Are You ‘All In?’
At the school where I work, August is usually our busiest month of the year. We are typically printing course materials for the fall semester and promotional items for upcoming events. We are preparing the campus with signage and producing business cards for new employees. We print recruiting materials for our admissions office, and we assist our alumni office as they prepare for homecoming week. Our package volumes skyrocket in the campus post office, and outgoing bulk mail surges.
This year things were a bit different, as you might imagine. Due to a confluence of changes that were set in motion a year ago, well before COVID-19, my in-plant has found itself struggling to process three times our normal workload with only a third of our staff, leaving me with serious questions about my career choice.
But I’ll get to that in a moment.
One project we typically print for Welcome Week — the week we welcome students and employees back to campus — is a brochure designed to help new students get oriented. The brochure includes a schedule of activities, a map, and a list of important resources. In recent years, these brochures have come to incorporate a theme, which can be seen and heard throughout the week. The theme is designed to tie everything together, and it helps to provide a vision for the semester.
A Theme With Two Meanings
This year at Messiah University, our fall 2020 semester was kicked off with the theme “Becoming U.” This theme had a double meaning. First, it was a reference to Messiah College becoming Messiah University. This change occurred on July 1, and our new, incoming students were the first, first-year class of Messiah University students.
The second meaning of the “Becoming U” theme revolved around our Messiah University mission statement. The theme was intended to communicate the idea that a four-year experience at Messiah would help to prepare students for a life of service and leadership.
In the fall of 2019, our Welcome Week theme took on more meaning as the year progressed — or fell apart, as the case may be. The theme became personal to me, and it was something that came to my mind often as work days became more stressful and uncertain.
The theme was “All in.”
That phrase, “all in,” began in America as something people would say when they were exhausted, worn out, or spent. In the game of poker, “all in” is a dramatic “win it all or lose it all” moment when a player wagers everything on one hand.
At Messiah, the theme “All in” was utilized to create a mood of enthusiasm and commitment around the fall semester and the academic experience. But that theme did not really hit home for me until about October. That’s when Messiah leadership began reminding budget managers that the financial outlook for small, private colleges in the northeast was not very promising.
Without a large endowment to draw from for operational costs, we were all dependent upon enrollment numbers. A population trend of diminishing high school graduates meant we would be competing for a smaller piece of the enrollment pie. Fewer students meant less revenue; budgets would need to be adjusted accordingly. Every department on campus was reviewed in a process we called “prioritization.”
In my department, Press and Postal Services, we developed a plan which, sadly, led us to cut a position. We would be losing one of our beloved, valuable employees due to revenue shortages.
At the same time, Human Resources was seeking a way to entice long-term employees to retire early. The plan became known across campus as the “Voluntary Separation Program” or VSP. When the VSP offer was advertised, I was just finishing up my prioritization plan, and I was not feeling very good about the future of the school or my department. It was a low point in my career, and I began to seriously consider taking the VSP offer and finding work elsewhere.
As I weighed my options, the fall Welcome Week theme popped into my mind: All in. For me, it wasn’t as much of a statement as it was a question: Was I “all in” here at Messiah? Was I “all in” even as a printer anymore?
I found myself approaching my fourth decade in this profession and closing out my 16th year in my current position. I could truly relate to the origin of the phrase “All in” — I was exhausted, worn out, and spent.
I felt as though I was at a crossroads. If I was going to continue on at Messiah, the only way I could make it work would be if I determined I was in fact all in. Prioritization processes would become common, raises would be few and far between, and there was still that pending conversation I needed to have with the employee whose position was being eliminated.
If this was going to work for me, I needed to be all in.
I ruminated on these words from writer Ian Crouch, “Going all in is often a spectacularly bad idea.”
As I made my way through the 2019 holiday season, I updated my resume and began exploring other job opportunities. I was even offered two positions that “weren’t open yet” but I was told they would be opening in the spring.
I think it was the process of reviewing my resume that led me to making the decision I made. Seeing 38 years of work outlined on a piece of paper helped me realize I didn’t need to make a decision to be all in. I was already all in. This is what I was meant to do. And looking at my work at Messiah and my opportunities with IPMA, I realized I not only like what I do, I like who I get to do it with.
Of course there was a lot more than that going on in my head, but in the end, I rolled up my sleeves and pushed through. I was pretty sure I was all in. And that is when fate started testing my level of commitment. Little did I know how “all in” I was going to have to be.
The first sign of difficulty was that darned Voluntary Separation Program — VSP. Four of my employees decided to take the offer and leave.
Then the pandemic hit.
Employees were furloughed, budget plans were thrown out the window, and my department was devastated.
Now, keep in mind what I mentioned earlier: this was all occurring at the exact same time our college was transitioning to a university. We had hundreds of stationery and business card orders to process, summer and fall course materials to prepare, and now thousands of pandemic signs to produce. We were facing the need to accommodate three times our normal work load with only a third of our staff.
It was clear that each of us still working would need to fulfill our own job duties as well as the job duties of those no longer working. Every employee would need to be trained and available to work in every position.
I was reminded of Major League Baseball star Bert Campaneris who, on September 8, 1965, became the first player in league history to play every defensive position in a single game. He played catcher and every position in the outfield and the infield. He even pitched — ambidextrously, mind you.
And Bert Campaneris’ salary that season? It was only $12,500.
Whenever I watch a baseball game, I think of Bert Campaneris. And from now on, whenever I think of Bert Campaneris, I will think about the summer of 2020, and what it was like at Messiah University for me and the remaining, hardworking, committed employees in my department.
We took orders, we did graphic design, and we ran production equipment. We performed bindery operations and made deliveries. We processed incoming and outgoing mail. We managed budgets and did invoicing. We did janitorial work and building maintenance. We skipped breaks and lunches, and utilized our personal vehicles for deliveries. We even found enough time to work out our own departmental pandemic reopening plan.
We played every position on the team, and by the time our school had settled into the third week of fall semester safely, we were exhausted, worn out, and spent.
I could not be more proud of my employees, and of the other employees on campus who persevered with us. I am thankful for our dining team, our safety officers, and everyone who pitched in wherever they were needed. I am thankful for our local postal workers who helped us keep our mail moving. I am grateful to our vendors who kept us supplied with the items we needed and did so, I am certain, under equally challenging circumstances. I am also appreciative of the service providers who helped us keep our equipment running and our campus community members who frequently checked in on us, offering us words of support and encouragement.
Lastly, I am indebted to the deeply committed in-plant community, which is only made possible because of magazines like this one, and because of the people who make up our support organizations such as IPMA and ACUP.
If we can say nothing else when this pandemic is over, I trust we can all say this: We were all in.
Related story: Charting a Course Around Copier Lease Agreements
Dwayne Magee is now in his 15th year as director of Messiah College Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys (age 24 and 20) and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu