You may have heard how the Whitman Blues women swam to the 2019 Northwest Conference Championship this past February, coming from behind on the last day of the meet. Or about the group of students whose dedication to the environment convinced the Board of Trustees to begin the process of divesting from fossil fuels. Or about the first-generation/working-class students who journeyed to Walla Walla for our first Summer Fly-In Program four years ago, and this spring are proudly receiving their degrees.
I’ve come to expect this sort of resilience from our Whitties. But more often than not, I hear about the lack of it in today’s young people. I read about coddled kids and “snowflakes,” students who can’t deal with failure or even adversity. And I worry about our young people and the world they will inhabit if these concerns are real. And then I worry that I’ve become my parents, generationally separated from and unable to understand our current students.
However, if my worries about this generation of students are warranted, then it is our responsibility to help them prepare, as our mission statement says, for ethical and meaningful lives of purpose beyond Whitman.
I am reassured, and want all of you to be reassured, by what I see happening in the academic programs at Whitman and in many of our co-curricular offerings. Our faculty members push our students with academically rigorous programs. They offer the support students may need in order to succeed, but the students must do the work. And it’s not enough for them to do the work in a series of disconnected courses and then forget about it. They must retain and integrate what they have learned in order to tackle their required senior comprehensive exams. This kind of academic work demands resilience.
Our scholar-athletes are students first, and I am convinced that the resilience they learn in our classrooms is enhanced by their experiences on our courts, on our fields and in our pool. They win a lot, and that’s really fun, but they also deal with team and personal adversity, and they still show up for the next contest and give it their all. Hats off to our great coaching staff for encouraging that spirit of resilience in our scholar-athletes.
Every Friday at noon, students, staff and faculty gather in the Glover Alston Center for our “Continuing the Conversation” program, designed to create space for people to engage in difficult conversations around topics like race, religion, politics or sexuality. Participants are encouraged to extend grace to each other as they learn to navigate these difficult dialogues. Another approach to building resilience.
I am proud of this work that I see in action at Whitman, but I will never be satisfied or believe that it is sufficient. The complexities of our local, national and global landscapes demand the mental strength of healthy resilience. I believe you will see some extraordinary results of that resilience in the stories of students, faculty, staff and alumni that fill the pages of this magazine.