Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pursuing Excellence

by student blogger Leah

It’s after midnight and I’m sitting her alone in Farquharson Hall. Well, I’m not totally alone because there is a gentleman vacuuming about 40 feet away from me who is probably wondering what I’m doing here. Should I tell him that I’m harmless and mostly sane? Or is that like telling someone that you’re smart, and then they instantly believe that you aren’t because you felt the need to tell them. I’ll let him be.

I just left the library where the president of my college gave a State of the Institute address. He started talking at 9:15 p.m. and just finished right after midnight. I have never given a near three hour presentation in my life and I sort of hope that I never do. So first, kudos to him.

For several months, I’ve been wanting to express my thoughts about being a piece in the massive machine that I call the Culinary Institute of America to somebody on some sort of grand platform. I am too ambitious to believe that my words shouldn’t be shared on grand platforms, even if they shouldn’t be. I think this is the grandest platform I’ve ever been on, and I don’t take my opportunity to share words with the internet under the CIA logo lightly. Just when I wasn’t looking for those words, they came to me tonight while I sat before Dr. Ryan. Isn’t that how the world works out? Just when you stop looking, you find exactly what you wanted.

Photos, videos, graphs, and charts documented the plans for CIA’s future. Photos included our smiling students from the Singapore campus spending time in the gardens of our California campus, or a video of the opening ceremony for our new restaurant in San Antonio. Dr. Ryan discussed the positive effects of the new Academic Delivery System for the Associate’s degree students as he interpreted several graphs. Finally, he listened as students expressed concerns over expansion, meal plans, and rising tuition. There were very uplifting and exciting moments coupled with painful admission that things aren’t right here.

The danger with pursuing excellence is that when you make mistakes or encounter flaws, they seem far more damaging because you every single fiber in your being is pushing for success. For example, when there is a gap in meal times and a student is hungry, it feels like the end of the world because we’re at a culinary school and for this kind of money, being hungry is simply unacceptable. The administration will never argue that you should go hungry, and the fact that they filled the two back rows of the auditorium tonight is testament to that. They are on our side. So we must work with them to find a solution because there are issues.

I chose the word “piece” for my role and “machine” for the role of CIA because that is an accurate representation of the relationship between students and the institute. I couldn’t bring myself to make a food pun about being an ingredient in a recipe because I’m not feelin’ quite that corny (maybe another day), but it is the same relationship. Machines are made of pieces and the pieces are essential to the machine’s function. Furthermore, as a piece in the machine I have this craving to know that my function matters.

Some people don’t like being pieces, or a part of something bigger than themselves, because they want to be the main event. And for those who fall into that category, stay out of kitchens and stay off this campus because you won’t like either. The CIA and professional kitchens share a sense of community that means tempering the bitterness of mistakes with the sweetness of shared success.

I could never make anyone understand all the corners and textures of my experience with CIA because that would be like trying to make someone understand why I love my sisters. Chances are, the heart of our relationship lies in the little moments that we didn’t even consciously recognize as being bonding points. I fell in love with CIA over a perfect plate of scrambled eggs and home fries for breakfast, or the resolve I felt from not walking away from a terrible situation, or the routine handshake from my mentor, or the shared joke from my managerial accounting class. Those are the memories we have to make for ourselves, and the ones that I cherish so dearly.

It’s an address like this that validates my place in this institution and recognizes my desire to be privy to the big picture. This school does not exist without students and the administration knows that, so they want us to be participate in discerning solutions to the problems here.

The Culinary Institute of America is a massive machine and I’m only a small piece. It is not perfect here but I still want to be part of this place because I don’t want to be standing alone when I meet success.


  1. I often catch myself wishing that I had gone to more of those presentations when I was at school. Keep posting and I'll keep reading. Thanks you!

    1. I appreciate the support more than you know, it's great to know what readers like reading.