(or, “Welcome Back” for those of you who don’t speak whale)

“First day of school! First Day of school!”
   – Nemo

“Finding Nemo” is one of my all-time favorite movies. I have such warm memories of watching this movie snuggled up with my son on the sofa, or as back seat riders in our red Honda Odyssey embarking on a long family road trip. I love this movie not only because watching it again and again when my son was little meant precious time shared together, but because of the wonderful lessons in love, friendship, self-confidence, risk, courage, growing up, and letting go this amazing underwater journey imparts as well.

My son turned 18 this year, and like many of you arriving on campus for the first time, he is starting his own journey as a freshman in college this fall (not at UW, because why would you go to school where your mother is the Chief of Police?!). Heading into this fall season, I can’t help but think of Nemo, his lucky fin, and his excitement about the adventures ahead. And as a parent, Marlin’s narrative resonates more profoundly for me now than ever before. And so with this iconic movie as the backdrop, my message of welcome this fall is to all the Nemos and Marlins. I’ll try to keep the metaphors to a minimum, but…

To all the Nemos: Welcome to this beautiful coral reef known as the UW-Madison! There’s a lot to see and a lot to learn in this part of the ocean. We have many Mr. Rays, including me and the entire UWPD, here to facilitate your sifting and winnowing. Though, I would more lichen myself (yup – I threw in a pun just for the krill of it) to the maternalistic starfish, Peach, positioned strategically on the side of the tank to keep an eye on everyone inside and outside the glass walls. The UWPD team will help you navigate the waters, working hard – 24/7 – to protect you from all the Darlas out there. I’m sure my partners in Housing would appreciate it if I took a moment to remind you that you are not the only fish in this ocean, so please be considerate, like Jacques, and keep your tank clean. It’s a big ocean and there’s a reason and a place for every living thing in it. This means we take care of each other, we respect and value our differences, and if we see something we say something.  This is an exciting time in your lives, but sometimes it can be scary and difficult so it’s ok if you “ink” every now and then. Help and support is all around you. Oh, and one more thing. Taking measured risks is often how we learn and grow. So challenge yourselves and each other. Go ahead and venture out to explore the drop-off. And when you’re not sure what to do next, just keep swimming.

To all the Marlins: It’s true – they grow up way too quickly. And oh my, this letting go is so much harder than we ever imagined it would be, right?! I’m with you. We’ve spent years doing our best to keep them safe, because we know all too well what dangers lurk out there, and it’s always been our job to protect them. So here they are now, full of excitement and wonder swimming far away from the reef. Ruminating at 4:00 a.m., we worry about things like whether or not she will remember to brush against the anemone three times for best results; or that his “lucky fin” is a vulnerability that bigger fish may exploit. We start thinking that maybe a gap year should be mandatory, and caution our young clownfish not to cave to pier pressure (yup – I threw in a pun for the parents too) and swim past the drop-off. As a mother facing all these same worries, I certainly identify with the Marlins. But as Chief of Police, I’m your Dory (though rest assured my short-term memory is not nearly as compromised). Like Dory, I’m here to support all of you, and remind you that Nemo is more resilient and resourceful than you know. As Dory aptly noted, if we never let anything happen to them, nothing will ever happen to them. And there it is. The moral of the story. But easier said than done, which is where the UWPD comes in.

To both the Nemos and the Marlins: For the porpoise (another pun – I can’t kelp myself) of this mega metaphoric movie missive, the UWPD is Crush, the hip but wise 150-year-old sea turtle. Like Crush, the UWPD has years of experience guiding young Nemos on their EAC journey. “Grab shell!” We’ve ridden this current many times, we understand the unique challenges and opportunities ahead, and yes, we even speak whale. Visible and engaged, the UWPD works closely with housing, student life, health services, and many others to educate, respond, and best serve all of you.

So come on in, the water’s fine. Let’s set a round trip course to P Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, and when we come to the dark trench together we’ll remember to swim through it, not over it.