Thank you and welcome back to Northfield, to the Carleton campus. And welcome to Skinner Chapel. In my routine morning commute, and a particularly brutal commute it is -- I speak of the five minute walk from Nutting to Laird -- I routinely pause in front of Skinner Chapel, as I do again en route home in the evening. In the morning, I pause before Skinner in search of inspiration; in the evening, I pause in search of consolation.
We wish also to extend a special note of welcome and of gratitude to those Carleton Trustees who are with us this weekend. I have been blessed, in the eighteen years that I have had the honor of leading educational institutions, to have worked with some extraordinary Trustees. Still, none exceeds in wisdom or commitment than those who serve Carleton today as Trustees. We’ve made special demands on Carleton Trustees of late, asking them to meet with us over extended periods in planning the college of the future. Trustees and former Trustees whom I am sure classmates and others will wish especially to thank include:
Dick Nordholm ’51;
Tom Colwell; and
Art Schulze; all from the class of ’52;
Rev. Earl Neil; and
Katherine Youngblood, all from the Fiftieth Reunion Class;
Bill Feldt ’61;
Polly Nason McCrea;
Bob Nelson; and
Sidney Carne Wolff, all from the Class of ’62;
Jack Eugster ’67;
Caesar Sweitzer ’72;
Kelly Conlin ’82 and
Paul Van Valkenburg ’82 (Trustee elect);
Eden Inoway-Ronnie ’87;
Elisabeth Steele ’97; and
Ruby Sheets ’02.
Four members of the President’s Administrative Council/Senior Staff are alumni, three of whom join other alumni on staff at Carleton in celebrating reunions this year.
This is, of course, a return to Carleton for all of you, but for my wife, Teresa, and for me, this is but our fifth Carleton reunion. Having spent most of our adult lives in liberal arts colleges, we’ve also devoted a lot of time to reunions, our own reunions and those at the colleges where we’ve been blessed to spend our lives. Indeed, we are something like reunion professionals. And the reunions we’ve attended are all splendid events, none of which I could or will disparage. Still, still there is something different about a Carleton reunion. That something is easier to feel and sense than it is to describe, but my best attempt at description is this: A Carleton reunion carries with it a special sense of returning to a place of grounding, a special sense of returning to an intellectual and spiritual home. We are powerfully pleased you have today returned home.
And home today is Carleton to about 1,900 of the finest students in America, students as talented and hard-working as any students anywhere, but students who possess as well the key Carleton virtue of an abiding intellectual curiosity. Carleton students today, as in the past, are more interested in what they do not know than in parading what they do know. Something else there is that defines Carleton students: they are engaged. Their engagement is why I prize meeting Carleton students, in my office, in the Snack Bar, during my Fly Fishing Course, and, this coming winter, for the course I’m teaching for 32 Carleton students who will join me in Cairo for an Off-Campus Studies Program. Our students’ engagement is why our faculty regularly respond to the question “What is the best thing about being a Carleton faculty member?” by answering, “Carleton students.”
It turns out that Carleton students become Carleton alumni, so that the same traits which characterize our students today also characterize you. Indeed, I like to say that we don’t have 1900 students and 26,000 alumni; Carleton rather has something like 28,000 students, including all the engaged alumni with us this weekend.
And our students today, like you in your time at Carleton, are notable for their directness and candor, their aversion to pretense and to title and rank, and their sense of humor. Let me illustrate all three of these traits – candor, an aversion to pretense and rank, and a markedly lively sense of humor -- through a single narrative. We have this year past engaged in a thorough study of our student housing needs, and we have done so because we aim to begin construction soon on at least one set of new student residences so that we can return far more of our students to campus, thus to fulfill one of the central aims of a residential liberal arts college. Thinking of student housing recalled for me a conversation I had some time back in Burton Dining. Sitting I was with about a dozen students, and we talked chiefly about the Middle East. But toward the close of our meal, I altered the focus of our conversation to that of student housing, and I asked each student to let me know what she or he thought was the finest place to live on campus. Some answered, “Davis Hall,” and several named the still quite new town houses which march up Division Street between 2nd to just below Musser. Then, then we got to the young woman immediately to my left, and this is what she said: “The finest place to live on campus? Well, from personal experience I cannot speak; but I strongly suspect it’s where you live, the president’s house.” A defining Carleton moment this was, and it was so because her answer was at once: Smart, inventive, unpredictable, and, and dead right.
To some quite specific dates and events in the College’s proud history and to something of what the Class of 1957 knew at Carleton, we are going to turn in a moment. But let me begin far more generally, and let me ask all of you to recall that spring day or week in your senior year in high school when you were choosing to accept Carleton’s invitation to join so many other talented students at the College. What was the chief reason, what were the chief reasons, for your choice? For most today, and I suspect for many of you back then, the reason to choose Carleton was:
not the size of our library holdings, or the breadth and depth of our utilization of the finest technology, though the Lawrence McKinley Gould library is today an astonishingly fine library and though we have worked and will continue to work on utilizing appropriate technology in all that we do;
not the spaciousness and the state-of-the-art nature of our laboratories or art studios, though these were fine and are ever finer, and though we continue to make marked progress in planning Carleton’s new Center for Creative Collaboration, a center which will serve to connect the arts, one with another, and the arts with the rest of our curriculum, a center to be constructed on the site of the former Northfield Middle School just south of Nutting House;
not the number of Nobel Prize winners on the faculty, though we are exceptionally proud of the advances our faculty are making in redefining what counts as knowledge in their fields;
not the success of Carleton’s fund-raising , even if those in External Relations and all of you continue to establish the loftiest of goals, especially with regard to participation in the Alumni Annual Fund, and then to shatter those participation goals and to set annually yet higher records;
and not even the beauty of the Upper and Lower Arboretum, even if I confess a special love for these woods and prairie, even if I never enter the Arb for a long run without pausing to give thanks to Donald Cowling, the President who both purchased the Arb land and made Carleton, Carleton, the President whose judgment in establishing the Arb was so roundly questioned that those inspiring acres were long labeled “Cowling’s Folly.” Still, your choice of Carleton was likely not cemented by the Arb, even if the Arb shapes who we are and about what we most care in ways those not a part of Carleton would find difficult to imagine.
Rather, the reason why many successful applicants choose Carleton today is the same reason why so many of those faculty and staff whom we wish to recruit to Carleton choose to join us: it is the faculty’s extraordinary dedication to teaching; it is the quality of student, faculty, and staff interaction; it is students as talented as any in the land, yet students distinctly not given to corrosive competition; it is the friendships which began early in your time at Carleton, friendships which continued and grew the warmer during your time at Carleton, and which, in many cases, have strengthened and endured in the years after you graduated.
We are proud of a great deal about this lovely College. And our pride extends to the beauty of the campus, to the freedom our endowment grants to us, to the new and renovated teaching and living facilities which your generosity has made possible. But we are both proud of and always aware of the fact that Carleton is not about facilities or endowments. Carleton is all about people. Talented and diverse students and faculty and staff, together, together in class, together out of class -- this is what Carleton is about. Indeed, what Carleton is centrally about is just what I see my own chief mission to be, and this is assembling talented and diverse students and faculty and staff together, and then – and then -- setting them free.
Among those with us this morning are a signally large number of women and men from the Class of 1957, about whose inspiring Reunion Gift we learned only moments ago. Anticipating this moment, for the past several months I have had the joy of pouring over some research about what the Carleton College the Class of 1957 knew and I want to let you know some of what I have found. These historical moments I recall here, knowing, as I do, that a great many are gathered here in addition to those in our Fiftieth Reunion class, and knowing that it is Carleton’s future in which many of you are most interested; but I am going to relate some moments in our past both because I am nothing if not a historian of Carleton and because I wish to speak at the close about what has changed and about what has not. My own historical work has included reading through many of the speeches and papers of Carleton’s presidents, and also innumerable past issues of the Carletonian. Here is some of the Carleton this class knew, something of the College during the years between 1953 and 1957:
The Class of ’57 began their time at Carleton by continuing the tradition of student-faculty teas, about which the Careltonian warned: “Since the event’s chief purpose is to give students and faculty a chance to meet informally, the authorities consider food secondary. The wise tea-goer will make sure of his refreshments by planting himself firmly in the line of his choice and refusing to speak to anyone at all until he is fed.”
Later that year, in the winter of 1954, the Carletonian expressed a sentiment apparently widely shared, a disgust over rising coffee prices. “Anyone knows that a college has a hard time meeting expenses in this day and age. The cost of education, like all other costs, has risen tremendously over the last decade. Everyone sympathizes with those whose job it is to regulate the finances of the school.” Still, “few have expected that the national hysteria over rising coffee costs would reach the dining rooms of the dorms. The rise in price in Tea Room coffee has been expected by even the most optimistic of us; there are few places anywhere where anyone can buy a nickel cup of coffee. But the elimination of the second cup of dinner coffee seems to me to be just a little foolish.” “Maybe they should serve hot water, have us carry our own instant mix and refund us a nickel.”
In the autumn of 1954, Willis Hall opened for Student Activities after a lengthy transformation. A month later, the football team refused to fold in the waning moments of a game they were losing to St. Olaf. Again from the Carletonian: “The amazing Knights from Carleton fought to one of their greatest football triumphs as they edged host St. Olaf 14-13 in the annual “goat” game last Saturday. Sophomore guard John Sheagren fell on an Ole fumble in the end zone with 2:36 remaining to play,” and the extra point gave us the victory. The team later completed an undefeated season, winning the Midwest conference championship for the first time in 13 years.
Nor were they alone in an era which witnessed previously unknown athletic success. The soccer team had an undefeated season, and the 1957 Algol reported that “the finest fall in Carleton cross-country annuals is now history. The article continues by noting that the autumn of 1956 saw the culmination of the four year cross-country careers of four determined seniors: Captain Earl Neil, Wilbur Olson, Paul Schultz, and Marty Baker. The unblemished meet record – in which no other team even came close – is accounted for by the spirit of these seniors and the inspiration they gave to their junior teammates: Mike Armacost, and Chad DeLong.”
In December of the Class of ‘57’s Senior Year, “President Gould left to participate in the preparation for the International Geophysical Year which was to begin officially on July 1, 1957. He set off for Little America, Antarctica. . . . Twenty-seven years previously, Dr. Gould had also been snow-shoeing his way over the vast expanses of the huge icebergs which make up the “soil” of Antarctica.”
And speaking of Geology, this same year “Mr. Henrickson became Dr. Henrickson upon receiving his doctorate over the summer months.” Professor Eiler Henrickson, of course, also brought the wrestling team to prominence, as the Knight grapplers climaxed a successful season by winning the Midwest Conference Championship.” Eiler Henrickson, you should know, was recently elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Archibald MacLeish dedicated the new library. Winter Carnival meant not the bison which I long to return to the prairie grasses of the Arb, but it did beasts and snow statues.
Finally, this was the era when paintings and drawings from Carleton art majors began to be displayed around the state. Today, in early May, we celebrate the opening of the Senior Art Show, and you’d better get there early: At Carleton, we line up for art shows the way students at, say Ohio State or Florida, line up for Bowl tickets.
This, this and much more, was the College known by the Class of ’57. But they, as all of us, are chiefly interested in the Carleton of the future. The Carleton of the future must at once embrace the values and habits of the College which we most treasure and yet also change, since the only way for colleges to remain the same is for them to change. Knowing, as we do, the long tradition of valuing diversity at Carleton, we have and we will continue to focus our greatest efforts on increasing the experience of difference here at the College. And defining this experience of difference as expansively as we do, we include the presence and the valuing of American minorities, and also those differences we experience from varied income levels and backgrounds across the country. This year’s freshman class, like next year’s freshman class, included about one hundred students of color.
So, too, we define diversity to include a level of global concern which has at once defined Carleton for many decades and yet which we must enhance. The Class of 2000 included two international students; the Class of 2011, the class just admitted, includes 38 international students. The years ahead will see a continuation of our recent numbers of international students and faculty, more international programs, and this, above all, for one like me who has studied languages and religions throughout his life, continued focus on comparative religions, on what divides us and what can unite us, and more attention to critically important languages such as Arabic. On January 8 of this year, the Carleton faculty voted to approve Arabic as a language which can fulfill the College’s language department, and we begin Arabic classes in September. In January of 2008, and as briefly noted earlier, I will be leading an Off Campus Studies Program in Cairo, where the 32 students who join me in Cairo will learn much about Egyptian religion and history from before the Pharaohs through the Christian, then Islamic centuries, and I will have the great joy of teaching Carleton students and of coming to know them, their engagement, their openness to adventure, in ways I think impossible, absent the kind of shared experience an Off Campus Program means.
Speaking at once of Carleton history and the future, this has proudly and long been a college where all talented and committed students are welcome, whatever their financial needs. Unlike so many American colleges and universities who reward test scores with scholarship awards, we at Carleton have long devoted the great majority of our financial aid to meeting financial need, and we will only enhance this devotion to meeting financial need in the years ahead. In the absence of greater financial aid, we cannot do what we will and must do, and this is to fulfill the dreams of those for whom Carleton remains a distant dream in the absence of generous financial aid. We are increasingly in a minority in basing financial aid on financial need, but we will continue this Carleton tradition. Indeed, if we are the last college in America to award aid based on need, then we will proudly be the last college in America so to do.
Regarding recent advances, I will admit to some great pride that we worked for several years to bring wind power to Carleton. On September 25 of 2004, we inaugurated the first college-owned utility- scale wind turbine in the country. This we did on the first, last, and only completely windless day in recent Minnesota history. I ascended to the wind turbine’s control booth, pushed the button on the gauge which measures wind speed, and the gauge read “zero.” I pushed the button again to alter the gauge so that it indicated the average wind speed over the preceding four hours. The gauge again read “zero.” But, but in the months since then, that beautiful piece of Scandinavian sculpture on the plains, as I have come to call our wind turbine, has been producing an amount of electricity equivalent to more than 40% of our total electricity need. Early in life, growing up in South Dakota as I did, I learned that this part of the country suffers no shortage of wind, and we are now harnessing some of that abundant wind.
I alluded earlier to our plans for a new center to combine and connect the arts at Carleton with one another, and to connect the arts with other academic disciplines, a new center on the site of the old Northfield Middle School, which we recently purchased. To help us think about the future of visual learning at Carleton, we formed in the autumn of 2004 an Arts Planning Committee, and the charge I gave to them included the following sentences:
“The charge of the Arts Planning Committee is to produce a strategic plan for the arts at Carleton. The Committee’s guiding purpose is to shape a vision and outline a plan to relocate the arts more centrally in the educational program at Carleton and to position the College to be a national leader in the arts for decades to come. . . . We are entrusting you to embrace this challenge, remove provincial blinders, and think audaciously about the future of art at Carleton. We look to you for a transforming vision. We need to think boldly and to shape a vision for the arts at Carleton whose goal is nothing short of our being nationally recognized as leaders in arts education – Great Plains leaders with a global reach.”
Our goals here are so central to us because of something perhaps obvious about a liberal arts education, but something still we can overlook. And this is the role of prompting creativity, innovation, and inventiveness in the liberal arts. My own favored definition of a liberal arts education, a definition that a former colleague of mine at Dartmouth College and I shaped over several hours of conversation, is this: A liberal arts education is beginning to think seriously about what it means to lead a worthwhile life. A part of leading a worthwhile life and working to shape a worthwhile life for those who will come after us is learning and practicing creativity, and our new Collaborative Center has among its aims that of sharpening our focus at Carleton upon creativity.
Recalling Carleton’s past and present, as we do today, cannot but remind us that much has, indeed, changed. Changes there have, indeed been, and changes lie ahead, for a college which does not change is unworthy of the name. In this regard, the faculty has begun the first, systematic curricular study in many years, an inquiry aimed to investigate the skills and habits of inquiry and methods of inquiry most needed for our newly global world. Minnesota’s own Thomas Freedman is right, the World is Flat, and an abiding danger for us is that with which Fareed Zakaria concluded his review in the NY Times of Friedman’s The World is Flat: “Will it turn out that, having globalized the world, the United States had forgotten to globalize itself?”
But, amidst what has changed and what will change, I remind you as well that much has not changed. Unchanged is Carleton’s uncompromising focus on teaching, on the lifetime value of the liberal arts. A liberal arts education is beginning to think seriously about what it means to live a worthwhile life, and we aim to continue our uncompromising focus on the liberal arts.
Unchanged, too, is our conviction that Carleton prizes the gift of a sense of humor and the continuation of a habit which means that at Carleton we prize achievement but we don’t much value pretension. Unchanged is our knowing that intellectual curiosity is not a part of what we exercise at Carleton; intellectually curious women and men is rather who we are. And unchanged and forever unchanging is our regard and affection for all Carleton alumni, for that web of connection which forever means that Carleton is part of you and you a part of Carleton, and unchanged in particular this morning is our regard and affection for the Class of 1957. We are grateful, Class of 1957 and all of you gathered here today, for the changes you shaped, for the traditions you continued, for your focus on the future, and for your abiding engagement with the College and with one another. Thank you.