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Presidential Installation

Sarah BoltonThe Board of Trustees of Whitman College
is pleased to announce the installation
of our 15th president

Sarah R. Bolton, Ph.D.

Friday, April 28, 2023 at 5 p.m.
Cordiner Hall, Whitman College


Installation Recap Video

Livestream Video:

View/download the Installation program.

Installation Remarks:

My name is Joe Davis. I have the honor of serving as the current Chair of the Whitman College Board of Trustees.

I would like to welcome you to the installation ceremony for the 15th President of Whitman College, Dr. Sarah Bolton.

As I start, I want to acknowledge that Whitman College is located on the traditional Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla homelands. We pay our respect to tribal elders both past and present and extend our respect to all Indigenous people today. We honor their stewardship of the land and ecosystem and commit to continuing that important work.

I am thrilled to see so many of us, who care for, and love Whitman so deeply, at today’s event. Whether you be a faculty or staff member of the college, who give so much of yourself to educate our students and keep our beloved institution thriving, or a student who has the privilege of a Whitman education, or an alum, for whom Whitman has undoubtedly meant so much, a parent, or a friend of the college in so many other ways—welcome to all.

Joining me today on stage, in addition to President Bolton, are representatives of Whitman’s Board of Trustees, the President’s Advisory Board, faculty, staff and student leaders, and our distinguished guest, Dr. Sean Decatur, President of the American Museum of Natural History and former President of Kenyon College.

I would also like to recognize Bob Skotheim, our 10th President, George Bridges, our 13th and Kathy Murray, our 14th, who are with us today. Each of you, with the faculty, staff and the board, have done so much to give us the Whitman we have today. And who, with the Board, ensured we have a Whitman positioned to serve students into a future as far out as any of us can imagine. Welcome to each of you. Thank you for all you did for Whitman.

As I noted, and we all know, today we are formally welcoming and installing Sarah Bolton as the 15th President of Whitman College. This is the culmination of a process that began over two years ago when President Kathleen Murray announced her decision to retire after seven years of distinguished service to Whitman. Soon after the announcement, Board Trustee Chair Nancy Serrurier appointed a Presidential search committee led by Danielle Garbe Reser. A list of search committee members appears in your program. Our committee included representatives of the faculty, staff, student body and governing boards of the college. Will you please join me in acknowledging their exceptional service?

Together, the Board and the Search committee, could not be more pleased with our outcome!

We looked for much in our next President. With Sarah we found all to which we aspired.
Whether it be a breadth of institutional exposure, for Sarah, being part of Brown University, UC Berkely, Williams College and College of Wooster. Or a breadth of roles: faculty member, administrator, leader and, we were hoping, an experienced college president. I will not recite Sarah’s full bio, you can see it in the program, or on the internet, but again, we hit the jackpot.

We also carefully considered the person’s skills and traits, looking for:

  • smarts,
  • a visionary,
  • a strategic thinker,
  • someone who gets it done,
  • a person deeply committed to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility,
  • willing to make the ask of others to support our college with their time and/or philanthropy,
  • and someone who is kind.

But we wanted even more. Very importantly, we wanted a person who cares deeply:

  • for a liberal arts education,
  • for the institution in which they are devoting their life,
  • who cares for the faculty and staff who work at the institution,
  • and #1, a person who cares for the students whom Whitman is teaching and training to go out and make a positive difference in our world.

While the Board hoped for all of the above, I personally, together with the Board, wanted more. We also wanted a person who would connect. Who would meet with:

  • students and faculty on their turf,
  • with alumni in their homes,
  • who would eat in the dining hall,
  • who would wander into an academic building,
  • who would wander around campus.

This mattered a lot as we had work to do, like every organization and institution across the globe coming out of COVID; we had work to do to rebuild the wonderful Whitman culture ravaged by the depths of the pandemic.

This is what we most hoped to find in our next president—we admit a big ask—but with Sarah Bolton as that president, the Search Committee and the Board sleep soundly at night knowing their job was done well. And, as the first year nears an end, we are even more pleased.

Sarah is showing all of the above traits and they are playing out in early actions and results:

  • Connections and culture are well along the re-building path.
  • We are making exceptional progress with the new junior-senior residential village, with our first hall announced last night to be named Harvey Hall, after Peter Harvey, our long-time, exceptional, but sadly, retiring CFO.
  • We have kicked off an in-depth market research study aspiring to learn what today’s students want in a college like Whitman.
  • We are collaborating on a bold strategic plan for the future of the college and our impact in the world.
  • And we are preparing to publicly launch our ambitious campaign in October.
  • And also—very importantly in today’s competitive college admission environment—our incoming class of 2027 is looking strong for the fall.

Sarah, we are all thrilled you are here. Whitman is off to a great start in your tenure. We are pleased to formally install you as the 15th President of Whitman College.

I would now like to ask Sarah to join me at the lectern along with the Chair of the President’s Advisory Board, Kirsten Gable, the Chair of the Whitman College President’s Advisory Board, for the presentation of the college charter and medallion.

Sarah, this is the charter of Whitman College. It marks the establishment of the College.

[Ms. Gable presents charter to Dr. Bolton.]

This charter defines the duties, responsibilities, and privileges of the President of the College.

This medallion is symbolic of the authority and responsibility of the chief executive officer of Whitman College.

[Ms. Gable puts presidential medallion on Dr. Bolton.]

In conferring upon you this Charter and this medallion, I charge you with the affairs of this institution. Under your leadership, may Whitman College continue to inspire, inform, educate and transform its students so they will recognize and accept the challenges of our changing world as real opportunities to lead and to serve.

By virtue of the power vested in me as Chair of the Board of Trustees, I now install Sarah R. Bolton as President of Whitman College.

We will now hear from representatives of our alumni, faculty, staff, students and the Walla Walla community. We begin with our guests from the CTUIR, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. We have the honor of having with us this afternoon Lindsey X. Watchman, CTUIR General Council Chairman and E. Thomas Morning Owl, CTUIR General Council Interpreter. Lindsey and Thomas…

Tac quleewit. Nix quleewit. Kuu shix quleewit.

I wanted to say good afternoon in each of the three languages that are still spoken on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. 

My name is Lindsey Watchman. I’m the chairman of the General Council. [native speech] I am thankful to Creator for this day, and my heart is happy to be here. I have a little bit of history as an educator myself, with Whitman and Kathleen—your prior President. I want to absolutely thank you for all the hard work on the MOUs between our community and this institution, and having met Sarah, in just a short amount of time, a word you mentioned was connect. Well, we’re already on hugging terms. So I think that’s a good connection there. So I’m going to go over there and hug her real quick and tell her congratulations, while Thomas, you know, the real tradition bearer of our tribe, will speak to you for a few moments.

Good afternoon. My name is Thomas Morning Owl. I am the interpreter, an elected position with the General Council, which is one of the branches of our tribal government. And on behalf of the Confederated Umatilla tribes, I would like to say welcome, and I do look forward to a number of fruitful years that we are going to be able to continue with the commitment, not only to one another’s community, but for the future yet to come.

As a representative of the Indigenous people of this area, I can recall stories from my grandparents and my parents, who spoke at different levels of their educational experience. One of my grandmothers was a product of the first European educators in this area: Narcissa Whitman. It continued on into the tribal boarding school system of the 1800s, and now I stand here as a grandparent of a student of this institution.

With the agreement that was brought forward under the past administration, as an MOA, a MOU, we are committed to forming a lasting legacy by which will render fruitful results for the children that are now being educated, to children that will be educated, and at the same while remembering that our legacy of mutual respect must remain. I would like to say that as a tribe, our education was the responsibility, not only of the teachers that were installed in such positions, but from the community at large. I would hope that the continued education resting upon individuals that stand before you, and what you are representing here, and assuming that responsibility, I can only wish you the best of years to come. That our working relationship will continue, and that there will be more doors open for educational opportunities, not only of our own tribal children, but from descendants of our first inhabitants of this area, whether it be the Umatilla reservation, the Yakima reservation and Nez Perce.

By the very essence of where we stand, our tribe recognized the right of the United States through the Treaty of 1855, the Walla Walla Treaty, to accept and to garner the right to the United States to exist within our homelands, the rights that are enshrined in that treaty, were not given from a beneficial American government at all, but were retained for future generations by our leadership of the past. And the gifts that are embodied in that document, the Treaty of 1855, is paramount to the existence of the American society in general, existing within our homelands, by that gift of this established rights of governance given to the government of the United States, furthered by the education system, and brought forward into this day and age, we can only commit ourselves and recommit ourselves to the education, not only of tribal children and tribal communities, but general populace and education seekers as well. Knowing that as tribal people, the original inhabitants of this earth, of this area, that we have had a welcoming relationship over the years of generations, that that must continue, and that the word and the respect of that mutual agreement, the Treaty of 1855, must stand forever, and the responsibilities we accept as educators, must continue.

I welcome you on behalf of the Confederated Tribes. I hope that your tenure here will be one of great memories, progress and strength.

Since time immemorial, the lands we find ourselves on were home to not one, but three tribes—the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla peoples. According to the Confederated Tribes, they shared a common understanding that their very existence depended on each other. Their respect of the bountiful plenty the majestic Columbia River provided and their very souls and spirits were inextricably tied to one another. They understood that success, survival and prosperity depended on them working together towards a common goal. This may in fact be the genesis of what is now commonly referred to as the “Walla Walla Way.”

Fast forward to the year 1859. During the exact same year the Washington Legislature granted a charter to the Whitman Seminary to begin its quest towards developing this grand institution we find ourselves at today, right across town W.B. Kelly had just been named superintendent of School District #1, the very first public grammar school in Walla Walla.

Just as the tribes were linked by common territory and purpose since time immemorial, so too has Whitman and Walla Walla Schools. Over the last sixteen decades there exists countless examples of collaboration, partnership and coming together for the common good. Again, the “Walla Walla Way.”

Having spent considerable time with Dr. Bolton since her arrival to our community there is not a doubt in my mind that her compassion, empathy, thoughtfulness and humble demeanor will not only support, but help advance our century-long partnership and spirit of collaboration.

As the 16th superintendent in our school district’s 164 year history, it is my pleasure and honor to celebrate and welcome Dr. Sarah Bolton; Whitman’s 15th president in its 164 year journey. I look forward to many great years working together with you as we continue to honor the “Walla Walla Way” together.

Good evening, everyone, thank you so much for joining us on this wonderful and historical day for Whitman College. My name is Kirsten Adams Gable, class of 2001 and I am the current Chair of the President’s Advisory Board.

In representing the President’s Advisory Board, the Alumni Association Board of Directors, and our more than 15,000 loyal alumni throughout the world, it is my pleasure to extend our congratulations to you, Dr. Bolton, upon your installation as Whitman’s 15th president.

Whitman is so fortunate to have your keen intellect, distinction in teaching and research, and accomplished leadership in higher education.

Like Joe, I had the privilege of serving on the Presidential Search Committee chaired by the talented Danielle Garbe Reser. When I accepted the challenge, I knew we had our work cut out for us to find a successor to the exceptional Dr. Kathy Murray and one who could enable Whitman College to become an even more distinctive and inclusive community for future generations. When I read the prospectus and job criteria for the next College President, I found out we were basically searching for a unicorn. And personally—I learned I am not be cut out to be a college president. 

However, we did find our unicorn in Dr. Sarah Bolton and already through your leadership this year, you have helped inspire us with your ambition for the future of our beloved college and the role that our students will have in the world. I have been amazed by your total immersion in the Whitman experience and your authentic understanding and representation of our community and its values. 

More important than offering my congratulations, I pledge on behalf of all Whitties to partner with you in mobilizing the full talent, expertise, and philanthropic support of alumni to help prepare our students to be the broadly educated thinkers and leaders to make our communities and society better. This is noble and good work and work that I have a personal commitment and investment in as I am currently raising two daughters. They are both interested in studying STEM and think it’s pretty sweet we have a physicist as a President.

Ours is a robust network that can play an ever-greater role in transforming the lives of young people.  We look forward to taking up this work with you.

Congratulations, and welcome.

Firstly, thank you to pianists Irene Tsai and Ella Yuen for the beautiful musical interlude.

Hello everyone, I am honored to speak to you today and to officially welcome President Sarah Bolton on behalf of the students of Whitman College.

My name is Fraser Moore. I am an international student from South Africa, and I am currently serving as the Interim President of the student body. I have had the privilege of working with President Bolton these last eight months and I am confident in the direction she will lead this institution. What has struck me most about President Bolton has been her presence around campus. She pops up in adoring Instagram posts, and she makes a great effort to attend student activities such as conversations about social and environmental justice, musical and theater performances, and many club events.

As student activities rebound on campus post-COVID, President Bolton has shown genuine interest in getting to know people, organizations, and student movements. In each situation, President Bolton has listened attentively and has provided astute insights and I think these are hallmarks of a really good leader. In addition, President Bolton has shown that she is cognizant of issues that are important to students’ and has actively sought student input on large institutional decisions like the college’s Strategic Priorities.

I deeply love this place and as I wrap up my four years here, I believe wholeheartedly that President Bolton is the right person to take us forward. Welcome to Whitman College, President Bolton, I wish you a joyful, successful, and fulfilling tenure at this extraordinary institution. 

Esteemed guests, faculty, students and distinguished members of the community. I am Cassandre Beccai, Director of Equity and Compliance here at Whitman.

It is with great honor that I stand before you today as the representative of the college staff to welcome our 15th president, Dr. Sarah Bolton. We are thrilled to have you join us, Dr. Bolton, as we embark on this exciting new chapter in the history of our institution.

Robert Greenleaf penned, “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”

These words capture the essence of our new president's leadership style. Dr. Bolton has made it a priority to listen to the concerns and feedback of all college constituents. And her commitment to equity and inclusive excellence is forging a way forward into a future of expansive scholarship and richer relationships.  

As we consider global events, it’s evident that there are challenges ahead. To quote Dr. Bolton herself, “In such a moment we might reasonably ask whether the actions of one small college community really matter. I say they absolutely do.”

And so, as we begin this new era under Dr. Bolton’s leadership, we must remember that each of us has a role to play in shaping our collective future. As members of this community, we have the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue, to learn from each other, and to work together toward a common goal.

Dr. Bolton, your dedication to education and justice is an inspiration to us all. Your leadership has already inspired us to explore new frontiers in knowledge and knowing and to challenge ourselves to make a positive impact on the world around us. With your guidance, we will continue to foster an environment where every member of our community is valued and respected.

Once again, I welcome you, Dr. Bolton, to your new role as president of our esteemed institution. We look forward to working with you and to learning from your wisdom and expertise. Together, we will build a brighter future for our students, our community, and our world. Thank you.

Good afternoon.  I am Rebecca Hanrahan, and I have the honor of serving as Chair of the Faculty.  

I was on the Presidential Search Committee and from the moment I met Sarah Bolton, I was struck by the fact that she possessed two qualities that rarely go together. Wisdom and Enthusiasm. You see, Wisdom usually dampens the high hopes of Enthusiasm. And Enthusiasm ignores the good lessons Wisdom has to teach us.  

But in President Sarah Bolton, we get a person who magically possesses both. Her wisdom is borne of experience, as past President of Wooster College and Dean of the College at Williams. And it is evident already in her keen ability to redefine for and with our community the priorities of our institution, while building and broadening our commitment to diversity. Her enthusiasm is on display for all to see. She has been seemingly at every event hosted by Whitman, from watching along the sidelines at athletics events, attending plays, lecturers and concerts and dining with each and every academic department. 

On a side note, part of me thinks there must be two Sarah’s, for all she has done and accomplished in just her first year, but another part of me thinks that she has marshaled the dark arts that is physics to bend the laws of time and space to be everywhere all at once. 

But no matter how she does it all, it is clear she is already wholly invested and supportive of the work we all do to learn, teach, create. And she is so invested, because she shares with all of us a commitment to the liberal arts. She believes that a liberal arts education offers the promise that we can together explore meaningful questions, productively and deeply, for both the good of ourselves and the good of our communities. She believes this promise is one we must make good on for everyone in this community. 

On behalf of the faculty, I welcome you, President Bolton, to Whitman College. We look forward to partnering with you, as teachers, as scholars, as colleagues, sharing in all of our collective Wisdom and Enthusiasm, to fulfill Whitman’s promise.

Liberal arts colleges such as Whitman are institutions characterized by curiosity, rigorous inquiry and brave engagement in discourse. When those of us who are deeply immersed in the world of liberal education are called upon to defend its value, these are often the characteristics that first come to mind; and we remind the liberal arts skeptics that the success and growth of our economy, the vitality and creativity of the arts, and indeed the fundamental health of our democracy all depend on curious, rigorous and brave thinkers—the very types of graduates produced by liberal arts colleges such as Whitman.

But there is more than this to the residential liberal arts experience, and Whitman’s own hymn, sung at every convocation and commencement, points us to this additional factor. The refrain of the hymn features the lines “Here’s to the friends that love us! / And our love shall ne’er grow cold.” At Whitman, teaching and learning happen in a community bound by friendship and love. And as a result Whitman produces graduates who are not only curious, rigorous, and brave thinkers, but who also have a deep understanding of their responsibilities to each other, mutual commitments that sustain communities and give us the opportunity to thrive as individuals. And in a world where it is all too easy to fall into isolation, and when external forces work to polarize and pull us apart, practice and experience in mutual support and respect are essential skills.

In Sarah Bolton, Whitman has found a leader who models these core values. As a physicist, Sarah keeps the question “why?” front and center in her observations, seeking to press deeper to get at root causes of vexing problems. As an experimentalist, she is interested in the data, making decisions guided by facts; and at the same time she is interested in giving novel solutions a try, not accepting the all-too-easy dismissals that something has “never been done before” is a reason not to do it. And, she has consistently shown courage in not only standing up for her own core principles and values but in reaching across difference to engage others in conversation on difficult topics.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Sarah well while she was president of the College of Wooster and I was the president of Kenyon College, a neighboring institution about 30 miles to the south (campuses separated by farms and roads slowed by horse-and-buggy traffic jams). Our institutions were quite similar—racially diverse colleges embedded in racially homogeneous rural communities. Sarah’s leadership was a model for me, and she became an invaluable source of advice. She was, and still is, the only college president colleague whose number is programmed into the short cuts on my phone. And when I’d ask her for her thoughts on a difficult issue I was facing, she’d always listen carefully, respond with empathy, and give clear advice.

This was most true during the crises of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were weeks when I seemed to be talking daily to Sarah, on topics ranging from how to set up a testing program, the comparative benefits of different types of masks, the ways we could provide support to students, faculty and staff who were strained by the uncertainty of the situation, to how we could manage our own frustrations and challenges. Her approaches were always grounded in facts, using the limited available information to the best of her ability; yet she also stayed grounded in a deeply empathic concern for members of her community, wanting to arrive at solutions that served her community well.

Which brings me back to friendship. I am certain that those of us gathered here today who are friends of Sarah (the representatives of the official Sarah Bolton fan club) have received a text message from her that arrived at exactly the right moment. Sometimes a message of encouragement when things were difficult; sometimes a message of shared joy or excitement; sometimes just a check-in, a “thinking about you” message. A small act of friendship and kindness that reminded you that there was someone who supported and cared, a demonstration of the bonds of community, bonds that can stretch from Walla Walla to New York City. An act that embodies the spirit of the lyrics of the great Carole King song: “Now ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend?”

Which brings me back to Whitman, the Whitman community, and the needs of our shared world in the year 2023. Whitman College, in Sarah Bolton you have found a leader who will lead through modeling the core values of a liberal education: Sarah brings intense curiosity, skillful analytical rigor, and remarkable courage to everything she does, and I am certain that she will bring this same approach here to Walla Walla. 

But she will also model a commitment to building and sustaining community, demonstrating in acts big and small her genuine concern and support for the individuals who come together here at Whitman. Whitman College, to borrow again from the refrain of your hymn, you have found another friend that will love you.

It is my pleasure and honor to introduce my dear friend, the 15th President of Whitman College, Sarah Bolton.

Thank you so much, Sean, and colleagues, for those incredibly kind words. And my deepest gratitude to Thomas Morning Owl and Lindsay Watchman for blessing this space and our gathering, and all of the wonderful musicians gracing our celebration today. Everyone on this stage represents the beauty and strength of this place so wonderfully. 

And thanks to all of you for being here—colleagues, students, trustees, neighbors, delegates and honored guests. I especially want to thank three superb Whitman presidents, Kathy Murray, George Bridges and Bob Skotheim, who have traveled to be here today, and whose vision and incredible work have shaped this place for so many students. Thank you all for your warm welcome, your many kindnesses and for teaching me so much. 

It has been an honor and joy to step into the presidency of Whitman College. I am deeply grateful to the board, and to the search committee for giving me the opportunity to serve.

Whitman is an extraordinary place—a beacon for teaching and learning in the liberal arts which has combined an enduring legacy of excellence with a view to the future. I was drawn to Whitman because of this excellence, and because ours is a college that makes difference, both while students are on campus, and over the course of their lives. 

Throughout its history, Whitman’s transformative impact comes from the extraordinary people here; from the superb faculty and staff, who teach and care for and root for each student; from incredible alumni, family members and trustees, who support and lead this college with tremendous wisdom and generosity; from the people of the beautiful Walla Walla Valley, who are the bedrock of our college; and from the wonderful community of students, who live, learn and lead together here.  

Over the eight months that I have been here, I have seen the impact of a Whitman education every day. I have seen it in the joy of students learning beyond what they ever imagined through the guidance of Whitman’s brilliant faculty; in the ways that students build community and learn from one another, and in the ways they go on to make tremendous contributions in every field of endeavor.

For 140 years, Whitman College has been guided by the question of what education is needed—for students and for the world. Whitman has faced many historic moments—world wars, pandemics, financial crises and enormous societal changes—and while our college’s perspectives have, thankfully, broadened, our focus on providing an excellent and ethical education has endured. 

Today, we find ourselves again at a moment that is truly historic. In 10 short years, Whitman will reach the 150th anniversary of its founding as a college. The class that graduates that year—in 2033—is already in 6th grade. Their world is changing fast, and has been dramatically altered by historic events within their brief lifetimes: the wonderful emergence of a far more diverse America, and the urgent national reckoning for racial justice; the dramatic acceleration of innovation and technology; the COVID pandemic; the challenge of global warming and climate change; and societal divisions that seem to grow deeper by the day. Martin Luther King’s final book, written posthumously in 1968, was entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos, or Community?” And that question is as pressing now as it was when he wrote it.  

This is a moment of high stakes, and it is a moment where our actions matter. We are called on to ask how our college can make the most impact for good—both for our students and for the world that sorely needs them. How will the students of this 150th class envision their futures? What will we do, as a college, to be part of preparing them for a changing world?  

These are complex, urgent questions, and we ask them honestly, willing to be surprised at what we learn. Finding the right ways forward will call for the collaborative wisdom and perspective of our whole community—students, staff, faculty and administrators, alumni and the board of trustees.  Every voice will matter. As we have come together over the course of this year to begin to talk about Whitman’s future, it’s clear that we have the opportunity—and the necessity—to lead together, building from Whitman’s tremendous strengths, boldly and with hope, in ways that will meet the future.   

Before I go on, I want to sit just briefly with that question of hope, because there is much around us that is—and has been—extremely difficult. In times of such challenge, people sometimes find themselves drifting into a sense that nothing can be done—a sense of hopelessness. But I have found the opposite at Whitman. Even in difficult times, people here are dedicated to making good things happen, and pour themselves into realizing them with brilliance and creativity. Whitman faculty taught in brand new ways through the pandemic, and have created five new academic programs across the college just this year. They are advancing new knowledge through excellent research across every field of study, often with students alongside them. Whitman staff are constantly designing creative new ways to collaborate, to welcome and support students and to strengthen our campus. And Whitman students—these students!—are acting for the future every day. They create rock-climbing classes for local kids. They work to support those experiencing homelessness. They start businesses and consider entrepreneurial and innovative ideas. They write new music and poetry and plays and choreography. They are thinking about solutions to the biggest challenges of our time, and they are looking to be part of creating a new day. The students of this historic time embody the motto sometimes attributed to our college “per ardua surgo”—through struggle, I rise—and they are more than worthy of our hope. 

The poem Amanda Gorman wrote for the 2020 presidential inauguration is titled “The Hill We Climb,” and it ends with these powerful lines:

When day comes, we step out of the shade,
Aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
If only we're brave enough to see it,
If only we're brave enough to be it.

In the spirit of that poem and of the light that is the Whitman college community—past, present and future—I’d like to share four ways that our college is poised to meet this historic moment—now and for that Class of 2033—as a beacon for learning in a changing world.  

The learning that happens at Whitman matters, now more than ever. The most important challenges and opportunities of our time demand insights from many fields of study and ways of thinking. We will need collaborative leaders with a global perspective, people who hold a broad understanding of history and science, of human experience and artistic expression, of justice and injustice, and of research and discovery. We need those leaders in every field of work to innovate and find new solutions to big challenges—boldly, wisely and with deep humanity; we need them to create strong schools, towns, businesses, cultural centers and communities, to make art that inspires, to strengthen access to health care, to create urgently needed science, to advance just societies and to preserve and restore our environment. The breadth and discernment of a Whitman liberal-arts education sets people on this path.  

Although liberal-arts learning is a long tradition, it is not a static one. New fields and ideas are constantly emerging. The liberal arts matter now more than ever, and Whitman can deepen that strength by doubling down on the liberal arts curriculum that fuels lifelong creativity and innovation, while embracing new fields and lifting up the voices and work of new teacher-scholars, helping students understand the past and present, and helping them look to the future.  

Excellence requires diversity. The pandemic made more clear than ever that leadership on our most pressing issues requires diverse perspectives at every level. Whitman’s excellence depends on our ability to draw people with a diversity of experiences and identities to our campus, and on lifting up the voices of students, staff and faculty who reflect our world. That’s a necessity for the ways that students learn, grow and prepare for their futures, and it matters for the difference we make.    

As we anticipate that 150th class—which will be drawn from a U.S. high school population that will be about 60% students of color—Whitman must become a place where all contribute, know they belong, and flourish amidst the cultural wealth and intellectual breadth that comes from a deeply diverse institution.

Whitman will be a place that invests in the ideas, teaching, scholarship, thriving and growth of brilliant students, faculty and staff of every identity and experience; A place where honest conversation from different opinions and points of view is valued, and where it leads not to division, but to true understanding; A place where deep collaboration across difference is built and nurtured. 

Such inclusive excellence requires both high goals and committed action. We will remove barriers of all kinds, including by expanding access, affordability and scholarships. We will continue to build diversity and inclusion, both in the people that make up our community, and in the ways and subjects we teach and learn. We will be bold about making this happen, because if we accomplish it, Whitman can be a place that helps create stronger societies, more robust democracy, and a more just world.

The extraordinary young people who will shape our future understand learning and action as deeply intertwined. They are passionate about learning and intellectual exploration, and also view education with the perspective that Marian Wright Edelman expressed in 2013, "Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it." 

As one Whitman student said to me this fall “I feel like every major—maybe even every course—could connect to making a difference in the community.”

Whitman’s faculty and staff have built important connections—with local community leaders, with leaders in the region, and with alumni in all fields of endeavor. We can continue to broaden and deepen those connections, providing an education that is rich in opportunities for collaboration, civic engagement, exploration and leadership. We are particularly fortunate that our region is an extraordinary site for learning on many of the most pressing issues of our time … sustainable water and energy, immigration, indigeneity, technology and society, and entrepreneurship, just to name a few. As students engage directly with these issues on the ground, they gain a renewed sense of the ways that the full breadth of their studies contributes to their ability to envision and enact solutions. And, they see the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, and question their own ways of thinking.

As a student said, when describing the Semester in the West program that brings students into the field “None of the issues we studied escaped the grey area. And the people we met, who have a real stake in the matters, refuse to accept complacency or inaction despite the immense complexity.”

Community matters, and it needs tending. The community of learners is one of our college’s greatest assets. We bring together students from across the country and more than 60 countries around the world because the learning students do by making meaning together—in classrooms, dining halls, concert spaces, playing fields and residences—is crucial to their thriving, to their growth as people and to the impact they will make in the world.   

We have come through a time of profound isolation and loss as a result of the COVID pandemic, and many other factors are feeding isolation and division as well. Whitman holds exceptional potential for learning through community, because the student body is so wonderful.  But making the most of that potential requires care and intentionality. We will invest in a community that is welcoming, inclusive, courageous, creative and joyful to be a part of. A community that values the voice and dignity of each person, that nurtures learning, and meaningful and lasting connection, and that shows students—and all of us—a way forward to building real connections in a divided world. 

As we step into the light of this new day, this Whitman College community is ready to seize the moment. Friends and colleagues, I am grateful to you for entrusting me to steward this college and this marvelous community. I look forward to the work we will do together: for the students of today, for the class of 2033 and for the future that they will build.

Thank you. 

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