We must find more ways to help deserving students

Another academic year — my third at Whitman — is complete, and everywhere I turn I find more evidence of the value of this institution and the community that shapes it.

This year we saw record growth in applications to the college from an exceptional crop of high school seniors. We successfully recruited talented new faculty and will add several new staff positions in the coming year.

George Bridges President George Bridges congratulates honorary degree recipient Margaret Chesney ’71.

For their part, our students earned a record number of prestigious awards in 2007-08. The essence of that achievement, however, isn’t in the numbers. It’s in the awareness, compassion and concern for a better world that inspired, for example, Suzanne Zitzer’s dedication to global energy initiatives, Meheret Endeshaw’s desire to help HIV orphans in her homeland of Ethiopia, and Erik Andersen’s initiative to show how public art and artifacts of past violence impact physical places and collective cultural memories.

These outcomes remind me of perhaps our greatest imperative as a college community. We must find more ways and more resources to help talented students of all backgrounds and means attend Whitman, so that they, too, can flourish. Each year promising young scholars who want to attend Whitman — students who we very much want here — can’t afford to study here despite the scholarships we’re currently able to offer.

As learning opportunities increase and the bar of academic excellence pushes higher and higher, the price of education necessarily increases. At institutions like Whitman, price does reflect value. Increased tuition reflects a compact we have with our students and their families: the promise of an exceptional, expansive learning experience.

And the result? One need only consider the example of Margaret Chesney ’71, as I did at Commencement, when the college awarded her an honorary doctorate for her many achievements. A summa cum laude graduate of Whitman, Margaret is now a world leader in AIDS research and prevention studies and associate director of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine.

Cutting corners on educational opportunity such as Margaret Chesney enjoyed is not the answer to the cost of higher education. Increasing our financial resources is. Collectively, we must find more ways to meet the needs of exemplary, deserving students. In the years directly ahead, we will need your support — support that will continue to provide learning experiences that galvanize our students’ lives and guide their future.

As always, thank you for allowing me to be part of that effort.

George S. Bridges