“It still feels kind of unreal,” said Darla Ward quietly.
On an uneventful, rainy Friday afternoon at Northwestern University and for the first time in about three years, Medill’s Undergraduate Registrar was not in her office, working away at the computer or chatting with students about how to navigate Medill’s degree requirements and courses.
“I have an ongoing fatigue problem and I’ve been pushing it for a long time, so my doctor advised me to get more rest,” Ward said. “It is very hard working full time to do that.”
Ward’s position at Medill was “a very busy job,” as she put it, and although she has always enjoyed the job’s challenges, the “constant balancing of roles [and] tasks” eventually caught up with her.
“I finally came to the conclusion [that] I need to see if getting more rest helps,” she said. “It’s not anything serious.”
Ward, speaking in a content, lighthearted voice, chuckled about her newfound luxury of sleeping in on a weekday morning or spending an evening in slippers and pajamas if she wants to.
“It’s a big life change, but it’s nice to be off,” Ward said. “Not having that exhausted feeling all the time is nice, and I’ve only been off one week.”
Even in the short time Ward has been gone, students and faculty already feel the impact of her absence.
“I’m disappointed that she’s gone,” said Medill sophomore Christy Schmitz, who worked with Ward as a work-study student during her freshman year. “When I found out about it, when we got the e-mail over the [Medill] listserv, I kind of freaked out because it said ‘health related issues’ and I hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye to her or anything. It was a very abrupt departure for her.”
Medill senior Marissa Conrad agreed.
“It was really a shock,” she said. “I didn’t see it coming at all. We’re going to miss her.”
Ward said her only regret is that she will miss students, too, and doesn’t want them to be without resources while she is gone. She is still unsure if and when she will return to work at Medill, but she said if she does, she would be content to be rehired in a different position if necessary.
“It’s likely that they’re going to have to get someone to cover the job, and I understand that,” Ward said.
Regardless, Ward said she is grateful for her time at Northwestern and her chance to work with students on an individual basis.
“I like working with undergrads; I like that age group,” she said. “I like the feeling when someone [comes] in all stressed out, thinking, ‘How am I going to do all this?’ and then in a minute I could just sit down with them [and talk].
“I think of it like a big pile of leaves. It’s a big mess and you just rake it all into a neat pile. It’s a real feeling of accomplishment, which you can’t always get in a job. That was the best part.”
Ward’s students felt her compassion as well and said that her positive attitude made her an ideal mentor and friend.
“She always had the students in mind,” Schmitz said. “She always put students first. She’s just very helpful to everybody.”
Ward will be remembered and appreciated for the care and the optimism she brought to Northwestern, and she leaves campus with no regrets.
“I got so much growth out of this job,” Ward said. “I feel like my intentions were met. I intended to help students feel comfortable when they came to my office, to feel like I was easy to talk to. That came about, I think.
“I’ve received so many emails from (appreciative) students and it’s so nice that they even take the time to do it. That’s a really good feeling. That doesn’t happen a lot in life.”