Winter 2006: From the Editor
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"Wabash taught me how to think."
Nine times out of ten, that's the answer Wabash men give me when I ask, What was the most important thing the College did to prepare you for your career?
It's a frustrating answer to a writer looking for a story: Is that it? No anecdotes? No wise words from an admired mentor?
I also recall the telling response the father of a prospective student had to that statement: "Four years and tens of thousands of dollars, and that's all you can teach him? I'll teach him how to think myself, and it won't cost me a dime!"
But my conversation with philosophy professor Mark Brouwer gave me a deeper way to hear Wabash taught me how to think.
"At Wabash, we learn the art of being free people," Mark told me when I asked him how a liberal arts education prepares young men to their calling in life.
My conversation in front of the Scarlet Inn with math professor J.D. Phillips added, "A good liberal arts education ought to free you from slavish devotion to received opinion.
"Most folks don't have a great deal of experience with freedom; they have to be freed," J.D. said. "A good liberal arts education does that by giving you an unimpeded experience of the complicated nature of things. You're forced to entertain the proposition that the opinions you've received might be wrong, that the world is more complicated than your simplifying mythologies led you to believe."
He added that a genuine liberal arts education for professors often begins after they start teaching at a place like Wabash: "We're not just talking about being freed from slavish devotion to the views of your family and clan, country and culture, but also from the typically politically correct banalities spouted as oracular truths in the academy."
SUCH FREEING LIFTS MANY WABASH STUDENTS to careers that seem to have little to do with their academic majors, and you'll read about some of them here: a race car driver; a movie marketer; an attorney arguing cases before the Supreme Court; even a rock star!
But not all students find their calling here. The College hopes to change that. The new Strategic Plan calls for "multiple post-graduate options" for all seniors, and Wabash is pursuing a more deliberate and coordinated effort to expose all students to different vocations through internships, alumni mentoring, immersion trips, and one-on-one research on and off campus. Those experiences entice students to a vocation while giving them confidence that their liberal arts education prepares them for "the real world." As senior Clay Conner recalled from his internship at Roudebush VA Hospital last summer: "This is cutting-edge cancer research, but I had a very high comfort level with it. I know this stuff. I can do it."
You'll read here about many more such moments and how alumni and others are striving to offer them to today's Wabash students. But at the heart of it all is the liberal arts—the art of being free people.
WE TITLED THIS EDITION "CALLINGS," with a nod to Bill Placher's book of the same name, because we were interested not only in the vocations alumni finally reach, but also in the calls they respond to along the way. Men like our students who traveled to Mississippi to work with AmeriCorps volunteer A.J. Lyman ’05 after Hurricane Katrina; or Jeremy Robinson ’04, Joe Warfel ’04, and David Wagner ’05, who are putting in two years of service with Teach For America—not to become teachers, but to become better men.
"It's got to be the going, not the getting there, that's good," Harry Chapin wrote in his song "Greyhound." And therein lies the secret of those Wabash men who find deep satisfaction in their vocation. At a time of life when other young men narrow their options and opinions, a liberal arts education opens a student to choices he'd never imagined. He learns to "pursue virtue, to recognize wonder," Professor Brouwer says. Instead of heeding only his ambitions, or what his family, a professor, or the world would have him do, he opens up to the possibility, Professor Placher writes, "of finding a match between his joy and the world's needs."
"I've come to believe my vocation will be something that not only brings me joy and fulfillment, but also fulfills the community," Nick Myers ’05 told us after he postponed taking his scholarship to Yale so that he could teach English to children in Honduras.
If you want to call that "learning to think," that's just fine by me.
Steve Charles | Editor
Cover photo of Jeremy Robinson ’04 by Chris Minnick