Jim Amidon — Tradition.
That’s the one word most often used to describe Wabash College by anyone who has attended the College, worked for the College, or in any way come into contact with the College.
Saturday, in grand style, Wabash renewed its fond tradition of inaugurating a new president with all the pomp and pageantry of a royal coronation. From trumpeters accompanying David Blix’s masterful organ prelude to the final academic recessional, the color, glory, and emotion of the inauguration ceremony was moving and joyous.
Presidents and their delegates from over 40 colleges and universities joined the Wabash community to celebrate the presidency of Patrick White. The Pioneer Chapel was overflowing with students, alumni, faculty, staff, and honored guests.
The voices of more than 40 members of the Wabash Glee Club rang out in the hallowed chapel; anthems that set the tone and carried the theme of the inauguration.
“In dreams begins responsibility,” wrote President White’s favorite poet, William Butler Yeats. The dreams for the future of Wabash College — and the responsibility for this generation to make those dreams come true — was at once grounded in Wabash tradition and forward-looking.
In his inaugural address, President White said, “We honor the past not by repeating what [our founders] did. We honor the past by embracing our time and our age with the vigor, the energy, the pride, the confidence, and the willingness to fight harder for what is right.
“Wabash has a tradition, but that tradition also is paradoxically a tradition of change and innovation.”
Innovation and change are words not often linked to tradition, but that seems to be the path Wabash will take as it positions itself for leadership in this century. Pat White is a man of ideas, of creative thought, and of conversation. The conversations about the future of the College will indeed be grounded in the past, but, the president said, we will not be afraid of new ideas and challenges.
“The best way I know to fail is to live in fear of action,” he told the crowd of more than 800.
White comes to Wabash at a time when the College is well positioned for national leadership in higher education. And according to Andy Ford, Wabash’s 14th president, Pat White is the perfect person for the job.
“Anyone who has stepped onto campus these past six months knows that no one has hit the ground running any better in his relationships with students than Pat White. No one. And when that is right, everything at the College is right. I can’t think of a more worthy successor,” Ford said at a ceremony at which his presidential portrait was unveiled.
At the founding of Wabash 175 years ago, the path for the College was clearly articulated: “The Institution be at first a classical and English High School, rising into the College as soon as the wants of the country demand.”
White said, “The wants of the country [now] demand our achievements and leadership.”
White provided a glimpse of the future. He said Wabash will use its proven track record of educating men for leadership in society as a model for other colleges and universities at a time when the percentage of men attending college is dropping.
“We have more to learn,” he said, “but we have much to teach.”
He used that theme to share how the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts — through its National Study of Liberal Arts Education — is providing ideas for the most effective pedagogical practices.
He said Wabash’s Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, Unidos Por Sangre (the Hispanic student organization), and the growing international student population at Wabash can provide the basis for an improved understanding of diversity and difference.
“We have more to learn, but we have much to teach,” he echoed.
He concluded his address looking squarely into the eyes of the assembled students:
“We will ask the difficult questions of our time and we will never tire. In our uncommon dream — the uncommon dream of Wabash College — lies the common good of our country and our world, and we will pursue that dream with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole spirit.”
Under President Pat White, Wabash will dream of a future of leadership, and in keeping with tradition, shall shoulder the responsibility for realizing those dreams through conversation, through deeds, and through action.