The poet Robert Frost wrote: “Don’t join too many gangs. Join few if any. Join the United States and join the family. But not much in between unless a college.” I’ve always hated cliques and stereotypes. I am wary of people who substitute their gang affiliation—their fraternity, their country club membership, the cars they own, their economic status, the exclusive community in which they live—for their character and responsibility as individual, moral human beings.
North Central College is the one gang in my entire life that I have embraced without reservation … because this isn’t that kind of place. I don’t know if that was what the sloganeers in the 1980s had in mind when they referred to this as “a special kind of place,” but to me, that is what best defines what makes this place special. (If the closest thing you’ve got to a clique or a “gang” on campus is the men’s cross country team, you’ve got a pretty unique campus culture.)
Part of the North Central culture—and I think it’s been this way for 151 years—is to be modest and humble, not full of ourselves. I never tire of telling the story of North Central alumnus Dan Ruge, White House physician for President Ronald Reagan when the President was shot in an attempted assassination. Ruge was a modest man. He described his role in the White House as a little less important than the White House chef. But once in a while, over drinks and cigars, he might point out that five U.S. presidents were shot while in office … and one lived! (And it was because of him.)
In the last 22 years, I’ve known hundreds—thousands—of North Central students, alumni, trustees, faculty, coaches and staff members who remind me of Dan Ruge: solid, reliable, hard-working, decent, high character—but not full of themselves, and more concerned about getting the job done right than getting the credit. The salt of the earth. People you can count on! People you want next to you in the foxhole.
In the early 1990s, I used to hear stories about North Central grads who, when asked where they went to school, turned their eyes toward the ground and muttered “a little school you’ve probably never heard of.” I don’t hear those stories much anymore, and I don’t ever want to hear them. School districts and businesses come to us looking for our graduates because they get it. We’re the gold standard. Character matters. Standards matter. Leadership, ethics and values matter. Competence matters. Teamwork matters. A never-eroding work ethic matters. This is one school where the meaning of a degree has never been watered down and, thanks to our remarkable faculty, will never be.
So when someone asks where you went to college, or what your school is, look them right in the eyes and say, “North Central College. You know, THE North Central College.” But say it with modesty and humility worthy of a Cardinal. Never forget, this is our gang, and they don’t come any better … or prouder. I know I won’t.
Excerpts from President Wilde’s last convocation address, October 26, 2012
* * * * *
So many people to thank. So little time. I could fill this column (indeed the entire magazine) with the names of members of the North Central family to whom I will always be indebted—the Search Committee that took a risk on a 45-year-old cheesehead from Wisconsin 22 years ago; the six supportive Board chairs and the 115 trustees who served the College so generously in my tenure; the current students and more than 10,000 graduates whose hands I shook at Commencement and whose character and achievements have given me so many incandescent memories; the more than 500 faculty and staff members who picked up behind me and always made me—and the College—look good; the hundreds and hundreds of alumni who welcomed me into their homes and offices; and the donors whose gifts, large and small, have permanently impacted North Central’s spiritual, intellectual and physical landscape.
In all of the wonderful “last” events that have marked the months since I announced my retirement plans, the four individuals who deserve the most credit—and gratitude—have remained largely in the background. That is who they are, and why they are so good. But it is important they be recognized here.
For most of my tenure, the Cabinet has consisted of four vice presidents, whom I will list in order of their years of service to North Central:
- Paul Loscheider, Vice President for Business Affairs (34.5 years)
- Rick Spencer, Vice President for Institutional Advancement (31.5 years)
- R. Devadoss Pandian, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty (28.5 years)
- Laurie Hamen, J.D., Vice President for Enrollment Management, Athletics and Student Affairs (16.5 years)
I suspect there is no college in America in which the senior leadership team is more experienced. And I know that the collective good judgment of this team and their individual performances over a sustained period of years are without peer. Imagine 15 major building projects in 15 years, 21 balanced budgets in a row and successful navigation of the Great Recession… without the talents and experience, work ethic, integrity and hard-nosed fiscal realism of Paul Loscheider. I can’t. Nor would the funding of 13 endowed chairs—and all those building projects—have been possible without the multiple talents, common sense, humor and grace of Rick Spencer.
Who presided over the total revamping of the curriculum, hired three quarters of our remarkable faculty, instituted academic program review and led the charge for a dramatic rise in faculty salary competitiveness? Dr. R. Devadoss Pandian, math teacher extraordinaire, whose success as dean is grounded in honesty, fairness, wisdom and the best kind of political skills. And the record enrollments of the past decade, the professionalization of student services, the rise of Cardinal football and the integration of the entire athletic program with the academic side of the house? It could not have happened without Laurie Hamen and her energy, creativity, fearlessness and incredibly high standards.
Together, they are a dream team. It has been my extraordinary good fortune to have them as long-time colleagues, mentoring me as much as they have guided the school we love. For them: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Harold R. Wilde