This is a picture of my uncle, Darrell Gautreau, and one of my cousins, Cameron Fabre. They’re Cajuns and they’re awesome!
It’s cool to be from Louisiana. Yes, we have nut-job politicians. Yes, we are at the top of many “bad” lists and the bottom of many “good” lists. The roads suck. The politicians are corrupt. The budget is busted.
BUT. The food is awesome. The music and arts are vibrant. And the people. Seriously, the best thing about my home is the people. I grew up around New Orleans, but my family is all from a smaller city to the west called Lafayette. Check it out. It’s where Cajuns are from. The people who end their names with an “x” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/-eaux). My mom was a Comeaux.
Last semester I learned one of my students is also from Lafayette. He was completing the LinkedIn exercise, saw I went to LSU and said he almost went there. In true Cajun form, it only took us about five seconds to realize we not only had common roots, but even knew some of the same people. The big world of UCF suddenly got a lot smaller. See, when Cajuns find each other outside of Louisiana, we form an instant bond. Feel free to make all the small-town-cousin jokes you want, it’s just like finding family in a place you didn’t expect.
One of the other cool things about Cajuns is that no matter where you’re from, if you move to Cajun country, you become Cajun. First you start to love the food. Then you start to talk like us. In a few years you start to act like us. You can two-step, eat boudin, and make a roux. You might even fry your own cracklins and buy a boat. And by the time you have kids they are full bore Cajun. Duck stamp, pirogue, and all! Sociologists call this process “acculturation.” We just call it welcoming you to the fold.
Why does it happen? Because Cajun culture is dense and ever present. You hear it in the speech, taste it in the food, and see it in the landscape. You can’t help but become Cajun because everyone around you is Cajun. What happens to the ones who can’t handle the change? Most of them move away. Dallas is full of dull or miserable transplants that couldn’t handle being that happy and full of life.
A few years ago we started a process to change the culture of the College of Business. We introduced the CBA Student Ambassadors, a team of students dedicated to engaging students and helping them adjust to life in our college. We added a series of career development classes to the curriculum and changed our advising office to an Office of Professional Development. We added the Integrated Business major to prepare students as generalists for small and medium sized businesses while the other majors became more technical and specialized. We added The ECHANGE, a place where business leaders, faculty, alumni, and students can exchange ideas and tell their stories. We added more contests and upped the odds in the big ones like the Joust and Great Capstone Case Competition. Where there used to be a very transactional culture, we started to build one of engagement, risk-taking, and collaboration.
At the end of last semester I had coffee with one of my students. Winston is unique. He’s a driven student with excellent leadership skills. He speaks with confidence and authority. He already has a career plan and I have no doubt he’ll accomplish it. He’s learned the value of networking and understands the payoff of his extracurricular activities. He’s everything I wasn’t as a student. But we do have something in common. Winston is also my Cajun.
No, his family didn’t get exiled from Canada like mine and make their way to the Vermillion Bayou in the 18th century. He’s a product of acculturation. His dad has Vietnamese roots and his mom has South African roots. They ended up in Lafayette and the community did the rest. As a result, Winston is Cajun. He fishes the Gulf, eats crawfish, and thinks Nick Saban is the Anti-Christ. He works hard, smiles a lot, and starts every conversation with a smile and a handshake.
This week we’ll hold “Welcome to the Majors” at the student Union. Students in GEB 3003 are required to attend. Why? Because that’s where College of Business acculturation begins. You can meet your faculty, meet your Career Coach, meet the Dean, meet me, and meet each other. You’ll learn what it takes to differentiate yourself in a sea of 8200 UCF business students and decide whether you want to do this. I hope you choose to stay, like the people who embrace my home. I hope you don’t decide to move to Dallas where things are so vanilla they can’t see your pouty-face.
Culture is a product of the people and the environment they create. Just like Winston is Cajun because of the people around him; our students will only become engaging, risk-taking, collaborators if those around them are. So, today I challenge my students. Go out and engage each other. Talk to someone you don’t know. Ask them why they’re here. Ask them what they like. Ask them what they want to do. Help them find their passion and let them help you find yours. Be open, be accepting, and be excited.
See you on Friday!