Remarks at Staff Breakfast

President George Bridges' comments
Staff Breakfast, Aug. 25, 2010

 

Good morning everyone!

I relish this glorious day, our breakfast together and the beginning of the fall academic term. These are among the most enjoyable moments of the year.

With each additional year at Whitman, I am increasingly appreciative of and grateful for you and the role that each of you plays at our college.

Your commitment to our students, the collaborative, I'll-do-anything approach that you bring to your work and the humble spirit that you infuse into the life and culture of our campus are genuinely inspiring.

I will confess that at points I've wondered what I should say at these breakfasts. I know that some of you are eyeing those last strips of bacon and just want me to get over with it so that you can get back to eating. Others want to bask in the warmth of the sunshine for a while, enjoy the company of colleagues and reflect for a few moments on the college and our future. And, I certainly know that Jed is worried that if I speak too long he'll have to go on leave for a couple of weeks starting tomorrow just to avoid your phone calls and messages.

Not true.

Let me be brief. I begin with a description of an event that happened just last week.

On Wednesday, I received a note from a Whitman alumna.  In her message she described the president of a prominent private university in the Northwest who was recently overheard telling his senior staff, "We need a reputation like Whitman." He was referring to the fact that Whitman, our Whitman, is the premier liberal arts college in the Northwest with a national reputation for academic excellence, an unpretentious campus culture and the uniquely engaging character of our college community. This is Whitman's reputation and also its legacy.

We have inherited this legacy from generations past, and we are now its keepers. Each of us has the good fortune of and opportunity to advance this legacy for the coming year and the years ahead.

As we think about the legacy we are leaving, let's recall some of the Whitman highlights last year, reminders of the exceptional work we do together:

  • completed major renovations of the Sherwood Athletic Center, Olin Hall, Maxey Hall, the Glover Alston Center, and Borleske Stadium
  • the new Student Engagement Center - the joining of our Career Center, Center for Community Service, and America Reads programs.
  • many excellent programs for students by our residential life team
  • a new sexual-assault prevention program
  • new study abroad models and programs
  • a major transfer of IT protocols enabling far better use of the data we collect and store in Datatel.
  • a new logo and design for the college identity
  • enormous success in our capital campaign, exceeding by $10 million our expectations for the year
  • an astronaut, a Washington State professor of the year, prestigious international recognition for the director of our library, and elite certification of our scientific and chemical materials manager.
  • a new registration process for first-year students that brings faculty, staff and students closer together in academic advising.
  • a tremendous outpouring of support and care for the families of students involved in tragic automobile and skiing accidents
  • a very impressive, albeit huge, entering class of students
  • numerous prestigious scholarships and awards for students
  • endless compliments by visitors to Whitman about the beauty of our campus grounds
  • and, of course, successful recruitment and hiring of our impressive new staff colleagues.

These are just a sample of what we accomplished together last year.

I am quite confident that we have much to look forward to in the year ahead, and while we seek to anticipate those challenges and events, I am reminded of the words of the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of "The Little Prince," who wrote: "Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it."

Each year it seems, we meet the surprises and challenges successfully, even as they demand greater effort, even greater cooperation and increased unity in our work. Each year, we advance the quality of the education we offer, the strength of our relationships with our students, our alumni, and one another, and write a new page of Whitman history. 

At this time each year, we renew and reaffirm our commitment to values that have guided Whitman College since it opened its doors to students nearly 130 years ago.

Let us together renew and reaffirm our commitment to sustaining a campus environment that is friendly, by welcoming our new students and their families to campus, greeting them warmly, and helping them with this important transition in their son's and daughter's lives. 

Let us renew and reaffirm our commitment to supporting our faculty colleagues in providing the assistance they need in their classes and academic work with students. The faculty has primary responsibility for the academic experience of our students and for the academic reputation of the college. They need our active and diligent support.

Let us renew and reaffirm our commitment to one another in ensuring that we help where help is needed, even if the help is not necessarily in the confines of our job descriptions. Doing so creates a culture of care and civility that has characterized Whitman for decades; that culture represents part of our national reputation and why others hold Whitman in such high regard.

Let us renew and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that our students' experiences here - whether they are writing  brilliant papers, experiencing successful relationships or even just doing their laundry - prepare them to lead our communities and our country in the future.

Let us leave here today remembering that we are Whitman - you and I. This great school is no more and no less than the mosaic of us as individuals, our relationships with one another and our daily efforts to sustain the legacy of those who came before us. What we do here, at this great college day in and day out, is shape the future of our college and our country one student at a time and one day at a time.

I would like to end our time together with a fun ritual started by one of Whitman's legendary athletics and football coaches, Bob Thomsen. He would call his football team together prior to each game and with them shout "all for one, one for all!" Just for fun, let's stand and shout "all for one, one for all!"

(and no, we are not bringing back football).

Thanks for coming. Have a great year!