Alumni Days Dinner
May 28, 2015

Good evening! I hope your time together has been going well. It’s been really fun to see you all getting reconnected.

I want to start by telling you that this is one of the best times of year at Manchester. We’ve just sent a class of 252 graduates into the world. And late May means Alumni Days. We welcome longtime friends back to campus and celebrate this place that has had such a profound impact on our lives.
By now I hope you’ve had a chance to look around campus and see what’s new since the last time you were here. The recent campaign supported a lot of improvements that strengthen student learning, the most visible of which is the new Academic Center just across the street. You may know that it was built using the pillars and concrete floors of the old Holl-Kintner Science Building. In fact, you can see some of the round pillars in faculty offices and classrooms.

(Now, I have to stop here and say that everything is relative. I was telling a group of alumni about the new Academic Center and told them just what I told you, that it was built using the infrastructure of the old Science Building. They didn’t know what I was talking about because the “old” Science Building wasn’t built when they were here. The Science Building for them was the old library which was the communication building until we tore it down a few years ago. It’s all relative.)

Anyway - the Academic Center gives us new teaching spaces and faculty offices that are just a few steps from classrooms. And the classrooms have new desks so students aren’t using the same ones you used in the Administration Building when you were here 40 and 50 years ago.
If you haven’t been back for a while, you might say a lot has changed. And, on one hand, you’d be right. But many of the traditions and values that are important to you are alive and well at Manchester today. Our progress rests on the foundation that you helped build.

And some things—the best things, I think—never really change.

Now, I’m curious. How many of you belonged to a gang at Manchester?

My parents had a close circle of friends when they were here and I remember them talking about their “gang.” When I go out to meet with alumni from the late ’40s or ’50s, many still identify with their gang. They’ll introduce themselves and their friends something like this: “Hi, I’m Marge. We were all part of the same gang at Manchester.” To the best of my knowledge, Manchester gangs never did anything more dangerous than roller skate in the gym, though the more time I spend with some of you and other older alumni, the more I wonder about that.

Earlene (Clark) Kessler, Class of 1950, sends her greetings from Florida. She couldn’t attend the reunion this year, but shares that her “gang” at Manchester was one of the great blessings of her life.  Sixty-five years after they graduated, the surviving members of Earlene’s gang still stay in touch. They even try to have their own “gang” reunion in Indiana each year.

Some of our alumni tell us their gangs have stayed in touch over the years with “round-robin” letters. You remember those: You write a letter, add it to the envelope, send it to the next person, and after everyone else has added a new letter, it comes back to you.

Well graduates today don’t refer to their gangs. And they don’t send round-robin letters.  But they do keep in touch by “friending” each other on Facebook or following each other on Twitter. What I think you’ll be glad to know is this: Today’s students make lifelong friends here just like you did. At a recent alumni gathering I met a graduate from 1979 who told me that his “gang” gets together every year and will be vacationing in Alaska together soon. A group of six early 1990s grads at the same table said that they’ve been getting together quarterly for nearly 20 years. Our daughter, Rachel, was part of a fake sorority while she was here a decade ago – they called themselves Apple Pie Omega – and they still get together regularly.

That sense of community that bonded you in the 1940s, or ’50s or ’60s still holds us together in 2015. The friends that we make here are … as Earlene says … among the great blessings of our lives.

How many of you majored in a natural science — physics, math, chemistry or biology? If you are one of our science graduates, you helped blaze the trail for our pharmacy program. Even if you didn’t major in a science at Manchester, you’ll remember some of our pioneering faculty members.

People like Ed Kintner, Harry Weimer, Carl Holl, Bill Eberly, and Emerson Niswander, just to name a few. Were it not for them — and perhaps some of you — we probably wouldn’t have a pharmacy program in Fort Wayne today.

Pharmacy is new for us … and yet it’s not. … Pharmacy is really an extension of a rich history at Manchester. Pharmacy is an intersection of science and people, and we’ve done science and people brilliantly for a long time.
So our science tradition is thriving on the Fort Wayne campus in a couple of ways:    


  • First, this fall, we will enroll our fourth class of pharmacy students, bringing us to full capacity and enrollment of approximately 280 students. We will graduate our first class in the four-year program next spring, and that will pave the way for us to achieve full accreditation.

  • Second, in Fall 2016 we expect to launch a program on the Fort Wayne campus in pharmacogenomics. It’s a field that explores how an individual’s genes—their DNA—will interact with different medicines. It is also known as personalized medicine and it’s a field expected to grow rapidly in coming years. Our program is cutting edge and forward looking.

Are there any other peace studies majors in the room? My uncle, Bob McFadden, was Manchester’s first peace studies major and I followed in his footsteps 30 years later. As you know, Manchester started the first undergraduate peace studies program in the nation. Today there are about 300 peace studies programs in the country, but we were the first. I am happy to report that we are just under $100,000 away from our $1.5M goal to establish the Gladdys Muir Endowed Professorship in Peace Studies. Gladdys Muir, you’ll recall, founded our program. She taught here from 1948 to 1959. She was a beloved teacher, remembered for having students in her home for tea.

That tradition lives today with Katy Gray Brown. Katy graduated from Manchester in 1991 and is an associate professor and director of MU’s Peace Studies Institute. She is the daughter of the late Ken and Viona Brown. Katy lives in her parents’ home and today’s version of a Gladdys Muir tea meets in Katy’s living room.

Just like her parents once did, Katy opens her home on Monday evenings to people who want to talk about peace and justice. They drink tea and coffee and eat popcorn and talk about big ideas—the “what if” questions. It’s a very Manchester thing. And it’s a tradition that Gladdys Muir started when some of you were students.

Camp Mack Day is still a Manchester tradition, though it looks different today. We no longer take a train up to camp, but like 50 years ago, students, faculty and staff play softball and canoe on Lake Waubee.

We use the first part of the day for a service project at the camp. Service is so ingrained in the values of this place and in the student experience. In fact, this year our students – including those in Fort Wayne – combined for around 60,000 hours of volunteer service. That’s an average of a week per student. They do all kinds of things to help other people — tutoring, Habitat for Humanity, health fairs, Red Cross blood drives.  Some of our students have never volunteered before in their lives. The experience often makes them more compassionate toward others and more thankful for what they have.  Some tell us, years later, that their experience at Manchester instilled in them an ethic of service that continued throughout their lives – much as it has in your lives.

So, now let me tell you about a few things that have changed at Manchester: dancing and marketing.

One of the best parts about being president is I get to travel around the country and visit with people at alumni events. I get a lot of interesting questions, but my favorite was when someone asked me if we allow dancing at Manchester. They asked because, when they were here, dancing was strictly forbidden. My answer was yes, we allow dancing, but I said our dances might surprise them.

One type of dance that we have is called a foam dance. The venue is pumped full of foam and students wade in and dance. I can tell I’m getting old because I don’t quite get the appeal of it.

But that’s not the dancing on campus that I think surprises people. The surprise, I think, is ballroom dancing. That’s right: ballroom dancing.
Jim Brumbaugh Smith, who graduated from Manchester in 1984 and teaches mathematics here, is our resident ballroom dance expert. He’s been the catalyst for getting other people excited about it too.  

  • We have a ballroom dance club.
  • Students can take ballroom dance for PE credit.
  • And several times each semester there are ballroom dances on campus that attract students, faculty and staff alike.

In the next couple of years, Jim is hoping to start a student dance team here that will compete against teams from other universities like Purdue and Notre Dame.

So the next time you come back to visit and you feel like cutting a rug, pack your dancing shoes.  You won’t get expelled.

Marketing. Manchester has always had great people and great stories to tell, but we haven’t always done a great job of sharing them. So one of the things we’ve done in recent years is focus more on marketing.   We’re doing a better job of talking about our people and successes. One of the people helping us tell those stories is a talented photographer and videographer on our staff named Clay Lomneth. And before I close, I’d like to share some of his work with you.

In the short time Clay has worked at Manchester, he’s created and posted nearly 150 videos on the Manchester University YouTube channel. That number keeps growing and I encourage you to look at more of his work on our website when you get home. I chose two of Clay’s videos to share tonight because they bookend the Manchester student experience—the very first day and the very last day.

Do you remember your first day at Manchester? Can you recall whether you were excited … nervous …. scared …. anxious to make friends? Regardless of how you felt, more than likely you received a warm welcome. That’s still the case today. In fact, now, when you arrive at Manchester, we help you move in.

Now think back to your last day at Manchester—for most of you, Graduation Day. This second video I’ll share was filmed at commencement last May. In it, some of our graduates were asked, “What kind of advice would you give to your first-year self?” You can tell they’re just a little excited about graduating too. Here’s what they said.

Let me close with a word or two of thanks. I want to thank you for being here. I hope that coming back to campus is like coming home for you.
I also want to thank you for who you are. Looking around this room tonight, I know that I’m looking at people who have worked hard and live with integrity. People who have succeeded in their careers and in their lives … people who are been compassionate and generous.

Just by being who you are, you honor Manchester. You reflect our mission and, in your own personal and often quiet ways, you improve the human condition.

I hope you are proud of Manchester … we are very proud of you. Thank you for helping us get to where we are. And thank you for celebrating Alumni Days with us.