President Calls Wabash to Excellence

by Jim Amidon

October 21, 2010

President Pat White gave the quintessential pep talk to the men of Wabash at Thursday’s Chapel, which ended with a particularly inspired rendition of Old Wabash.
 
The President introduced the question he has posed throughout the strategic planning process and in the upcoming major gifts initiative, the Challenge of Excellence.
 
“Why a challenge of excellence,” he asked the students, faculty, and staff in attendance. “Is this a mere slogan to hang a fund-raising effort on? A tag line, a catch phrase?”
 
Alumni donors, faculty, staff, and students will gather October 29 to formally kick off the five-year, $60 million fund raising initiative.
 
“The challenge Wabash now faces and has always faced is the challenge to be excellent,” President White said. “That is the challenge for the College, because it is the challenge you here today and all the men and women of Wabash commit to face every day and fulfill every day.”
 
The president walked the crowd through the four goals of the Challenge of Excellence, which mirror the top priorities of the strategic plan: scholarships and financial aid for worthy students; funds for faculty recruitment and development; increased opportunities for immersion learning courses and study abroad; and an enhanced career development program.
 
He asked students and faculty to raise their hands if they wanted opportunities for collaborative research and immersion learning courses. With scores of hands raised, the president said, “That’s what we’re going to make happen through this campaign.”
 
“All over the country young men are going to college — going to colleges that don’t take them seriously as students or citizens. Wabash challenges you young men to take your lives seriously. That is our great gift. And your honor is that you accepted that challenge.”
 
Students who accept the challenge in turn challenge the College to be great, he said. “You say, ‘Push me to an excellence and push the College to an excellence we do not even understand yet.’”
 
President White then talked about the three questions that too often lead to lives of mediocrity: Why bother? Who cares? What difference will it make? When students realize that excellence matters to each and every one of them, arête — the Greek word for excellence — happens.
 
Excellence happens “when we say, ‘I will take my life seriously. I will be a hero in my own story.’
 
“The choice between excellence and mediocrity makes a difference to me, to you, to Wabash; it makes all the difference in the world… To all of us, excellence is a team sport.”
 
The President also said perfection is not required. “Excellence and the pursuit of excellence is what matters.”
 
He also told stories of individual alumni, students, and faculty in their various pursuits of excellence, from cross country runners Justin Allen and Brian David to young alumnus Ted Zimmer ’09 to the entire cast of the theater department’s production of The Incident at Vichy.
 
“When we say that Wabash will be better for our time here, that is meeting the Challenge of Excellence,” rallied President White. “When we commit ourselves to our work of teaching and learning, there is the Challenge of Excellence. When we work to recruit young men to make a difference at Wabash, that is the challenge of excellence. And when we make it easy to tell our story to a larger world, we live out the challenge of excellence for Wabash.”

You can view President's entire Chapel Talk below:

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