After 30 years as the head of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, our beloved Director, Linda Venis, is retiring. While we are, of course, happy for Linda to enter this new phase of her life, the truth is that we hoped this day would never come.
Linda took over the reins of the Writers’ Program in 1985 and the Department of the Arts in 1992, and has since grown both programs into the largest of their kind throughout the world. And she did it all while simultaneously earning the love, respect, and deep admiration of her loyal staff and instructors.
The Writers’ Program will forever be synonymous with Linda Venis, a generous, gifted, and dedicated leader who leaves behind a vast legacy of innovative programs, events, publications, scholarships, and competitions. Linda’s creative spirit and unwavering commitment to aspiring writers throughout the world has helped Writers’ Program students amass thousands of publishing and producing credits over the years, as well as numerous prestigious awards.
Below is Linda’s heartfelt tribute to her cherished staff and to the students and instructors of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.
My Final Bow
My lifelong love affair with UCLA enters a new phase on June 29, 2016 when I transition from employee to retiree. From the moment I stepped foot onto the campus as an undergraduate, I discovered an Aladdin’s cave of glittering knowledge: pearls (and diamonds and emeralds!) of wisdom that taught me how to think and give expression to what I felt. I had experienced the transformative power of education, and I never looked back.
I was a fulltime lecturer in the UCLA Department of English in 1985 when the position of Head of the Writers’ Program opened up. In my letter of application I wrote, “I am genuinely eager to make the transition from a teacher who administrates to an administrator who also teaches.”
Reflecting on these words thirty years later, it’s clear to me that I knew a few things back then: that I loved teaching, writers, literature, high art and popular culture, and running things.
However, I could not have imagined how these interests and whatever skills I possessed would grow and find expression here. Second only to my family, nothing has given my life more shape and meaning than working at UCLA Extension in the Arts and the Writers’ Program.
I still marvel at how I managed to land in an institution whose values mapped so closely to my own: a passion for access to higher education; an admiration of excellent teaching; and a desire to be creative, relevant, and entrepreneurial. The fact that UCLA Extension offers very few barriers to entry, and that our goal is to guide students—no matter where they start—to achieve the outcomes they desire, to re-invent themselves, and to experience the joy of becoming—continues to move and inspire me.
I have been privileged to work with 100’s of Writers’ Program staff members and 1,000’s of writers/instructors to create courses, certificate programs, new delivery methods, publications, events, scholarships, and competitions designed to serve aspiring writers around the world. Our first question is always: How will what we intend to create benefit our students? How will it advance their skills and provide new ways to access writing education? How will it provide opportunities for professional growth and exposure?
With the quality and commitment of the Writers’ Program staff and instructors and the vision that new leadership will bring, I’m confident that a beautiful stew of new programs, projects, partnerships, ways of delivering content, and untapped avenues for growth and change is waiting to be cooked up and savored. And that thought makes me happy and proud.
As for me, I see the ability to retire, especially in good health, as a gift. I have started to internalize the poet Rilke’s observation that, “The future enters into us, in order to transform us, long before it happens,” and look forward to accepting the invitation life now offers me to enter into what Jungian psychologist James Hollis calls the “second adulthood.”
If I’ve had any luck at all in wrapping my mind and heart around this transition, it is because I’ve had, for me, an ideal career. One of the best parts of my job has been working with three generations of Writers’ Program staff, whose creativity, collegiality, sense of humor, and generosity of spirit have inspired me to try my best. So to the eight people with whom I work every day—Carla, Chae, Jeff, Katy, Phoebe, Nutschell, Ani, and especially Cindy–I dedicate this final article, and with gratitude and love to them as well as to Writers’ Program instructors and students everywhere, I take my final bow.