From Center Hall: Winter 2012

by Patrick White

February 13, 2013

What’s Next for Wabash College?

The theme of this issue is a good question for this moment in the College’s history. “What’s next?” Say it aloud with two equally stressed beats and we hear the steady insistence of the patter of time. 

Say it as an iambic foot—what’s NEXT?—and it carries a more frightful tone. 

We have endured some difficult days, but today Wabash is in a good place, at a good time. 

Still, the steady drumbeat of “what’s next?” insists on an answer. 

So, what’s next? The Challenge of Excellence is nearing our $60 million goal. Our Strategic Plan is coming to fruition. We have reached a time for reflection.

There was a time this College was always on the verge. Built when Indiana was the frontier, once Wabash was in the West; now we are steadfastly Midwestern. A prairie man myself, when I watch the sun go down over the Mall I tend to think of us in spatial terms, as pioneers looking westward, peering at vistas. 

Yet Wabash doesn’t move through space but through time. As a College we see students graduate, legends like Hall Peebles, Vic Powell, and Ed McLean pass from the scene, challenges are met, new faculty and new students arrive, and time marches on. The future is upon us.

But let’s stop time for a moment and consider what the world will be, and how Wabash will best prepare our students for that world.

In the Challenge of Excellence we have worked to increase support for faculty and students, increase funding for international and immersion learning, and have found ways to support internships and career development. The Challenge of Excellence will be a resounding success, and I see us continuing our work in these directions and in new ones. I thank all of you who have given and pledged to the Campaign. I invite you to imagine with me, share with me (president@wabash.edu) or others at the College your suggestions regarding what should be next for Wabash. 

Bolstered by the success of the Challenge of Excellence, I have been thinking about three promises we should consider. These spring from what we have already been doing well and thus are commonplace, yet also very bold. I invite you to think about them not in terms of “What’s next?” but “What if?” 

What if every student at Wabash had the opportunity to engage in international and intercultural learning through study abroad or an immersion learning experience?

What if every student at Wabash had the opportunity to be mentored in leadership by a coach, faculty member, staff, as well as by his peers, and in turn was led to mentor others in a culture of leadership on campus?

What if every student at Wabash had the opportunity to discern his own vocation and shape his own career path through an internship or research assistantship, on campus or off?

Right now many students benefit from off-campus experiences in the U.S. and study abroad, many students have leadership experiences that are profound and intentional, and many students rightly discern the complex web of their own vocational intentions through research opportunities and internships. But look at the promise and possibility that reside in the words “every student.”

Wabash achieves greatness through not only what we promise, but to whom we promise it. Wabash attracts a number of extraordinarily talented and gifted students, and men whose families have wealth and resources and power. But all our students are men who do not yet know how good they are, and most are not men born to the purple of power and prestige or extraordinary ability.

I often say that at Wabash we take pretty good guys and turn them into world-beaters. They are not born ready, but made ready by their experience at Wabash.

As I talk to Wabash men across generations, I hear this sentence over and over: “If it had not been for Wabash, I never would have…” You fill in the blank. I never would have achieved the life I have, the success I have earned, the position I now command. Wabash is the road less traveled, and taking it has made all the difference.

Wabash invites men to an extra-ordinary life, literally. 

It is not just because we are a College for men; it is not just because we are small. We are extraordinary because we lead men not to lives of passivity and following but to become heroes in their own stories, passionate leaders, border cross-ers, men who know who they are and who are visionaries for their own lives, their families, communities, and nations.

There’s no road map for how we do this. A Wabash education does not spring from cartography as much as choreography. A Wabash education is not a blueprint but a complicated dance—student with professor, or coach, or staff member, or with fellow students—where all is in motion. Where men move to the music of their own lives and create the music of their time, the music to which others dance.

And this must be a dance for everyone. I recall the high school dances of my youth where some of the boys and girls stood in the darkened cafeteria, illumined only by the light of the milk machine, standing still when all around them was movement.

Wabash needs to include everyone in the dance; we are too small to have anyone not in motion.

What’s next?

What if we get everyone to join the dance?

What if we take our current 75% graduation rate and turn that into 85 percent, or 90 percent?

What if we take our current alumni giving rate from its current 35 percent to 50 percent, even 55 percent?

What if, instead of the admirable $3 million, we raise more than $4 million in the annual fund?

What if we expand our reach to invite men and women who are not Wabash alumni to share in our work together to support and enrich the College?

What if instead of 250 students in the freshman class, we reach for 270 of equal ability and aptitude, year after year?

Maybe the best answer to the question “What’s next?” is a pause and speculative response, “What if?”

I am proud that Wabash men think before they act, alert to the future before them. But I am even more proud that they then move and act, enter the game, the dance, the discourse, and the swirl of life before them.

You will read in these pages of John Plaiss ’13, studying half a world away in Kenya, having his life expanded by a new form of worship and community embodied in dance. He could have hung back, he could have said, “I don’t know the steps; I don’t know what to do.” Instead, he joined the dance, and his world grew larger.

I love the moment after winning the Monon Bell when students, coaches, children, friends, and families gather round to ring the Bell out of their love for one another and for Wabash.

The Bell rings. What’s next? What if? The music begins. Join the dance.

Contact President White at president@wabash.edu

 

 


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