic year back on campus. For all these reasons and more, I thank Fr. Hesburgh for his leadership in bringing women to Our Lady’s University.
ND provided the educational foundation that has informed my career. First, when I studied at the Harris School at the University of Chicago and then as I assumed leadership roles in Information Technology and as a CIO. My career has been both challenging and rewarding — a good combination, no doubt.
I am grateful for whom I have become. I thank my close and extended family and friends. You sustain me. I may not say that as often as I should. Being grateful can be a way of living, but it is even more powerful when one stops for a moment to reflect and acknowledge those to whom we owe so much. I am very grateful for all the gifts that I have. I have been given much. May I make the best of those gifts. It is presumptuous not to recognize my good health. We have taken that for granted for far too long.
I am especially thankful at this moment for this past year. Returning to ND as an ILI Fellow has been wonderful. I have stretched my mind again and studied new things. I am joined by a cohort of new friends and their spouses. It is a rare treat to spend a year of learning and reflection. I still have work to do, but hope to make a new contribution by enabling talented young people to thrive in their college and university educations.
While on campus, I relished the arts in DPAC. Note to self — one cannot achieve balance in life without a focus on the arts. Voices raised in song are pure joy.
Beyond measure, however, writing these columns has been both a challenge and an inspiration. I did not write outside the classroom as a student and a corporate career only makes one accomplished at dashing off emails. So, I have found my voice in the 14 columns I have penned for The Observer this year. When I look back on the topics I have selected, I am pleased by the range I have explored and the responses I have received. I have considered anti-racism, mentorship, diversity and the class of 2025 and the responsibilities of saying goodbye to dear friends. My “MEWsings” have been a gift to me. I am conscious that they are not only a responsibility but also a call to action. How should I be a force for good? I can celebrate the arts, the act of writing and even my ILI experience, but in writing and reflecting, I know that my work is not finished. To be in this place and to learn with my fellow students, it is clear to me that there is more work to do. I am enlivened and inspired to develop my own talents and to invest them wisely. So, if my future is not clear, my challenge is. I must make full use of this time and learning to leave this world better tomorrow than it is today.
I would be remiss if I were not to express my deep thanks to my ILI Fellows and spouses and the tremendous staff and founders who have created an extraordinary experience. My experience was enhanced by the guidance provided by my academic advisor. And a big thank you to all the students, staff and faculty that make this such a special place.
Mary Ellen Woods is a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 1980. She has returned to campus as a Fellow in the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). As an undergraduate, she lived in Breen-Phillips and now lives off campus. Her columns appear every other Thursday. A longtime resident of Chicago, she can be reached at [email protected] or @MEWsmuses on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.