GETTING IT RIGHT
Someday these childish dreams must end, to become a man and grow up to dream again.
—BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, “TWO HEARTS”
I made the biggest mistake of my life when I was growing up in San Francisco in the late 1970s. My friend Mark “Woody” Hazelwood had an extra ticket to see Bruce Springsteen at Winterland Arena, and he offered it to me.
“Nah,” I said. “Someone else can go.”
I was young, not much of a Springsteen fan then, and I didn’t realize the value of the experience my friend was offering.
I’ve since seen Springsteen many times, but I’ve never forgotten turning down Woody’s offer. So when I heard Springsteen was appearing on Broadway, I called Woody and suggested that if we could get tickets, we should meet in New York and see the show.
Woody flew in from San Francisco; I, from Indianapolis. We enjoyed a great weekend in New York. We hung out, caught up, ate at some good restaurants, and saw Bruce. It was my second chance, as much a moment to celebrate a friendship as to attend a concert. I think we got it right.
One friendship, even one of many years, is a small thing in the scale of world events.
But that impulse to get it right—to do justice to the life we’ve been given and to those around us—is the foundation of civil society. It is reinforced and nurtured, face-to-face, here at Wabash, and I wonder if it isn’t the driver behind many of the remarkable second acts you’ll read about in this issue of Wabash Magazine.
it was certainly evident in many forms during Commencement last spring. When Coach Rob Johnson H’77 was asked to speak at a luncheon before being awarded his honorary degree, he asked the mothers in the room to stand and be applauded. Commencement falls on Mother’s Day, he said, and it was only right to recognize the most important people in the room.
Later during that luncheon our other honorary degree recipient, Albion President and former Wabash Dean of the College Mauri Ditzler ’75 told a story about his sophomore interview with Dean Norman Moore. Mauri had been getting good grades in tough classes and expected a glowing review. Instead, Moore chastised him.
“College is a lot more than what goes on in the classroom,” Dean Moore told him. “The life lessons are learned outside the classroom, and grades aren’t a very good measure of whether you’re learning those.”
From that moment on for Mauri, getting it right meant getting involved. He took that wisdom to heart as a student, a teacher, a dean, and now a president of a college that’s a full partner in the revitalization of its surrounding community.
That afternoon, Commencement speaker Jaleel Grandberry ’19 called on his classmates to remember the words of the great Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Jaleel offered his own take on getting it right.
“We live in a culture where fame or fortune are often many people’s top priorities. It is easy to lose sight of what truly matters: our relationships to each other.”
at graduation, I tell students that the greatest gift we gave to them was one another, so Jaleel’s words made me smile. But more gratifying was the fact that Jaleel was one of 24 graduating seniors from our first group to participate as freshmen in the Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program (WLAIP), our effort to improve graduation rates of first-generation and under-represented populations.
“We try to meet these students where they are so that we can do our best by them” is the way program director Professor Bobby Horton puts it. WLAIP is a more deliberate effort to make sure all of our students have the formative experiences that define a Wabash education.
We want all our students to know they belong here, that we’re invested in them. The door of opportunity is swung wide open; they just have to walk through it.
We want them to turn to their advisors, bond with their classmates, and understand they already have a network of mentors and friends here.
We instill responsibility as embodied in the Gentleman’s Rule.
We encourage them to tell us their stories, as they are introduced to the stories of others through their readings.
We tell them their career paths will be more a jungle gym than a ladder. We give them the lateral speed to pivot to new frontiers and the Wabash alumni network to connect them to new opportunities.
We teach them the necessity of reflection—to know themselves and to put their lives in a timeline across the arc of history and to understand their place in the world and their impact on others.
Most other institutions don’t have the ability or desire to provide space for this sort of reflection, but it is a touchstone of a Wabash education. It helps guide our alumni, young and old. It moved Steve Zusack ’06 to leave the rental car business to design spacecraft. It inspired Bill Cook ’66 to wonder how, after teaching the works of St. Francis, he might live more like him. It persuaded Gary Reamey ’77 to move to Nashville to write songs and support and promote other songwriters.
we say that four years at Wabash prepares you not only for your first job, but for life. The “second acts” of our alumni may be our strongest evidence. Wabash men never stop learning—they keep finding new facets of who they are and what they can do well for their friends, families, and communities.
There seem to be as many ways to do justice to one’s life as there are Wabash graduates. You might even say Wabash always fights… to get it right.
GREGORY HESS President | email@example.com