So, it’s the time of the year when college-bound young men need to get off the fence and make a decision. It’s ALWAYS the time of year to introduce new prospects to your Wabash College. Regardless, the words of Greg Castanias ’87 last November in welcoming young men to a Wabash visit provide some great food for thought and discussion. (Reprinted with kinda, sorta permission…)
Good morning, and welcome to Wabash College. We’re glad to have you all with us today.
And I’d like to start by telling you two secrets about the Wabash College educational experience.
It’s really hard. That’s the first secret.
Here’s the second secret. You probably haven’t heard, but there are no women who attend Wabash College. For those of you who are aimed at being mathematics majors, that’s a male-to-female ratio of — infinity.
So now that you know those two things about Wabash College, I’ll pause for just a moment to allow anyone who wants to leave to exit through the back doors.
Okay. Good. Now that we’ve scared off the people who shouldn’t have been here in the first place . . . let’s do this again.
Good morning, and welcome to Wabash College. The fact that you didn’t get up and leave means that this place might — might — be for you.
So let’s talk a little about what Wabash College is, and what Wabash College means, and maybe you’ll walk away with a little better feeling about what this place is about. Maybe, if you decide it’s for you, you’ll be standing up here in 2038, addressing the future members of the Wabash College class of 2043.
I’ll start with my story. I grew up in Indiana. I was born in Indianapolis, grew up there, and graduated from Indianapolis North Central High School, where I achieved a three-year-long record marked by long stretches of underachievement punctuated with bursts of adequacy. I was a smart enough kid, but I was determined to make sure that no one knew it, most of all, the teachers who gave me my grades. My intelligence was kept top-secret from them.
So it’s pretty funny that the College asked me today to speak to young men who are in the top ten percent of their high school classes. Because this is a party I wouldn’t have been invited to if this were 1982.
So how did I get here, from there? The answer is simple: Wabash College saw something in me that even I couldn’t see at the time. Wabash College helped me understand that “good enough” wasn’t going to be good enough for me, and helped me learn how to extract excellence from myself. If this College can turn a lazy underachiever like me into a summa cum laude graduate of Wabash and of law school, can turn a shy guy into a U.S. Supreme Court advocate and a partner in one of the world’s largest law firms, imagine what this College might do for you guys, who have already shown signs of excellence from your own high school performance.
So how does this transformation happen at Wabash College?
One reason it happens here is that Wabash College is small. This is a pretty exclusive club. More freshmen started at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus this past August than there are living alumni of Wabash College.
Being small is good for college. To the best of my recollection, I never had a “student number” when I went to college here, because people knew me by name. Being small means that there is a real Wabash community—your fraternity brothers or your dormitory pals will notice if you think you’re going to skip class, and even more importantly, your faculty will, too. I remember being on campus just last year, talking to a student, when a faculty member ran over to ask the student, “How come you weren’t in class this morning?” The point is this: You can’t hide and be an anonymous student at Wabash College. If you want to go to college and hide in your dorm room, well, you know where the doors are.
Now, let’s talk about those faculty members. There’s no such thing as a class taught by a teaching assistant at Wabash College. Your professors are going to be Ph.D.s, leaders or future leaders in their fields, authors, poets, cancer researchers, playwrights, economists. But whatever their field, there’s one thing all of these professors have to do well to be professors at Wabash College—they have to be great teachers.
And they are great teachers. Great because they are accessible to students, but also great because they demand excellence from Wabash men. I’ll tell you a couple of stories from my time here. One I remember was in my first couple of weeks of classes in my Freshman year, 27 years ago, in 1983. I was in an English class about contemporary drama, taught by Don Herring, the chairman of the department. He’s still around, as a retired, emeritus professor. But here’s what I remember: An upperclassman raised his hand, and made what sounded to me like a long, very sophisticated comment about this very difficult play by Luigi Pirandello that we were reading. There were only about nine of us in the class, and Dr. Herring took a breath, leaned back against the chalkboard, exhaled, and said, kindly but firmly, in his inimitable North Carolina accent, “Neil, that is a ponderous load of crap you just laid out there on the table.”
That was a good reminder that B.S. won’t get you through Wabash College. So, if you think you’re going to be able to B.S. your way through college, you know where the doors are, because Wabash College won’t be a great fit for you.
Now a story from my junior and senior years. There were a couple of areas I wanted to study in English that weren’t offered as official classes. One was the idea of heroes in literature, including female heroes. Another was this: I wanted to do an in-depth study of three poets whose work I had read, and I wanted to read more of their poetry, learn more about their lives, and write a substantial paper about how their work influenced the twentieth century and how the events of the twentieth century influenced them and their work. So I went to Professors Warren Rosenberg and Roger Berger and asked them if they would supervise me in what were called “independent studies.” In truth, these studies were not entirely “independent,” because we had class every week, once or sometimes twice. In both cases, class was held over lunch at the Scarlet Inn, across campus, in a booth. An hour of the two of us—me on one side of the booth, the professor on the other side—discussing the book or poems I was reading that week. Talk about not being able to hide!
This is what I mean by Wabash College faculty being teachers.
But it’s not all about the classrooms. I often say that the best education I got here was between midnight and two a.m., in the dining room of my fraternity house, discussing issues of politics, philosophy, religion, or sports, with my fellow students. Many of the very accomplished young men surrounding you in this room will end up being your teachers, and you, theirs.
There’s a lot of room for fun here, too. As you know, Wabash has a nationally ranked football team, its swimming and diving program is one of the top Division III programs in the Nation, and if you walk across campus, you’ll see our new, state-of-the-art baseball facility being built. For my part, I was a radio DJ and eventually ran WNDY-FM, the radio station here—that’s not part of the coursework here; it’s an entirely student-run and student-funded operation. The college newspaper here—it’s called The Bachelor (ha, ha)—is award-winning, and I try to read it on line every week as an alumnus. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the College humor magazine,Barrickman’s Revenge—named after Basil Barrickman, the first student ever expelled from Wabash College for misconduct—which I edited in my last semester here, as a little going-away gift for my friends in the faculty and administration. (After that, it’s amazing that I’m allowed back on campus at all.)
You don’t have to do any of these things if you come to Wabash College, but you should want to do them. They’re fun, they’ll bring you into contact with different members of the Wabash College community, and you might accidentally learn something. Me, I learned to come out of my shy shell behind a radio microphone, and they haven’t been able to shut me up since then.
I’m going to close by talking about our alumni, in part for selfish reasons. In part it’s because I’m an alumnus. Mostly it’s because I’ll be the president of the National Association of Wabash Men, the College’s Alumni Association, starting in May. You’ve heard a little bit about what I do for a living; let me tell you a little more. I’ve had the privilege of arguing three times so far before the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. (Talk about a place where you can’t hide!) I’m involved in a copyright case, representing SAP, that yesterday’s Wall Street Journal called “The Technology Trial of the Century.” Also, right now, I’m representing a Utah company, Myriad Genetics, in a case involving the question of whether isolated DNA molecules indicating a predisposition to breast and ovarian cancers are eligible for patents. And I do these hard, technologically sophisticated things with my Wabash College degree. A degree in English and Philosophy.
But today I’m not being a lawyer in Washington, D.C. I’m standing here on a stage in Crawfordsville, Indiana, talking to 210 outstanding high-school students. Why? Because Wabash College asked me to, because you guys are important to the future of Wabash College. This week alone, I’ve e-mailed with three current Wabash students about their plans for law school, communicated with one of my fellow alumni, a corporate executive in South Africa who has a friend teaching high school in Martinsville who would like to refer some of her best students to Wabash, and after I wind up this speech, I’m going to walk across campus to a small meeting to discuss how we’re going to go about raising the remaining $24 million for our $60 million Challenge of Excellence. This is what we do. We don’t hide from challenges.
By the way, if $60 million sounds like a lot of money, it is, but it’s going to be a piece of cake for Wabash men. Ten years ago, we embarked on a capital campaign that raised $137 million from alumni and friends of this 850-student college. No college of this size, before or since, has raised $100 million in a capital campaign. By the time we’re done with the Challenge of Excellence, we’ll have raised $200 million in two campaigns.
There’s really nothing Wabash men can’t do. We can raise money that no one thought we could. We can argue groundbreaking cases in federal court involving complicated issues of genetics, even if our majors were in English and Philosophy, because we have Wabash College educations. Shortly, you’ll hear from some other, younger Wabash men like Evan Brown, Tony Caldwell, Keith Veal, Pat East, Kris Gunn, and Dan Schenck. They and the other men you’ll hear from are also shining examples of this basic principle. All we have to do is take those Wabash educations and put our minds, heart, and will to whatever we want to accomplish. Wabash education, and Wabash will. That’s really all it takes.
This is Wabash College. It says so on the College seal. Scientiae et Virtuti. It’s Latin, just like your real sheepskin diploma will be. Scientiae et Virtuti. Science and Virtue. Knowledge and Manhood. Know-how and Guts. Education and Integrity. Wisdom and Moral Courage.
That is Wabash College. If you want to get a spectacular education, but more than that, you want to learn how to be a man in the Twenty-First Century, this is the place for you. Come join us.
Welcome to Wabash College.
Pick a part…any part. It will work!