I Would Have Struggled at Wabash

Kim Johnson — I consider myself a fairly intelligent person. I graduated fifth in my high school class and “With Distinction” from Purdue. But I think I would have struggled at Wabash. In fact, I am struggling at Wabash right now – even as a staff person.

Allow me to explain.

One of the first Wabash alums I met was Dr. Michael Orrison ’95. He is now a Mathematics Professor at Harvey Mudd College in California. We were talking about the events that led him to becoming a professor and how his experiences at Wabash have shaped the way he teaches.

He told me he expects his students to “struggle” – to ask questions, to wrestle with new ideas, encounter new concepts – and for him, “part of the pleasure of teaching is the pleasure of sharing in the struggle with his students.” He said, through that struggle, he has seen his students “gain confidence in their abilities as they tackle things bigger than themselves and bigger than they thought they could tackle.”

I had never really thought about it from the professor’s viewpoint like that before.

Last week I had the opportunity to hear English Professor Warren Rosenberg share his journey through Poland where he visited the Nazi Concentration Camp at Auschwitz and retraced some of his Jewish family’s steps before they left the country (fortunately before the war). It was obvious this experience had a very real and profound affect on him. He spoke of the knots in his stomach for months before the trip and being physically ill while riding across the country in anticipation of various stops.

As I was heading across campus after his presentation I found myself reflecting on the faces in the pictures and the stories he told. I wanted to know more about why they were there, who they were, what they thought about the experiences they were going through. And not just in the superficial way I had learned in history class but I wanted to really know.

I found myself struggling. As I wrestled with those thoughts my mind returned to comments of Dr. Orrison about the “pleasure of sharing in his students’ struggles.” It occurred to me it’s not just about the sharing in his students’ struggles. It’s about sharing his students’ struggles. The things they wrestle with are the very ideas and concepts he is wrestling with or has wrestled with in the past.

Part of what draws me to this campus and to the people here is the very thing that Dr. Orrison said drew him here 16 years ago. “[When I first visited campus] something screamed ‘engage me’ and the thought of wrestling with ideas seemed to be something that the architecture gave you space and sort of a license to do.”

The thoughts I was wrestling with on my walk across campus are the very “struggles” Dr. Rosenberg has struggled with and continues to work through now. Every faculty member and many staff here are struggling with something. The joy is in the struggle because out of that struggle new things are born – medicine, works of art, literature, theories, championships, friendships, character.

At Wabash it’s not just about thinking. It’s about thinking critically. It’s about acting responsibly, leading effectively and living humanely. As much as it hurts sometimes, I am enjoying every minute of the struggle.

Kim Johnson is a member of the Public Affairs and Marketing staff, who began her time at Wabash in late September.