Jim Amidon — There have been years in my career at Wabash when the fall semesters dragged on as if they might never end; when the mood of the students was down and winter break seemed like it might never come.
There also have been semesters, like the one that ended last Friday, when the energy, mood, and pace started and finished at a fever pitch. It seems as though I just blinked and football season had come and gone, and suddenly the rich, green leaves in the arboretum were replaced by gently falling snowflakes.
As I sat in my office last Friday afternoon watching students walk across the campus mall after finishing their final examinations, I spent a few minutes thinking about all that happened — all that was accomplished — in the four months since the students returned in August.
I can’t believe I’m crazy enough to attempt this — because I’m likely to leave out so much that I’ll certainly make lots of people upset — but here’s my top-10 list from the 2009 fall semester (in no particular order):
10) Thirteen incoming freshmen spent 10 days with three professors on an immersion learning trip to Montana and Wyoming — before they had officially registered for classes. Professor David Hadley wove together an incredible freshman tutorial course built around fly fishing — and the sport’s relationship to ecology, politics, and literature.
Those students bonded with one another — and their professors — in an unprecedented way, and the course provides a good model for how we might orient new freshmen to the Wabash experience.
9) Speaking of innovative courses: Martin Madsen’s “mythbusters” physics class set the bar pretty high.
By replacing textbooks and lab manuals with video cameras and YouTube videos, Madsen captured the attention and imagination of his students, who not only learned a lot of physics and math, they became pretty fine filmmakers, too.
8) When the student workers in the Schroeder Career Center put out the call to local businesses, churches, and agencies to attend our Community Fair, more than 90 participants responded. That’s a pretty remarkable number for a town this size, and a great statement to our new students and faculty about the strength of our community.
7) The Sphinx Club came up with an idea in the middle of the fall to hold a Sunday afternoon “Meal on the Mall.” The organizers rallied all of the fraternity cooks, our campus food service provider, Bon Appetit, and a couple of our administrative offices for an all-campus cook-off. Each group brought their favorite dish — and enough of it to feed a few hundred — and a huge segment of the campus came together to dine outside on the mall. Donations were collected and in November, the Sphinx Club gave the Boys and Girls Club a check for $850.
6) The Wabash Theater’s production of the Greek classic The Bacchae was complicated and difficult, but also brilliantly performed, stunningly designed, and beautifully costumed.
5) Roberto Giannini’s Little Giant soccer team opened the season on the road, at night, and against a talented Wheaton College team ranked 23rd in the nation. His young charges gave us all a glimpse of the future with an impressive 3-1 victory.
4) Homecoming brought scores of alumni back to campus, including a reunion of alumni lawyers — four of whom had argued successfully before the Supreme Court. The icing on the cake of that reunion came when the national alumni association named long-time political science professor Melissa Butler an honorary member of the Class of 1985.
3) I’m always amazed at the lengths our professors will go to provide students an immersive experience in and out of class.
This fall, students had the chance to rub shoulders and learn from legendary African sculptor Lamidi Fakeye and award-winning writer Jonathan Lethem — two terrific examples of how our small size can also be a great strength.
2) President Pat White and Dean Gary Phillips announced just last week the tenure promotions of five exciting, creative, and brilliant young teacher-scholars.
Hat’s off to professors Peter Hulen, Amanda Ingram, Tim Lake, Peter Mikek, and Brian Tucker for not just surviving the rigorous review process, but thriving in this unique living and learning environment.
1) What? Did you honestly think number one on a top-10 list would be anything other than Wabash’s 32-19 Monon Bell victory over our arch rivals? The “I will not fail you, coach” battle cry from Matt Hudson epitomized the team’s guts, strength, and spirit.
That top-10 list barely scratches the surface of all the wonderful accomplishments and achievements of the fall semester. And we’re only halfway through what is shaping up to be another incredible year — one worthy of reflection and praise — in the great history of this College.
Take a moment right now and jot down your favorite moments of the fall semester. I have a hunch you’ll struggle to keep it at 10!