A Story About Dean M.L. Cissy Petty

The following essay is about Dean Cissy Petty, a lifelong Student Affairs officer. It’s written by a former student of hers and bears witness to the fact that, oftentimes, the least known among us are the most influential.

She’s done this numerous times before. It hasn’t changed in the past 15 years. But the reality today is this, I have never done it before, and I am nervous, very nervous. I know I don’t need to be, but for some reason I am.
Dean M.L. Cissy Petty
“Name? asks the young man behind the counter, who does not look much older than me.

“Danielle, Danielle Weaver”

“Danielle all right on your name tag?”

“Yes, that’d be great, thank you.”

He hands me the blue mesh bag filled with everything I need the next four days. I realize; this is it. This is the start of the rest of my life. I have chosen a career path. As I turn around, I realize she is there, the one who has always been there, she was there, standing behind me on campus, supporting me in my leadership roles for the first two years of my undergraduate career, she was there in spirit, standing behind me when my dad was deathly ill, and she was there, standing behind me, watching me in spirit as I was handed my diploma from St. Lawrence University in May of 2007 and now she was truly standing behind me as I registered for my first NASPA conference.

“How does it feel, you just registered for your first professional conference?” Dean Petty questions.

“Pretty cool,” I utter, for a lack of words.

We make our way into the opening speaker; a colleague of hers had saved two seats for us. I get lost in my thoughts as we are awaiting the opening speaker. I think about how surreal it is that my former Dean of Students stood behind me as I registered for my first professional conference. She knows that she is largely responsible for my choice to enter into the realm of student affairs. I do wonder if she knows how much she has really impacted my life.

Now that I am in graduate school pursuing my master’s degree, I get books that are ‘required reading’ for her, not for class. She wants me to be the best student affairs professional I can possibly be. Over the course of the next three days, I would be introduced to a variety of student affairs professionals who have been in the field longer than I have been alive. Dean Petty introduces me to her friends, both old and new in order to enlarge my network. She knows next year I have no set location in mind and I can go anywhere and do anything as a young professional. She just wants to see me succeed, and be happy both professionally and personally.

Even though I have not seen Dean Petty in three years prior to this conference, her presence was felt in my daily life. Her travels during her year-long sabbatical took her all over the United States and she finally landed at a southern university. I would get e-mails from Oregon, the mid-west and the east coast.

Her notes of inspiration, “Dean’s Dailies”, a daily e-mail which contained a quote, poem or just a positive thought always made me realize I am part of something bigger than I realize, and that at the end of the day it would be alright – whatever ‘it’ was. Even though it was a mass email, it’s a way for her to connect. Some days I felt as if ‘the daily’ was chosen just for me, other days, I realize the words were for one of the hundreds of other students whose lives she has impacted.

Even though Dean Petty is on the other side of the country, spreading her knowledge, passion, love and energy for Student Affairs, I know that anytime I need her, she is standing behind me, loving me, supporting me, challenging me, encouraging me, but perhaps most importantly, I know that she will always be my dean, and nothing will ever change that.

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