Admiration and Gratitude at Year’s End

Looking back on the year, I am filled with gratitude and admiration for Wesleyan’s capacity to create conditions for individual excellence and for intense commonality  — the all night work that tests one’s intellectual endurance, and the joyful dancing, cheering and singing that expands our horizons. I think back to the senior theses writers being toasted for their accomplishments, to cheering on the softball team’s first NESCAC conference championship, and to the accolades for the extraordinary student performances in Richard III. I remember with sadness and respect our times of mourning, and I recollect with wonder the social entrepreneurship of our students building schools in Kenya, raising money for flood and earthquake relief around the world or working with elementary school students right here in Middletown.

The university continues to thrive because of the dedication of those who work and study here. Current and former students, I thank you for your exuberance and devotion to alma mater. Faculty who inspire us, and staff who make it possible for all of us to work at our best, I thank you. The ‘independence of mind and generosity of spirit’ of the Wesleyan community is apparent each and every day, and I am so grateful to you for continually creating this extraordinary place.

Best wishes for a restful break, a joyful holiday, and a very happy new year!

Musical Contagion at Wesleyan

This week Sophie and I had dinner in Middletown and ran into a group of Wesleyan students and parents who were celebrating the end of the semester concert by the Mixolydians at the Memorial Chapel. Their laughter was contagious, and they greeted the two of us with verve. I was reminded of the joyful, adventurous singing that sweeps across our campus on a regular basis.

Speaking of joyful, adventurous music…on Tuesday I had lunch with Mark Slobin and Anthony Braxton, longtime professors of music at Wes. I’ve gotten to know Prof. Slobin over the last few years, and I wonder at his endless curiosity about the viral intersections of music with other forms of cultural production and with local traditions. He has written on music in northern Afghanistan and on klezmer, on Hollywood and on folk music, and lately authored Music at Wesleyan: From Glee Club to Gamelan. Mark is tireless in his efforts to strengthen both study and performance at Wes (and was recently appointed as the Richard K. Winslow Professor of Music).

I hadn’t met Prof. Braxton before, but I have heard him play. His pathbreaking work as a soloist, composer and teacher has been attracting audiences and students for decades. He is devoted to Wesleyan, and we spoke about the special “radiance” of the creative students who come to school here. Prof. Braxton’s energy and dedication to his craft are legendary, and I find deeply admirable his willingness to go beyond conventional musical borders. If you haven’t heard him play, you might just check out these two Youtube videos for a taste of what Anthony Braxton has to offer.

One of the joys of my job is getting together with faculty who are enlivened by the work they do. It is contagious for students…and for presidents, too!

Honoring Athletes

This weekend the Athletics Department held a banquet to celebrate the men and women who competed this fall, and although I didn’t get to attend, I did hear about the outstanding honorees. Here are some of the stand-out achievements recognized by our conference and beyond:

Golf  – Pete Taylor ‘12 earned first-team all-NESCAC honors by tying for 3rd among 50 players in the NESCAC qualifier.

Men’s Cross Country  – Julian Applebaum ‘13 earned all-ECAC Division III honors by placing 20th of 300 runners at the ECAC Division III meet.  Matt Katz ‘11 (10th), Bryan Marsh ‘13 (14th) and Skyler Cummins ‘13 (33rd) all earned all-New England Division III honors for their top-35 finishes (out of 333) at the regional meet.

Volleyball  – Ruby Hernandez ‘11 received much recognition.  She was an honorable-mention All-American as named by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).  AVCA also selected her as all-New England.  She was the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and a second-team all-NESCAC choice.  Finally, the New England Women’s Volleyball Association named her a senior all-star.

Men’s Soccer  – Walter Rodriguez ‘13 was chosen second-team all-NESCAC.  Geoff Zartarian ‘11 was selected to play in the annual New England Intercollegiate Soccer League senior all-star game.

Women’s Soccer  – Laura Kurash ‘13 was chosen first-team all-NESCAC and Dasha Battelle ‘11 made second-team all-NESCAC.

Field Hockey  –  Tori Redding ‘13 was named first-team all-NESCAC, first-team all-New England West by the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) and a second-team NFHCA All-American.  Hilary Nabhan ‘11 was selected for first-team all-NESCAC and first-team NFHCA all-New England West.  Morgan McCauley ‘12 and Liz Chabot ‘12 both earned second-team NFHCA all-New England West honors while McCauley also got second-team all-NESCAC laurels.

Football  – Most decorated, of course, was Shea Dwyer ‘10.  He was a finalist (top-10) for the Gagliardi Trophy as the top player in NCAA Division III.  He was first-team all-NESCAC and a New England Football Writers Association Division II/III all-star.  Cyprian Oyomba ‘12 and Nick Seara ‘11 were both named first-team all-NESCAC and Nick also got first-team District I academic All-America honors through the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) as sponsored by ESPN the Magazine.  Justin Freres ‘11, Zach Sadler ‘11 and Kyle Weiss ‘12 all earned second-team all-NESCAC honors.

Gale Lackey was inducted in to the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame for her outstanding coaching career.

Thanks to Brian Katten for sharing this information. You can see a list of the 65 Wesleyan athletes who were acknowledged with All-Academic or Sportsmanship honors on our website.

Houghton “Buck” Freeman ’43

It is with deep sadness that I write to inform you that a great member of the Wesleyan family, Houghton “Buck” Freeman ’43, died this week in Stowe, Vermont, at the age of 89.

Buck was the son of Mary Houghton and Mansfield Freeman ’16, a distinguished scholar of Chinese philosophy and a co-founder of the international insurance firm that became known as American International Group. Buck grew up in China and acquired fluency in Mandarin. He interrupted his studies at Wesleyan to serve in the Navy during World War II and provided intelligence reports from southern China behind Japanese lines. After the war, he became the first Wesleyan student to earn a degree in Japanese. He captained the 1946 Wesleyan soccer team in a season that had only one loss (against Yale), which nearly equaled the record of Wesleyan’s undefeated team on which he had starred in 1940. In 1947 he joined AIG, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to the top levels of company leadership.

Buck, his wife Doreen Hon’03, and their son Graeme Freeman ’77 established the Freeman Foundation in 1993 after the death of Mansfield Freeman, who had contributed generously to Wesleyan’s East Asian Studies Program. The family and the Foundation continued to support the university generously. Buck and Doreen’s $5 million gift at the end of the Campaign for Liberal Learning in the 1980s was the largest single gift to that campaign, and it jump-started construction of Bacon Field House and the new pool in the Freeman Athletic Center—a project that reflected Buck’s enthusiasm for competitive athletics and fitness.

The Freeman Foundation’s landmark contribution to Wesleyan is the Freeman Asian Scholars Program. Begun in 1995, this program has provided full scholarships at Wesleyan for more than 300 talented students from Asia. The Freemans’ objective is to promote cross-cultural understanding between the United States and the countries of East Asia. Buck especially valued the affirmative culture of Wesleyan that provided a supportive context for Asian students far from home. By any measure, the Freeman Scholars Program has had a profound effect on Wesleyan, and on the many Freeman scholars who care deeply about the future of their own countries.

Buck served as a Wesleyan Trustee from 1982 to 1991, and Wesleyan awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1993. Through personal gifts and the Freeman Foundation, Buck is the largest donor in Wesleyan’s history. He showed his affection in small ways, too. When his offices were in New York City, he would sneak up to Middletown for key soccer games. On Commencement Weekend, one of his great pleasures was to attend the Phi Beta Kappa initiation of “his” Scholars. Until the last two years, he and Doreen regularly joined a fall dinner to welcome new Scholars, encourage advanced students and reconnect with alumni. On his many travels Buck enjoyed meeting with Freeman alumni and interviewing potential new students.

In recent days I have heard from former Wesleyan presidents and trustees, who have spoken of Buck’s modesty, his devotion to alma mater, and his deeply moral character. They also remembered his wry sense of humor, the twinkle in his eye when he heard about the latest news concerning the students he and Doreen considered family.

The Freemans will be gathering presently for a private ceremony. Some months from now they will plan a more public memorial, and we will share information about that when we have it. Next week we will post to the Web more information about Buck, and announce a time when we can gather on campus to acknowledge his extraordinary life.

Our hearts go out to his entire family, to his daughter Linda, and to his wife Doreen and his son Graeme, both of whom I have had the privilege of getting to know over the last few years. We have lost a devoted friend and mentor, but Buck Freeman has left an enduring legacy at Wesleyan and around the world. We will cherish his memory.