Every summer Benna and I go off for a week or two to a cabin in the woods with a pile of books. It’s a ritual we have stuck to over more than 40 years of marriage—even in the years when our kids were growing up (they brought their own stacks of books)—a legacy of a love of books nurtured in our undergraduate years at small liberal arts colleges. I read nonfiction. She reads literature. Both of us do our best to ignore the headlines, the nightly news, the barrage of emails and text messages from planet Earth … even the wild turkeys running in the woods.
It was harder than usual to escape into our books this summer, as the stock market gyrated wildly and the debt crisis came to a head. What are they thinking? What the heck is going on?
I’ll spare you my answers to these questions (although Rodney King’s famous quote—“Can’t we all get along?”—was never far from my mind). But when the books didn’t work their magic, I thought about North Central, escaping to, rather than from, the world where I live and work because that world has never made more sense.
There was the Southwest Airlines pilot in August who spotted my hat as I was getting off the plane: “North Central College, right? Great school. I graduated from there.” Big smile. Would he be on campus on 11/11/11, at the Great Reunion, when we celebrate our 150th birthday? He hoped so. Two more national championships, the campus named one of the “most sustainable” in the country, and one of the “best places to work.” And the mid-summer note from the talented singer and actress who graduated more than a decade ago (Holly Scheutz ’00 Friend) with a picture of her three kids, including the latest addition, a daughter. Rumor has it she’ll be there for the big birthday bash, coming all the way from California.
So many graduates. So many stories. So many joyous one-on-one reunions to look forward to this fall. And an unprecedented array of remarkable events marking the College’s Sesquicentennial, from authors Caroline Kennedy and Tyra Banks to performers Yo-Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock and the Beach Boys.
In the midst of these reveries, two big North Central realities for 2011-2012 brought me back to Earth: the need to complete the transformation of the infrastructure of the physical campus that has taken place over the past 15 years, by funding plans for a new science center (and the as-of-yet unsuccessful drive to find lead gifts in the Sesquicentennial Campaign for that effort); and the year-long strategic planning exercise that must confront fundamental questions about the College’s future programs and direction.
Reflecting upon those realities—and the wider realities that have haunted our national dialogue this summer—I returned repeatedly to an extraordinary moment at this June’s Commencement. There on the College’s website was our Commencement speaker, the poet Christian Wiman, to remind us, in words of rare eloquence, of the faith and wisdom that are at the heart of the value-oriented liberal arts education for which North Central has stood for 150 years. May it always be thus, in this Sesquicentennial season, and for generations to come:
“There will come a time when you will be called to account by existence. You will fall in love or your career will fall apart. You will see your first child come screaming into the world as if God himself had spoken, or you will walk out of an oncologist’s office one day with your world torn apart. There is a place in you right now that is pure possibility, pure spirit, pure presence, pure gift—and whether it is to survive anguish or to fully enter joy, you are going to need this inner sanctum in yourself over the years. Find some way—art, for instance—of keeping that space alive. Find some faith that transcends this world, and in doing so gives you the world back in all its infinite and infinitesimal abundance.”
Harold R. Wilde
North Central Now Fall 2011