An enduring education

Wheaton events like this one at the Boston Public Library provide a chance to hear from alumni. (Keith Nordstrom photo)

I’ve heard some great stories about Wheaton campus life while visiting with alums and attending college events with them and with parents and friends across the country. Unfortunately, I can’t share the best of those tales of late night forays to places that were (and are) off-limits to students, wrong turns taken while driving over paths and perhaps a bridge on campus, and visitors being smuggled into the residence halls after curfew. I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing these joyful recollections among classmates and friends, and it’s deepened my appreciation for the sense of connection that exists among Wheaties across generations.

The enduring strength of relationships forged at Wheaton comes up in nearly every conversation I have with alums (as witnessed in the Class Notes section of this magazine). It doesn’t matter what class year, and it’s a consistent theme from very recent graduates to those in the classes of the 1950s. Across the years, graduates reminisce about living in specific residence halls, theme houses and even the former observatory, about study sessions in the library stacks or the Emerson porch, and different campus cultures created through leadership and participation in organizations, arts, athletics and events.

It’s not surprising that college friendships last. After all, the undergraduate years are a time of growth and self-discovery. Students are exposed to new ideas, people and cultures, and they form close bonds with peers who are going through similar experiences. This is true, to some extent, at every college. But in my experience, as a faculty member and an administrator at several other fine institutions, these connections are particularly strong and long-lasting at Wheaton, and this is something to cherish.

I believe the special bonds that exist among Wheaton alums are closely related to the gratitude that graduates have for the wonderful and transformative education that takes place on this campus. The second theme I hear is how outstanding faculty members came to know them, challenge them and open new life and career paths for them.

Often, these stories include examples of active learning. One example that comes up often were the daily trips into Wheaton Woods to study a quadrat (a small square of woodland habitat) and journal about it as part of an introductory biology course. Some alums were very imaginative—rather than scientific—in this assignment, much to the surprise of the professor!

This focus on hands-on, active learning—whether it be research, a service project, a performance or an internship—combined with rigorous liberal arts study and the connectivity of the community form the bedrock of the Wheaton experience. These concepts are expressed in the college’s mission statement, which was recently updated as part of our yearlong strategic conversations:

Wheaton College provides a transformative liberal arts education, combining theory and practice, for intellectually curious students within a collaborative and vibrant extended community and network that values and strives to create an equitable and just world.

As it has in the past, Wheaton undoubtedly will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our current and future students and to address the challenges of a changing world. Always we will be guided by our vision of educating students for purposeful, abundant lives and evolving careers. The impact of this enduring vision is woven through the many inspiring stories that I hear from alums who are contributing in so many ways to their communities and to this college. It’s a tradition that deserves our continued commitment and support as we witness together the graceful transformations of our students’ lives over time.