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A day in the life of Father Graham

Junior Kevin Tighe shadows Father Graham for a day

By kevin Tighe
On February 7, 2012

So I know we've all asked the question: What would it be like to run this place, to be the one steering the wheel of Xavier University? My question is, when you think of running the show, do you sometimes shrug and say, "Eh, I could do it..."

So, being the curious, I-want answers- and-I-want-them-now kind of guy that I am, I e-mailed the main man himself to see if he'd let me be his shadow for a

day. To my surprise, Fr. Michael Graham, S.J., President of

Xavier University, said yes. We found Thursday, Jan. 26 to be the day that worked best for both of us. To be short, it was one exhaustingly long day. Allow me to outline it for you:

  • 8:30 a.m. – Walked to campus, coffee in hand, looking dapper and dreading the rain that was soaking my umbrella-less body. Already off to a great start.
  • 8:46 a.m. – I showed up a minute late to Fr. Graham's second floor Schmidt Hall office, soaked. His office's administrative secretary, Mrs. Jackie Vezina, greeted me with a half-smile. She was already hard at work, filing some papers. Mrs. Mary Lang, who I would soon realize to be Fr. Graham's go-to person, then entered from the left with a smile, took my coat and offered to freshen up my coffee. I sat down, nervous and overwhelmed by all the motion that already occupied Fr. Graham's large, well-furnished office.
  • 8:50 a.m. – Fr. Graham greeted me with a large smile and a strong handshake. "I have to admit, I'm excited for today," Fr.  Graham said as he sat in a handmade rocking chair at a glass table. "Please, put your stuff in the corner."
  • 8:52 a.m. – We discussed Fr. Graham's morning routine:
  • 5:10 a.m. alarm, hit the snooze butt on twice;
  • 5:30 a.m. get out of bed, make bed, pray and eat breakfast;
  • 6:30 a.m. respond to previous night's e-mail;
  • 7:00 a.m. go to gym, work on cardio and abs, then shower;
  • 8:30 a.m. get to office and begin day of work.
  • 9:00 a.m. – We waited in the hallway for a Life & Leadership divisional meeting with Dr. Scott Chadwick, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, and Dave Johnson, Interim associate Provost for Life & Leadership. We talked about lasagna.
  • 9:15 a.m. – I sat in the back of the Conaton Board Room as Fr. Graham gave what you could call a "State of the University" address to the division and fielded questions about the Crosstown Shootout and the Federal Investigation gracefully—and I mean gracefully.
  • 10:00 a.m. – We rushed out of the Conotan Board Room and back into his larger office, this time to the office of Dr. John Kucia, Administrative Vice President. We met with Mrs. Deb Del Valle and Doug Ruschman from University Communications to discuss a PowerPoint on the University that Fr. Graham would give to the Board of Trustees the following week.
  • 10:15 a.m. – Mrs. Lang intercepted Fr. Graham as we were walking to his office. They discussed three Board of Trustees issues while standing there. I couldn't understand how he reacted to those so quickly and determinedly with decisions.
  • 10:30 a.m. – We sat down in his office—Fr. Graham was at his computer behind a large wooden desk and I sat at a couch, roughly 10 feet away from one another. It was time for an "e-mail sweep" as Mrs. Lang brought in folders of work for Fr. Graham to get done for the day.
  • 11:00 a.m. – We ended the e-mail sweep—he read and responded to twenty-some e-mails; I responded to roughly ten. He won that one. We then went into a blocked off time for conversation. We discussed his day-to-day. His computer and a Blackberry phone allowed him to stay on top of e-mails. (For travel, he takes his iPad to do business and his Kindle Fire holds personal reading items). He yelled, "Mary!" to get the assistance of Mrs. Lang. I, then, asked him how he is able to do what he does everyday. Fr. Graham replied in an oddly causal voice for such an elegant response, "There's a kind of perpetual intensity that you have to operate."
  • 11:30 a.m. – We received a scheduled call from the Director of the Strive Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to improving every facet of education in our region and nation of which Fr. Graham is an executive board member. Fr. Graham explained he is on that board because, "as goes the region, so goes Xavier."
  • 12:30 p.m. – Lunch. We got Panera Bread Co., which was  part of the Life & Leadership divisional meeting. While eating in his office, we discussed how we're both left-handed. We joked that we are, therefore, more creative than the majority of righthanded individuals.
  • 1:00 p.m. – Fr. Graham had a meeting with Johnson. I had to step out because it was confidential. The office was still busy. 
  • 2:00 p.m. – Fr. Graham called me back into his office. He phoned a Board of Trustees member to discuss the next week's meeting agenda. The conversation was unexpectedly funny and light-hearted. 
  • 2:45 p.m. – We packed up, Fr. Graham changed into his whitecollar priest attire and we drove to the United Way Center in Fr. Graham's hybrid SUV. We talked about the city of Cincinnati and how Fr. Graham really wants to see it revive economically.
  • 3:00 p.m. – We entered the United Way Center for a CincinnatiUSA conference revolving around ways to revive Cincinnati and make it a more vibrant city. At the conference, Fr. Graham jovially greeted individuals from P&G, Macy's, Kroger, PNC and many more of Cincinnati's top businesses. Fr. Graham introduced me to the members at our table.
  • 5:35 p.m. – Fr. Graham dropped me off at Gallagher Student Center. He was headed to dinner with a friend, then off to Washington, D.C. for a Jesuit Universities Conference. I thanked him for the opportunity to shadow him for the day and apologized if my presence ever bothered him. He smiled, shook my hand and replied, "No, Kevin. Thank you."

Moral of the story: that dude is busy. There's a reason Fr. Graham is the president of our University and not some Joe

Shmo. The magnitude of the things he did in one day is more  than what Joe Shmo could accomplish in a week. However,

the thing is that Fr. Graham would be the first one to tell you  is that it's due to the support he receives from his office—credit which they fully deserve (I swear I heard him chirp, "Mary!" at least 10 times during the day). But, as he said, he definitely operates at a level of "perpetual intensity". So, what did I get from following around the president of Xavier University? All I can say is that a day in the life of Fr. Graham opened my eyes to what it takes to be the head honcho of Xavier and made me appreciate the work he does more than I had before. It definitely made me want to check myself whenever I claim I'm busy, that's for sure.

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