Today is my birthday, and I am using the occasion to think and write – in a joyous way – about the passage of time. During the last year, I’ve found three momentos that have been long languishing in the closest and put them on display. So I’ll explain what they are and why I’ve taken them out.
First, my Phi Beta Kappa key, earned at Harvard College. The traditional practice of putting a Phi Beta Kappa key on a watch-fob always struck me as pretentious and anachronistic. Last fall, I took the key to a very creative jeweller, Michael daCosta at Fortunes Fine Jewellers in Toronto, and he attached it to a gold tear drop setting on a lapel pin. So I’ve started wearing it as a lapel pin and I also attached it to my academic robes at convocation last week. Phi Beta Kappa has never been established at Canadian universities, so people don’t know what the pin represents. So it’s a conversation starter.
Looking back at my stay at Harvard, I probably spent too much time studying, but I broadened my overall knowledge and deepened my understanding of political economy. In retrospect, I’m proud to wear this momento of the time and place I launched my academic career.
The second and third momentos are both pens. For years I’ve been using disposable pens and have let two beautiful ballpoints gather dust. One is a thin gold Cross pen, with my name engraved, given to me in recognition of my service as Chair of the Selection Committee for the Ontario Public Service Amethyst Awards. These awards are given to a small number of Ontario public servants for distinguished service and innovation. I was on the selection committee from 1994 to 1998, chairing it the last three years. The pen reminds me of my career-long interest in public service innovation and my commitment to studying and encouraging it.
The other pen is a weightier cobalt blue Dunhill sidecar with silver trim and a stylized silver “d” encircled in ebony on the top. It was given to me by my colleagues in the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration as recognition for my service as President of that organization from 2003 to 2007. I served in that role for four years to energize and transform that organization. On my watch, we built an excellent website, developed a strong partnership with the Canada School of Public Service, and launched an accreditation process for our member schools. Building CAPPA was a labour of love, and has paid wonderful dividends as my successors have continued to move the organization forward with initiatives such as its annual conference and student awards. My involvement in CAPPA represents the importance to me of teaching and scholarship in my chosen field of public administration.
I still do a bit of writing in long-hand: taking notes at meetings, sketching out the main points for a presentation or article, and marking up text. In all these activities, using either of these lovely pens reminds me of the bigger picture.
These are fitting momentos to enjoy on my birthday, or indeed on any other day. (Draft revised with the Cross pen.)