Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Alma Mater

On my first day as president of Alma College in Michigan, an alumnus I’ve come to know and admire sent me quote he attributed to a Major League umpire:

“You’re expected to be perfect on day one and get better from there.”

Phew. There's nothing like making the expectation clear.

If perfection may elude me, it will be easy to try. Already I've been inspired by the passion of so many for this small college. The local farmer who sent his children to Alma and would go himself, if he could. The '85 alumnus who drove three hours to my former campus just to tell me of his love for Alma. The alumna and graduate whose generosity has helped us to complete our latest building project.

So I'll spend my days listening to the people who make Alma College what it is, listening to their hopes and dreams for this college of ours.

Listening as my colleagues identify the core strengths of this place that will help us to thrive in the years to come, despite the challenges before us.

Those challenges will be many: the decline among high school graduates in our traditional Alma demographic, a state economy that lags the nation in most key indicators, the inability of families to pay the cost of a college education.

As president, I have the opportunity is to tell the great story of this place anew, to reach out to new students and new donors alike.

I hope, in the year ahead, to reflect on the challenges of the job of college president and of the difficult work before liberal arts colleges in the changing landscape of American higher education.

One faculty member sent a different quote that leaves me hopeful:

“Do your best and the world can’t beat it.”

Now that’s a standard I can pursue.

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