Reunion, Departures and… RETURN for Summer Sessions

Reunion/Commencement weekend is already becoming a blur in my memory as I think about all the alumni we welcomed back to campus, and the members of the class of 2011 that we sent off. So many people told me that the campus looked great, and I want to thank the Physical Plant staff for having worked tirelessly to keep things looking sharp. The University Relations crew managed the logistics with spirited grace, and I am so thankful for their efforts! From Faculty Marshalls to student workers, everybody pulled together.

Each year I take special pleasure in meeting with members of the class celebrating its 50th reunion, and 2011 was no exception. Bob Patricelli (who along with his wife, Margaret, received a Baldwin Medal for outstanding service) was the master of ceremonies at the reunion dinner, at which the class of 1961 made resounding clear why Wes has been known as “the singing college of New England.”

I had a little too much fun at the 25th Reunion dinner joining some of the musicians for a Class of ’86 blues.

I was really getting carried away — but then I realized there were real singers in the room, like Tierney Sutton and Dar Williams’89. Oy!

Spending time with our doctoral honorees was deeply gratifying. Biff and Jean Shaw shared words of wisdom about the power of community and the importance of service. Alberto Ibarguen added immeasurably to the weekend with his comments on the changing role of communication, and on how our grads might make their way through these revolutionary times. Paul Farmer was smart (expected) and really funny (an added treat) in his address to the class of 2011. I’ve admired Paul’s work for years, and it was delightful to see him engage with our students and faculty. Finally, I got to spend time with Barbara Cook, a singer who has brought joy, tears and passion to audiences for decades. It’s a little dangerous to finally get the chance to meet someone you idolize, but in this case it was pure pleasure.

I was impressed with all those who crossed the podium. As luck would have it, a good part of my commencement address was published on over the weekend. Families came from far and wide to celebrate with their new graduates, and it is always bittersweet to say goodbye at the end of the festivities. But we will be start up again May 31 with summer session classes starting next week. If you want a dose of Wes magic in June, there is still room in some of the classes.

Liberty, Equality and Solidarity

When I first spoke (mp3 audio file) at Wesleyan after being appointed president-elect in the spring of 2007, I talked about education in terms of freedom, equality and solidarity. As an old French historian, I said then, this trinity of values had made a great impression on my thinking. Of course, I’d replaced “fraternity” with “solidarity” in my speech, looking for a gender-neutral way of talking about the bonds of community.

A liberal education, I have said many times since my introductory speech in 2007, is about overcoming your self-imposed immaturity (as Kant said), or learning to obey laws that you give yourself (Rousseau). I had felt liberated by my own Wesleyan education. The sense of freedom that came from discovering what I loved to do, getting better at it, and sharing it with others, is a gift that Wesleyan has given to generations of its graduates.

Equality remains such an important value at Wesleyan, which opens its doors to talented students regardless of their ability to pay. At Wes, our commitment to equality makes our economic diversity possible. Which is why financial aid is such a key part of our budget, allowing us to support students whose families could not otherwise afford to send them to our university. During the last several years, we have seen an unparalleled growth in economic inequality in this country, and wealth increasingly is the primary mechanism for accessing cultural, political and economic opportunity. When access to higher education is based on wealth, even strong universities just reinforce inequality. At Wesleyan, our embrace of equality and diversity is a commitment to fight this trend, and many alumni help in this endeavor by contributing to financial aid.

In my introductory remarks to the Wesleyan community in 2007, I stressed a third theme of “solidarity.” I spoke about how at Wesleyan we were a strong community that valued freedom and equality combined with diversity. I have since written about the affectionate solidarity that runs through our campus culture, and about the exuberance that creates individual excellence and deep social connectivity. Wes students continue to produce work at the highest level while remaining tied to one another in community.

Now, I look out on a peaceful, rainy, Andrus Field, the calm before the outburst of activities around Reunion Weekend and Commencement. As the weather brightens at the end of the week and alumni begin streaming in, I know they will be eager to re-connect with old friends, former teachers and the powerful memories that still reside for them on this beautiful campus. I trust they will be stirred anew by   the excitement of discovery that was part of their transformational Wesleyan experience. Freedom of inquiry combined with an ethos of equality and solidarity remain hallmarks of our campus culture, the culture that returning alumni have helped build over the years.

On Sunday a new group of Wesleyan students will join the alumni ranks. The class of 2011 began their college education with me four years ago, and I am grateful to them for their patience with a new prez, their spirited sense of play and work – their devotion to our traditions and their spirit of creativity.

It will be bittersweet for Kari and me as we say goodbye on Sunday — it seems like such a short time ago that we were all attending pre-frosh summer send-offs together. We wish our new alums only the best, and we look forward to welcoming them back to campus whenever they need to plug into the power of the liberty, equality and solidarity that are hallmarks of the Wesleyan tradition now and forever their own.

Approaching the Finish Line

The last week has been a whirlwind of opportunities to see some of the best of student work at Wesleyan. I’ve enjoyed seeing the senior theses art exhibitions as they’ve gone up in the Zilkha Gallery (and there’s a greatest hits version now), and it is fun to see the work of this term’s drawing and painting students in their work spaces. Tula Telfair’s students will have work on display today, and the photography exhibition of work collected for Wesleyan by the late Puffin D’Oench continues in Davison Gallery through Commencement. The Davison collection is one of the jewels of our Center for the Arts, and we recently hosted the Friends of the Davison for a reception at the President’s House. The group raises money to acquire new works of art, and they have really helped keep the collection an important resource for the university. You can check out their blog.

I strolled over to Russell House last week to listen to the writing prize winners read from their work. It was a revelation, and I was deeply moved by the stories, essays and poems I heard. The pride and affection of the writing faculty for their students was so clear, as was the support of our ever-growing community of writing students!

There has been lots of film, music and dance across the campus over the last several days, and Kari, Sophie and I were fortunate to witness much of it. From Rent to African drumming and dance, from a cappella groups to Mark Slobin’s Yiddish theater production, I’ve been hearing and seeing some stunning performances.

Tomorrow our finals begin, and I think I’ll be hearing a lot of tapping on computer keyboards as students write and faculty grade exams and essays. Good luck to all!

Living United at Wesleyan

This week I attended the Middlesex United Way Award breakfast at which Wesleyan received recognition for its very effective efforts to raise money on behalf of some crucial community programs. As a Platinum Level Sponsor of its 2010-2011 Campaign, Wesleyan was one of the top ten accounts in the organization. We also were recognized for the sharp growth in our level of participation, and our overall dollar amount. As one of the tri-chairs of this year’s campaign, I was proud to receive a Leadership Award from Kevin Wilhelm. The real work, though, was accomplished by the Wesleyan volunteers, led by Shawn Hill and Mike Sciola, who inspired generous donations from across the community.








Thanks to all who support this important work!