Why Wittenberg Matters
As the year draws to a close, my thoughts turn toward Commencement – that magical day each year when we see our seniors cross the stage to receive their Wittenberg diplomas. In that moment, I wish I could have all alumni and friends of Wittenberg with me to marvel at the transformation that has occurred in the lives of each and every graduate. Like me, you would be reminded of the incredible difference our faculty and staff make in the lives of our young people – becoming their mentors, friends and yes, family. We change lives every day here, and the results of our collective efforts reveal themselves in what I like to call “magical moments” – those times that unquestionably affirm the enduring quality and value of a Wittenberg education. Commencement is one of those moments, but there are many, many others.
This spring provided ample opportunities to experience “magical moments,” but perhaps the two most memorable occurred within the same 24-hour period. The first was a Friday evening concert, the final Wittenberg Choir Home Concert under the direction of Don Busarow. The evening began with a packed Weaver Chapel rising to its feet to provide a spontaneous standing ovation for this much beloved professor. The evening ended with nearly 200 alumni proceeding to the front of Weaver Chapel to sing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” shoulder-to-shoulder with the current choir members. They then surrounded the chapel and sang the benediction. The beautiful music, the interplay of choir members old and new, and the emotion of the moment brought me to tears, as it did my wife. It was, indeed, a magical moment. Lin and I joined the alumni and choir in the CDR for fellowship and fun, and then wandered across campus to our home, tired but inspired.
The next morning, I spoke to a gathering of prospective students, stopped by the lacrosse game and a tennis match and then journeyed up the hill to Hollenbeck Hall to join in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the East Asian Studies program. Wittenberg is blessed with an East Asian Studies program with a history, reach and impact that is very unusual for a college of our size. The focus of the celebration on Saturday
was to honor the three pillars of the program – distinguished professors Gene Swanger, Jim Huffman and Stan Mickel. Alumni traveled from as far away as Japan and Mexico to pay tribute to these three extraordinary men who have shaped the lives of literally generations of Wittenberg graduates. As speaker after speaker came forward to tell stories about how Gene, Stan, or Jim had changed their life in a professional or personal sense, Lin and I again were overwhelmed with emotion. One simply could not listen to these tributes and fail to be profoundly moved by the impact these three individuals have had on the trajectory of so many lives. As we walked home arm-in-arm, Lin and I looked at each other in wonderment and appreciation at all we had experienced in the last 24 hours and how blessed we felt to be at a place that matters.
Magical moments like these are part of the fabric of Wittenberg, and sometimes I fear we take them for granted. Not every place has this “magic” or finds opportunities (often spontaneous) to celebrate the deep richness of the learning that occurs in their midst. I would ask each of you to take a moment to reflect on these “moments” in your own life and thank those who have changed your life. I suspect many of those thanks will include this professor or that staff member at Wittenberg who reached out to you. The two moments I have described and many others are captured in this issue of the Wittenberg Magazine, as are the many accomplishments of our seniors, recent graduates, and even some of us who are a little older.
Just as I experienced these two “magical moments,” I have also experienced a flood of good news recently, receiving a series of e-mails and announcements regarding the accomplishments of our students and our recent graduates. Together they provide a mosaic of accomplishments that would make any college president smile.
l First, I learned that three members of the campus community, professors Heather Wright and George Hudson and senior student Valerie O’Brien, were selected as Fulbright Scholars. This marks the fifth year in a row that at least one Wittenberg undergraduate has received this prestigious award.
l I I also learned that Nick Del Grosso ’10 was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a distinction most often awarded to graduates of research universities. Over the next four years, Nick will receive more than $40,000 a year ($160,000) to support his education.
l For the second year in a row, a Wittenberg senior, Nate Peters, has been named a recipient of a National Security Education Program (NSEP) Boren Scholarship. Nate, a Russian Area Studies major, will study in Russia throughout the coming 2010-11 academic year.
l Then there is theatre major Karl Miller ’01 who won the Helen Hayes Award for best resident actor, sharing that prestigious honor with veteran classical actor Stacy Keach.
l And Wittenberg alumna and psychology major Lindsey Short ’08 recently received the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, cosponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The Vanier Scholarship is valued at $50,000 per year for three years.
So, it has been another memorable semester at Wittenberg with plenty to smile about and even some tears (mostly the good kind). It has been a challenging year to be sure, but it has, as always, included its share of “magical moments” and extraordinary accomplishments. Together, they serve as a powerful reminder that the heart of Wittenberg’s mission remains strong and is worthy of our collective support. We change lives, and I hope your reflections at this time of year help each of you to renew your efforts to be a positive force in the lives of Wittenberg students, in your own family and in your community.
Mark H. Erickson, President