Levels of Joy

When Aretha Franklin performed the song, (You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman at the Kennedy Center Honors awards ceremony, the honoree, Carole King, said it “put her rungs higher on the levels of joy.”

I can relate.

Though I’m not able to carry a tune, I’ve been transported many times to a better place when I listen to an artist – especially Aretha – belt one out.

Sources of inspiration should never be taken lightly. They matter fundamentally to our being. Different than hero-worship, which is important but which enters one’s life as more of a direct response to an overt action; inspiration comes at us through the wind. We feel it, but can’t quite define it. It whispers to our intellect.

We have the privilege of working with people who live and work on college campuses. Responsible for helping them recruit new students and engage alumni and donors, we are charged with writing the stories of their brand in ways that will evoke an emotional response, and that will inspire people to take action. To do that, we look deeply into the institution’s soul for clues about how, over the years (sometimes the centuries), relationships were formed and intellects were shaped. And while there is a sameness about that process in general terms across all institutions, each school does bring its own distinctive quality to it. In defining that quality, we reveal the ways in which a community inspires each other. We reveal its brand.

So when the wizened retired professor who, with the aid of a cane, walks up to us and says our conversation with him and his faculty colleagues made him happy to still be part of the life of the campus, I know we’ve done well. When a student says that our brand recommendations describe exactly why she chose a school in the first place, I know our work is relevant.

A college campus is one of few places where choral groups are a beloved part of the day-to-day routine. When I hear the chorus sing, voices in unison that stir the soul, I step up to the next rung of joy. Building brand is its own form of music. Maybe I can sing, afterall.

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