About Manchester

Baccalaureate Reflections, Jerry Sweeten ’75

Sweeten%2c-JerryBaccalaureate Reflections on the Journey by Professor Jerry Sweeten, a member of the Class of 1975:

It is a humbling and awesome opportunity to speak at this celebration.  The request was to speak for 5 minutes, but how many of you have ever heard a professor speak for just 5 minutes?  Perhaps there is a zero missing or perhaps there is a mistake in the itinerary.  

You are here today because of your hard work, and academic commitment, but also because of the support of many who care deeply for you as a young professional and personally.  It is education “Manchester Style.”  None of us must ever forget the shoulders upon which we build our present and our future.  My guess is along your journey there was one or more of my valued colleagues who provided you timely grace and hopeful encouragement.   

I too am here today because of a Manchester College professor.  His name was Bill Eberly.  Dr. Eberly died a few years ago, but I wish he could be here in person to meet each of you and see the youthful enthusiasm and youthful promise that has been nurtured by my colleagues. Let me tell you how Bill Eberly changed my personal and professional life and why you may never rid yourself of MU professors.

I remember coming to Manchester College in 1971 as a first-generation college student and being absolutely clueless about college. But I landed at MC because I had heard about a new environmental program being offered.

I grew up in Kokomo where, in those days, your birthright job was to work at Chrysler or Delco which was of little interest to me.  My heart and my passion were outdoors, and I thought that perhaps this new environmental program was a plausible approach for escape. In fact, my dad was so concerned about my countless hours hunting, fishing and exploring outdoors that he bought me a set of books about electrical technology and suggested I should acquire a hobby from which I could make a living.

I was even told by one of my high school teachers that I was not college material and should not attempt a college degree.

Well, one of the first professors I encountered in class was Dr. Eberly.  In this era, professors wore suits and neckties to class.  With a unique voice and larger-than-life appearance, he was an intimidating figure for sure.  But of course it did not take long until I realized Bill Eberly was a kind and gentle man who had a passion for the environment, a love for teaching, and a deep and genuine interest in students.  

Perhaps some of you have heard me tell this story, but it is worth repeating.  I was director of the Asherwood Environmental Science Program for Marion Community Schools for 25 years.  It was my dream job and a position I thought was my professional calling.  I had completed my master’s degree under the threat of maintaining a public teaching license, but it was not a particularly enjoyable experience, and I never expected to continue my formal education.  

Then came a serendipitous defining moment.  On a late summer afternoon in 1990, I received a phone call from Dr. Eberly.  While we had stayed loosely connected, perhaps every few years or so, his voice was not one I expected to hear on the line.  After brief “how are yous” he said “Jerry I think it is time for you to return to school and work on a Ph.D.”.  I suggested he had dialed the wrong number.  

This was something I thought I did not have the capacity to do nor did I think anyone else would think I had the capacity to do. But Bill Eberly did for some unknown reason.   Dr. Eberly told me about a couple of schools that had good stream ecology programs and to make a long story short, five years and one semester later I received my Ph.D. from Purdue University.  Only Bill Eberly thunk it possible.

So here I am now at the conclusion of my professional career at Manchester University in the same position as Dr. Eberly.   I thought often of Dr. Eberly when I looked over a class of first year biology students.  While my journey here has been imperfect compared to Bill Eberly, I have attempted to open doors of opportunity and empower every student in the same way he did for me, and I am proud of Manchester students.

An opportunity to attend college is one of the most profound luxuries in life.  Even in those courses where relevancy seems subliminal.  How many of you have taken a course here and asked yourself, “Why do I have to take this class?”  Trust me on this…  Even these courses in your major/minor within the context of liberal arts education will manifest relevancy in the coming years.  Remember, education is not always what you know, but rather what you do when you don’t know.  

It helps you to become a wise consumer of information and to realize that opinions are like bellybuttons, everybody has one.  My major professor at Purdue (Anne Spacie) told me once that education is like a fine wine and it must age slowly.  Your Manchester education has the high purpose to prepare you to lead a personally fulfilling and responsible life.  But there is more at stake than individual self-fulfillment.  Our human community faces many challenges.  Perhaps the most fundamental of these is an increasing disconnect from the natural resources that sustain every human endeavor.  NO EXCEPTIONS.   

Everything we have and everything we hope to have originates from the earth.  Awareness of this fundamental truth has grown dim.

Aldo Leopold wrote many years ago, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.” This was Leopold’s attempt to remind us of the enduring natural systems that have unbridled responses to human tinkering.

Everyone needs a healthy dose of understanding about the earth and the natural systems that supports our very existence along with those organisms that have no voice in the matter. It is my hope that you will take The Graduation Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility.  “I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”

All of you are bright, genuine, and thoughtful people, and my hope is that each of you will nurture your sense of wonder about the earth within the context of the human endeavor.  

Perhaps Edwin Way Teal said it best in his book,A Naturalist buys an Old Farm. “Time has no beginning and no end, has an end for all beginnings.  But for those who find their pleasure out-of-doors, who have known the enchantment of the soil, rain, sunshine and life, all the years of existence represent a long love affair with the earth, this earth, the only earth we know.”

Each generation must pass this environmental torch.  I am certain Dr. Eberly would be pleased with the legacy of the Environmental Studies Program which he started in the early 1970s and now being passed from me to Dr. Suzanne Beyeler.  Dr. Beyeler has the knowledge, passion and vision to move this foundational program into the future.

I am grateful my life journey included the opportunity to teach at Manchester College/University and to work with so many fine young people and colleagues.  I am proud of each of you, and I am certain you will change the world. 

We now share new beginnings; Mine through retirement from teaching and yours in new careers that will undoubtedly make the world a better place.  Let me conclude with a  Native American saying. “May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder.” 

May 18, 2018