Class of 2006: Reflection and Wisdom

Jim Amidon — You read so much today about how young people are disconnected, lack focus, care little about the past, and are only whimsical about the future.

If you really believe that, spend a little time with a college senior about to graduate. You’ll come to support the adage, “Don’t believe everything you read.”

I’ve spent a fair amount of time with seniors who will graduate from Wabash College this Sunday. What I have discovered is that their emotions range from melancholy to frightened; from nostalgic to ecstatic.

What surprises me most, however, is how reflective our young men are at this point in their lives. Sure, the big, real world awaits, but for the last four years they have been given a wonderful, rare opportunity to exist — to thrive — in an environment that is tough, but supportive.

For three of those four years, they never realized how good they’ve had it at Wabash. Only when it’s all about to end do our young men look back at their time in Crawfordsville as the best time of their lives.

The soon-to-be graduates will make surprise stops in the offices of faculty and staff. “Just passing through,” they say. But pretty soon they are sitting down and talking with great affection and appreciation about their Wabash experience. These “passing through” conversations reaffirm all that we hope the Wabash experience will be for the young men who enroll here.

I’ve had about a half-dozen such visitors in my office in the last week. One was Curtis Eilers, a very talented, soft-spoken, but confident young man who has no concrete idea what he’ll be doing next fall. His future is uncertain, but he is a young man capable of changing the world in ways I cannot even imagine. I really do have that much confidence in him.

Curtis is feeling the full range of emotions that every college graduate feels. He knows he’s made the most of his senior year, sure, but he might be thinking a bit about what he didn’t accomplish in years one through three. Funny, though, because he wrote for several student publications; led at least two campus organizations; and hopes he’ll get the necessary grade point average to graduate magna cum laude (probably a safe bet).

We talked about everything. What struck me, though, is how he feels about the environmental group, Green Corps, which he has helped to lead for several years. About two months ago, the organization morphed into Students for Sustainability (SFS), with a shifted focus and new goals. Inspired by the visit of an environmental writer and activist, SFS got motivated to make a difference on the Wabash campus.

Soon, re-tooled bicycles, painted green, began showing up on campus, courtesy of SFS. Curtis sent a message to the community to use the bikes to avoid driving short distances. No locks, no keys, no secret hiding places; just bikes for community use.

And he’s proud of having accomplished that goal. But as we talked, he kept inserting the word “we” in conversations about next year. Clearly, like so many Wabash students, Curtis would like to rewind the tape to have the opportunity to aggressively take hold of his Wabash education.

He started to tell me that he’s been trying to insure the long-term future of the Green Bikes program and SFS, and in doing so he said something like, “I don’t think the younger students realize how they can influence decisions at Wabash.”

Ah, the illustrative moment: that very special moment, which too often comes as a Wabash man’s time on campus is winding down, when he suddenly realizes the entire institution exists for the students.

The timing of this revelation doesn’t surprise or sadden me. It’s a natural process of maturation that occurs on this campus — particularly this campus — and it usually happens early in the senior year. It should not surprise you, either, that every time the Wabash Board of Trustees meets, the College Life Committee does the bulk of its business while talking with students.

To tweak the famous advertising slogan: “When Wabash students talk, administrators listen.”

On their way out of Crawfordsville, Wabash seniors try to pass along their newfound wisdom to freshmen and sophomores. But those younger guys — like the seniors a few years ago — don’t listen. They, like generations of students before them, will only come to realize how truly special their Wabash experience is when it’s almost over.

Know this, Wabash Men of the Class of 2006: You have left your mark here. Now go forth and change the world.