CLMN | I saw a Rector


It was summertime and it was raining. I was too late for the gym and too early for my 9’o clock dinner. But I was perfectly on time for the upcoming thunderstorm and for my daily dose of sneezes in the saddle of my Sparta bike. The exact moment I was mad at myself for not checking - holy holy is Buienradar, Buienradar is the Law - I saw somebody in the distance, getting completely wet while coming out of the bike shed. Another idiot as me - I thought - and not Dutch, for sure.

A Dutchie would have known the exact moment for the thunderstorm to start, and how many hours:minutes:seconds it would have lasted. He would have calculated the time needed to reach home, and estimated back the right instant to leave the office without getting drenched like Gene Kelly clasping a lamppost in Singing in the Rain. 

But no. That man was Dutch, and I knew him! Tall, blonde-to-grey hair, oval glasses, blue pinstriped suit. It was him: the new Rector Magnificus, Frank Baaijens.

I couldn’t help but wonder. Same forecast, same late evening, but different country: what would have gone differently? I foresee the Italian scene already: one car and an unfortunate driver waiting for ages for the Magnificent Rector Magnificus to come out. With the Magnificent Magnificus appearing, epiphany of black umbrellas, in the attempt to protect his halo from blackout and his stigmata from losing pranotherapy powers.

Well, in the Netherlands, at TU/e, the Rector simply opens the shed with his badge, unlocks the (most probably) second hand bike, and cycles home under the rain. Nevertheless, he does it with that british charm of Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, and the agility of Jan Janssen winning in 5 years the Tour De France, the tour de l’Avenir, the Paris-Nice, the Bordeaux-Paris and the Vuelta a Espana.

Frank - my apologies Dear Rector for addressing you by your first name, but I feel a stronger empathy after the rain story above - is the type of Rector that at the opening of the academic year addresses his speech to his privileged audience: students. He encourages them to shine, to push boundaries, and cope with their own limitations. In other words, he invites them to practice excellence, because "excellence is not a given but hard work". In return he offers them high level teaching, services and - not sure whether he realizes it or not - he is himself a source of inspiration. Frank is the type of man you would get inspired from even by listening to him reading the instructions of the popcorn maker.

I leave my wish and my encouragement for all the new young faces I have seen around in these days to Frank’s and Aristotle words: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit".

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