Church of the Brethren Annual Conference Columbus, Ohio
July 5, 2014

President David F. McFadden

I’m really pleased to be with you today.  This is my first official appearance as president, other than showing up for work on July 1, and I’m glad to be here with you.

Let me begin with some amazing news:  if you haven’t already heard, we concluded our Student’s First! campaign 18 months early and exceeded our goal of $100M.  We announced last Sunday that we raised over $108M.  Remember that total when I use the word “audacious” in a few minutes.  Jo Switzer deserves our congratulations and thanks.  She shepherded the campaign and made this success a reality.  In addition to Jo, I’d like to thank Tim McElwee, vice president for advancement, his staff, our many volunteers and especially the donors who helped us reach our goal.  If you were among those that I mentioned – donors, volunteers, staff – please stand or raise your hand.  If you’ll stay standing, I’m going to take your picture and Tweet it.

On behalf of our students, thank you!

Being able to drive to conference this year was a real pleasure, in part because Renee and I love to take road trips.  Sometimes, they’re quick – we just get in the car and take a wandering afternoon drive.  This spring we took a longer trip, driving to Virginia to see family and visit sites in the Shenandoah Valley.  It was a quick out and back and we spent a good bit of time on interstates. 

There are three big questions that frame planning for any road trip: 

  • Where are we going?
  • How will we get there?
  • And what do we need to make the trip? 

These same three basic questions apply regardless of the type or purpose of the trip.   (By the way – I consider “are we there yet?” to be part of another set of questions and I’ll ignore it like I did when our kids asked it.)

So, at one end of the travel continuum are “just get there” or “must get there” trips.  You go the fastest way possible and waste little time.  The trip is a means to an end.  Our Virginia trip was like that.  At the other extreme are “we’ll get there when we get there, if we get there” trips.  The trip itself is the end.  A meandering Sunday drive is an example.

You’ve probably been on each type of trip and have had both wonderful and awful experiences.  I’ll spare you my own “worst trip” stories – even though they are often the most fun to tell – but know that they have involved blizzards, hours in tight spaces with cranky people, roads that don’t appear on GPS and an occasional speeding ticket. 

I can tell you from experience that the difference between wonderful and awful, between forgettable and memorable, is often the spirit or attitude you have when you travel.

That said, I like to add a fourth question to trip planning:  “what will the trip be like?”

We’ve been engaged in our latest round of strategic planning at Manchester since February, and I’ve found the process to be much like planning a road trip.  The questions are similar, though they are sometimes asked differently.  For example, one of the questions I’m asked most frequently is “what is your vision for Manchester?”  Depending on who is asking, the intent of the question can be anything from “where are we going?” to “how are we going to get there?” 

Today I’m going to skip questions about our destination and set aside the roadmap – you’ll hear those details later this year – and instead try to answer that fourth question:  “what will our trip be like?”
Here’s the snapshot answer:  put simply, I want us to travel with a spirit of abundance and gratitude.  I want us to travel with a spirit of abundance and gratitude.

On a recent vacation, Renee and I were driving to art galleries around Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It turns out all the great galleries around Santa Fe are on or at the end of dusty roads, so we found ourselves walking across a dirt parking lot into a glass blowing studio.  When we walked in, my eye was drawn immediately to glass peaches on a shelf. 

Let me digress a second and tell you that I’ve commissioned Shawn Kirchner to write an anthem about abundance for my inauguration on November 7th.  (That alone should be a reason for you to come and celebrate with us.)  In a search for lyrics for the anthem, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry.  One poem that has stuck in my head is called “From Blossoms” by Li-Young Lee, and it’s about peaches.

The second stanza goes like this:

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

This may sound like a stretch, but those glass peaches reminded me of this poem and the poem makes me think of Manchester.
For me, the experience of Manchester, our essence, is captured in that stanza: 

  • laden boughs, rich with opportunity;
  • hands working to bring promise and possibility to fruition;
  • a labor of love made sweeter by sharing with others – I love the imagery of “sweet fellowship in the bins” – that’s us;
  • finding food for the body and the soul as we travel together;
  • doing honest, earthy, unpretentious work – “dusty skin and all.”

So I bought two of the peaches – the artist said they should be kept as pairs and placed so that they talk to each other – and I brought them here with me today.

You’ll find abundance and gratitude – and the spirit of Li-Young’s Lee’s poem – reflected in three words and phrases I use to describe the ways in which we will navigate Manchester’s future, the spirit with which we will travel. 
The three words I use are aspire, engage and thrive.  By “aspire,” I mean “be audacious.”  By “engage,” “serve well.”  And by “thrive,” I’m saying I want us to advance our mission.

Being audacious means being bold, confident and visionary.  It means standing with your head up, shoulders back and chest out.  It means taking risks, building on momentum and making difficult choices.

Serving well includes serving students, the communities in which we live and the world at large.  It means being mission centered and market smart.  It means working together, making important contributions and transforming lives.

Advancing our mission means moving from operating with a thin margin to abundance.  In gardening terms it means planting, cultivating, feeding, loosening, pruning and creating space to grow.  It means building on who we are at our core.

The good news is that we have experience with each of these:

We have a tradition of audacity.  We created the nation’s first peace studies program and launched one of the earliest environmental studies programs in the country.  (I want to share a piece of inside information that is not yet public, but will be soon.  We are just $100,000 away from fully funding the Gladdys Muir Peace Studies Professorship.  We added $1.0M in accrued interest from the Lilly Plowshares grant to $400,000 already raised to get us within $100,000 of our $1.5M goal.  Unlike insider information on Wall Street, this is information you can act on to help us close the gap.)  We started a College of Pharmacy on a new campus in another city and earned $35M in support from the Lilly Endowment to make it happen.  (Perhaps you’ve heard me tell the story of how we decided to ask for $35M.  It was Jo Switzer who came up with that number.  Walking out of her office, I thought she was crazy.  It turns out she was simply audacious.)  We raised over $108M toward an almost unimaginable $100M campaign goal – 18 months early.  All of these initiatives involved risk, all of them involved difficult choices and all of them were audacious.

We are perhaps best known for the second spirit-of-the-journey word: service, both institutional and individual.  Our students, faculty and staff last year volunteered over 40,000 hours, placing us on President Obama's Higher Education Community Service "Honor Roll."  Student groups spend January sessions and spring breaks actively engaged in service to community, whether in Jamaica or with Habitat for Humanity.  Service is an integral part of our new pharmacy curriculum, celebrated twice a year during “Days of Service” when students present about and reflect on service work they’ve done.  And the list of Manchester graduates who have changed the world through their individual service is too long to even begin.

Finally, we’re called to advance our mission.  We’ve been building on a strong foundation for 125 years.  One of our graduating seniors, Todd Eastis, joked during Baccalaureate this year that I will need to find my own phrase to replace the one he’d heard President Switzer repeat over and over during his time here:  that we seek to graduate persons of ability and conviction.  Students have come to associate that phrase with Jo, but it is the heart of our mission statement and it will be my mantra as well. 

Manchester is an amazing place and I’m proud to be its 15th president.  We are well positioned for the future.  We have a 125 year history that provides meaning, a solid mission to build on and extraordinary momentum for the journey ahead.  We have the opportunity to live into the audacity of our mission, to walk the talk of that mission, and to advance the institution entrusted to us.

I want to read for you now the full text of Li-Young Lee’s poem “From Blossoms”:

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward   
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into   
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

As we move Manchester University forward together, I want us to travel with a spirit of abundance and gratitude.  With dust on our hands and juice running down our chins, from joy to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
Thank you for all that you have given to Manchester.  Because of your giving, in its many forms, we are able to aspire, engage and thrive, and to transform the world.

Thank you.