Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Nothing but the best will do

Sketch books“Don’t you want to find out how good you can be?”

The question was posed this semester in the final seconds of a class taught by Professor Andrew Howard—the First-Year Seminar course “The Quality of the Mark: A Journey towards Self-awareness through Drawing.” I’m an artist and a constant seeker of “self,” so I took the course alongside the students this semester.

The class had just finished a critique of assigned homework, and a couple of students had asked him point-blank whether they should redo their drawings for the final portfolios that would be turned in at the end of the semester.

His initial answer: “I don’t know, what do you think?” 

And then, “If you think this is the best that you can do, fine, but if you think you can improve upon it, then…” A pause, and finally, “Don’t you want to find out how good you can be?”

“Don’t you want to find out how good you can be?”

The words echoed in my head as I walked across campus from Mars Arts and Humanities to the Communications Office on a breezy fall day. How wise of Professor Howard to present the question that will follow every student well beyond the art studio for the rest of their lives.

It is the question we all should ask ourselves every day, no matter what we end up doing in life. Don’t you want to be the best editor? Artist? Doctor? Parent? Person?

The beauty of the question is that even though the individual must decide between mediocrity and excellence, the answer, assuming that it is “yes,” benefits everyone. What a powerful lesson for first-year students to learn as they begin their four-year journey through Wheaton.

That desire to call forth the best, particularly in strategic thinking, is the focus of the cover story for this issue of the Quarterly. The story explores the challenges that liberal arts colleges face in a tough economy.

Officials at Wheaton and many other liberal arts institutions of higher learning are working harder than ever to provide the best education possible while helping families to afford the cost of college. In addition, they are being pushed to seek new and improved ways to show skeptics the value of a liberal arts education.

Coming up with solutions will require all involved to be the best creative thinkers they can be. Luckily, that’s what a liberal arts institution is all about.

And speaking of creative thinking, another story in this issue showcases the ways in which Wheaton and local public schools have partnered for the benefit of students and educators on both sides. Also, alum Mary Howard ’85 writes about the imaginative ways in which anthropology majors have found to pursue careers in health care.

Enjoy. Be great.