When Antoni Gaudí began work on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia cathedral in 1883, he did so knowing he would never see it completed. Indeed, construction continues to this day, and it isn’t expected to be finished until more than a decade from now. Yet that did not deter Gaudí, just as it does not deter the current generation of builders.
They are inspired to build this grand cathedral because they know they are part of something bigger than themselves and that the achievement will be worth their effort. They also remain focused on their ultimate goal, despite the disruptions and distractions that occur along the way. There is a connection between a project such as this and the work we do at our university.
There are some things we do that have immediate, visible results. We know whether a student mastered the coursework or whether an experiment succeeded. We can see when the flower beds have been planted and know when the scholarship offers have gone out.
But sometimes the results of our work are only evident after the passage of time. And other times we see only a fraction of the effect we have on the world. These are often the most important of all the efforts we undertake, for they are central to our mission as a flagship university.
We educate leaders, and while one of the joys of being an educator is hearing of the successes of former students, we also know we’ll hear about only some of the achievements of the students we’ve taught or helped. If we’re fortunate, we’ll hear of how our work in advising or financial aid enabled a student to become the first in his family to graduate from college, or how our mentorship of an aspiring leader guided her to success long after graduation.
We build healthy communities, and many of our faculty physicians do get to see the immediate results of their work. But even they may not know of all the birthdays and anniversaries celebrated as a result of their talents. Similarly, our artists will only meet a few of those they’ve inspired to draw or sing or perform, and those working as stewards of our planet do so for generations yet to come.
And we make discoveries that change the world, even when that change may take a lifetime to unfold. Or will happen invisibly in a mind enlightened by a piece of scholarship. Or take the form of an invention, the usefulness of which far outlives its inventor.
Some days, it might seem like we’re just moving stones from place to place. But that’s when we must remember the future, and remember we are in fact building a cathedral. What we do today will change the lives of countless people tomorrow, and serve as a testament to the talent and dedication of the faculty, staff and students of this university.