Faculty, Staff Members of the Year Honored in Surprise Drive-By Parades

Monday, May 4, 2020
Drive-by parade goer displaying a sign

Each April, students at Rockhurst University vote for the staff member and faculty member who have had an outsized impact that year on their campus and academic lives. As part of the Festival of Student Achievement, the Faculty of the Year and Staff Member of the Year are typically recognized before a full Arrupe Hall auditorium.

Because of COVID-19, this year’s winners won’t get that live round of applause (a virtual Festival of Student Achievement is currently being planned). But they did get some in-person appreciation last Friday (at a safe distance, of course).

Susan Janet, assistant to the vice president for student development and athletics, and Laura Forsberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, were treated to a drive-by parade to celebrate their accomplishments, courtesy the student development office and the English department, respectively, and caravans of their colleagues who happily honked and held signs of congratulations.

“We were actually sitting on our back patio, and three of our four kids and their families just happened to be there,” Janet said. “I heard honking but didn’t realize it was for me.”

She said she figured out what was going on after seeing Angie Carr Robinett, director of student life, plant a sign in her front yard followed shortly by a nearly-30-car caravan driving past her home.

“I was in shock,” she said. “I couldn’t believe all those staff members would come out of their way for me.”

Forsberg said she, too, was surprised and touched by the efforts by her colleagues, which in her case also included a visit from the Pinwheel Posse, a Kansas City-based group that aims to spread joy during the pandemic by surprising area residents with a yardful of colorful pinwheels.

“My husband was acting a little funny, but I had no idea what was going on until we returned to our house (after a walk) and saw the whole lawn covered in pinwheels with a congratulations sign,” she said. “Then the cars started coming by and honking. I am grateful to my colleagues for making this a moment of true joy. I will always treasure the memory of their smiling faces waving as they drove — and biked — by as my son raced through the pinwheels in the grass.”

Forsberg said she particularly enjoyed a sign that read “You are a Rockstar” featuring her face with a David Bowie-esque lightning bolt superimposed on it.

Both said they were thrilled at the honor and  humbled by the fact that it came from students.

“They are who we are there to serve,” Janet said.

And during a period of so much change and uncertainty, it was also a reminder of why serving those students continues to be so important.

“This semester, with all of the changes that came with the switch to remote learning, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ‘cura personalis’ and searching for ways to make students know that they are seen, heard, and cared for at a distance,” Forsberg said. “I hope this honor means that many of my students have experienced that."