Eric Idle and our student-athletes brought us to our feet in 2013

George Bridges

As members of the Class of 2013 received diplomas at our Commencement ceremony this May, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences this group of graduates brought to Whitman. They came from 14 foreign countries, ranging from Guatemala to Ethiopia; 32 states, from California to Maine; and five were our immediate neighbors, natives of Walla Walla. Finally, 12 percent of graduates were the first in their families to attend college.

One of the California graduates was Lily Idle ’13, who received her diploma from her father, English comedian Eric Idle, a founding member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, creator of the Tony and Grammy Award-winning Broadway musical “Spamalot,” prolific writer and star of the London Summer Olympics closing ceremony. While the Idles shared a proud moment on stage, the crowd of an estimated 4,000 was still laughing after Eric’s surreal, humorous Commencement speech.

In his trademark comedic style, Eric treated the Class of 2013 to some memorable jokes, including this one: “Graduation day is one of those days you will remember until the day you forget.” But through humor he highlighted our graduates’ unlimited potential and the profoundly positive changes they will make in our world. And throughout his address, he underscored the importance that their Whitman education will have on their lives.

Clearly, the mission of Whitman College is to educate our students in a manner that enables them to lead as professionals, citizens and contributing members of our global community.

An important virtue of a Whitman education is that the classroom is just one of many places where we develop tomorrow’s leaders. Whitman’s athletic fields and arenas are learning laboratories where students develop the character, responsibility, flexibility, integrity and determination required to succeed in our very complex and evolving society.

The recent growth and success of our varsity athletic programs is one of many areas in which we witness our students’ impressive development. The past two seasons, Whitman had 17 All Americans, won five Northwest Conference Championships and sent 10 teams to NCAA Division III postseason competition. Our women’s basketball team advanced to the Division III tournament’s Elite 8. Whitman also had a national runner up in swimming, as Galen Sollom-Brotherton ’14 finished second in the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA finals.

Coaches like Michelle Ferenz (women’s basketball), Eric Bridgeland (men’s basketball) and Jennifer Blomme (men’s and women’s swimming) make possible this level of success. Then there is baseball coach Sean Kinney ’05, who led Whitman to its best season since 1975; Matt Helm, who has sparked a resurgence in volleyball; John Hein, named NWC Coach of the Year in women’s tennis; and Jeff Northam ’88, who guided the men’s tennis team to its sixth-consecutive conference championship and to NCAA nationals.

Our student-athletes’ passion, commitment and performance produce these successes. In addition to Galen’s silver medal at nationals, Karl Mering ’15 powered his way to third in the nation in the 200-yard butterfly. Basketball player Ben Eisenhardt ’14 was named NWC Player of the Year, as well as an All American. And tennis stars Alyssa Roberg ’13 and Courtney Lawless ’15 earned All-American status. These athletes are just a few of the many standouts to be celebrated. Of course, our student-athletes also meet the very high academic standards that Whitman expects of all students. The overall graduation rate for varsity student-athletes is 91 percent, a few points higher than the rate for all Whitman students.

I must also credit these successes to the loyal alumni and friends of the college who continue to support Whitman. For example, the college’s most recent alumni, the Class of 2013, collected more than $15,000 to support the Senior Fund Scholarship Endowment with 69 percent of the class contributing. Further, more than 600 parents, alumni and friends of Whitman made generous gifts to the W Club, supporting our varsity athletic teams’ rise to national stature.

Such enthusiastic support from our alumni and friends continually inspires me. I am delighted by the palpable buzz of activity heard around campus this summer as students work with faculty on collaborative research projects. Equally exciting is the work of 125 students with internships around the country supported by Whitman funding. The resources assisting these research projects and internships could only happen with strong philanthropic backing.

This is why our Now Is The Time Campaign is vitally important to renewing and strengthening Whitman’s people and programs. Without your generous campaign support we could not meet the challenge of preparing our students adequately for the exciting and challenging lives they have ahead.

On behalf of all of our students, faculty, staff and Governing Board members, I extend our sincere thanks.



George S. Bridges