September 17, 2005
President Jo Young Switzer
For all that has been – THANKS!
For all that will be – YES!
Members of the Board of Trustees, delegates, friends, faculty, and especially students – thank you for being here for this wonderful celebration. Special thanks to my husband, Dave, and our children – Sarah, John, Matt, and Nikki – and grandchildren Emily and Elijah; and to my sisters, Carol and Barb. I have had one of the deepest blessings a person can have – a supportive, loving home in which to grow. It is a gift for which I am thankful every single day, and I do not take it for granted.
The United States offers students – both from the United States and around the world – the opportunity to study in a dizzying array of colleges and universities – tribal colleges, community colleges, Ivy League schools, state universities. We are fortunate to have these choices because not all students need the same kind of school. They do, however, all deserve a good school. Today, I would like to reflect on good schools that change lives. I believe that Manchester College is one of those schools.
First, colleges that change lives grab students’ attention. We learn after we focus our attention on something. Sometimes that means someone needs to grab our attention!
The terrorist attacks on 9-11 grabbed the attention of the country and caused us to consider the gap between our perceptions of our nation and others’ perceptions of it. Hurricane Katrina focused our eyes on uncoordinated relief efforts, anger, pain, and also the strength of the human character. These national tragedies grabbed our attention, and we have learned.
My own mother grabbed the attention of my sisters and me when we were in elementary school. Mother was driving us home from an afternoon swim at a lake near Plymouth, Indiana. My younger sister noticed migrant workers in the tomato fields and made the big mistake of describing them as “dirty.” My mother, raised in the Church of the Brethren by very gentle parents, become enraged. For the rest of the trip home, we sat in cowed silence as she spoke – quite loudly – about the inequities faced by migrants who had poor housing, poor pay, and poor education. When we arrived home, her lecture continued. She told us of the privilege that we experienced when we didn’t even know it and for which we were obviously not appreciative. She was loud, and she was clear. She got even clearer the next morning when she woke us at daybreak and gave us the opportunity to pick tomatoes with the migrants. Who was dirty now? Who understood the work now? Whose perspectives on migrants were forever changed? She got our attention, and we learned.
Manchester College professors have grabbed students’ attention over the decades and have not let go –
Professors Holl and Kintner
Tim Rieman (“Life is good!”)
Bob and Dee Keller
John Planer, and so many more
These teachers got our attention, and then we learned. The mark of a good college.
Second, colleges that change lives create an environment where questions are at the center. As every teacher knows, the better the questions we ask on an exam, the better the answers. The better the question at the beginning of a discussion, the better the discussion. What happens at Manchester to create a climate of healthy questions?
What happens to students who spend four years in an environment of good questions?
Impressive results from a college that creates an intense environment of questioning.
Third, colleges that change lives prepare their students for responsible citizenship in a world where differences strain relationships but also strengthen community. One of my favorite poems is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty, which celebrates variations – in color, texture, light, pace. Listen to his words about variations:
Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim . . .
. . . All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.
Manchester College is a multi-colored, multi-talented, multi-faithed community. We have rich diversity on campus – religious, political, socioeconomic, racial, ethnic. Three years ago, one of our students competed in NCAA wrestling nationals and performed with the A Cappella Choir in Carnegie Hall in the same month. We have a French professor who majored in mathematics as an undergraduate and a plumber who returned to college and graduated with a physics degree. We have Downs Syndrome workers in our food service, and an 84-year-old carpenter who repairs residence hall shelves for students’ CD players that blast music like funk. We are a place with differences as dramatic as the colorful scales on the rainbow trout that swim in sunny waters. And we work hard to prepare students to live responsibly in this increasingly complex and dappled world.
In 2005, nearly 40 percent of our graduating seniors had studied abroad, for a semester, a year, or a January Session class. Manchester College students inspire us with their courtesies. They pick up litter when they see it on campus. They act like adults at meals. They interact respectfully with students who have disabilities. Several years ago, a student enrolled here with multiple disabilities – he was very small, and he had an unusual, contorted appearance. He was mobility impaired and hearing impaired. He was also a student who did not know a stranger. He hitched rides on the carpenter’s golf cart to get to Monday convocation and always had a circle of friends at his lunch table. He died while he was a student here, and his parents told us, “Tony’s days at Manchester College were the happiest days of his life.” It was because of our students that his time here was so good. Good schools introduce students to diversity and educate them about the gifts and the challenges it brings to a community.
Colleges that change lives grab students’ attention, create a space where questions flourish, and celebrate differences. But all colleges and universities in 2005 face serious challenges. The federal budget shortfalls threaten student financial aid. Lobbyists for the for-profit universities pressure politicians for laws to create more profit for their stockholders rather than more learning for all students. Gas prices, steel prices, health insurance costs, unfunded mandates – all vying for money that we need for financial aid, facilities, and faculty salaries.
In the face of these very real challenges, Manchester College will continue to be a school that prepares graduates whose lives reflect ability and conviction. We have done this since 1889, when our students arrived on campus in horse-drawn buggies. We do it now when students arrive with U-Hauls filled to overflowing.
Our 117 years have been possible only because of the generosity of those who care about this good College. I am only the current president of a long history of presidents who have been entrusted with this precious legacy. I will do my best for Manchester College.
For all that has been – THANKS!
For all that will be – YES!
For information about speeches by President Jo Young Switzer, please contact the Office of Public Relations, 260-982-5285.