North Central College - Naperville, IL

2007: The Arrival of Spring

On the lawn of the president’s house, there’s a forsythia bush whose spectacular blooms herald the arrival of spring. A few years ago—in the midst of a hard Illinois winter—my wife commissioned a full color picture of that forsythia to hang, when the snow falls, in a place of honor next to her desk, a daily reminder that spring is coming.

I must confess that I looked at that picture quite often this December and January. It wasn’t the weather (although it was a cold winter). It was our fundraising. The Kresge Challenge for the new Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center is just that—a CHALLENGE—$7 million to be committed by June 30, 2007, in order to receive the $1 million Kresge payout. And with $3 million to go in February, reaching the goal in time looked very daunting.

We still have quite a ways to go. But now the forsythia is in full bloom, every day brings word of new corporate, community and alumni Kresge Challenge pledges, and the walls of the Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center are starting to go up. So it feels like spring!

A big part of the excitement of spring is the Rall Symposium and what it has come to symbolize in the life of the College. Our Strategic Plan for 2007-2012 talks about reinforcing the growing culture of inquiry on campus. When students publicly present the results of their research at the Rall Symposium on Honors Day, it’s like that forsythia coming into bloom after a long winter of hard and often frustrating work. On this day, it’s all worth it.

Over the years, I have known North Central students whose “eureka moments” as researchers and scholars have been life-changing events, highs similar to the times when student athletes dramatically exceed their previous bests. But for too many students, at this college and others— unlike in athletics, where the finish line is clear, as is the difference between winning and losing —it’s hard to visualize the incomparable rewards that can come from discovering, inventing, creating and presenting something original … for yourself and for the world.

The challenge for faculty and staff, as we look to the future, is to make sure that every North Central student—not just those with scholarly gifts—experiences that joy in their years on campus…the joy of being a part of a culture of inquiry, of raising their intellectual game to a new level.

This is the 17th spring Benna and I have lived in Naperville, and it never gets old. Track meets, softball games watching baseball at Alumni Field, students back from service trips all over the nation, spectacular speakers and events (from Ron Allen, Bob Newhart and Bill Bradley to Gina Glocksen)…as Marv Levy, our Commencement speaker four years ago, put it: “Is there anyplace you would rather be than right here, right now?”

As exciting as this season of the year, and all that it brings, is—the new facilities, the great athletic performances, a successful Kresge Challenge (I hope!)—I never forget that what the spring and that gorgeous forsythia, our burning bush, really herald is a spectacular new cohort of North Central College students, about to graduate with minds ablaze and the talent to take on the world.

Harold R. Wilde

North Central Now, June 2007