Jim Amidon — I took a phone call from a Wabash College alumnus on Friday. He asked me how the “gentlemen of Wabash” were doing.
I was a little confused at first then asked, “You mean the students?”
He said, “Yes, the gentlemen of Wabash.”
He’s one of those proud Wabash alums whose fondness and enthusiasm for the students is boundless. And he never refers to them as students; always “gentlemen.”
Well, the gentlemen of Wabash have been quiet, I told him.
Part of it might have been the frigid temps last week, but largely the campus was quiet because the students were busily completing papers and projects, and this morning they begin final exams for the fall semester.
Shortly after I hung up from that phone call Friday, I started working on a summary of the college for a public website. In describing the kind of students we seek, I found myself using phrases like “hard-working young men who thrive when challenged” and who want to “reach their fullest potential.”
About that time it occurred to me that’s why the campus has been so quiet the last week.
About 850 pretty serious students were working incredibly hard to be prepared for the final examinations they will take this week. Professors were holed up in their offices creating new, more difficult tests that will push their students beyond simple rote memorization.
Wabash professors want their students to be able to solve problems using critical thinking skills of the highest level. And the students want the toughest exams possible.
Trust me when I say that’s not all that common in higher education today.
To use an athletic analogy, to be the best team, you have to beat the best teams. Kind of like Wabash quarterback Matt Hudson needing to win the Monon Bell game to finally feel good about his record-setting career.
I take for granted the honor I have to work at a place like Wabash where the standards are so high. No, we don’t have the highest entering SAT scores of our peer group of colleges. But once students are here, they — and their professors — set off-the-chart expectations.
Such high expectations allow the students to get the most of their liberal arts experience while they are here, and prepare them to become leaders in our rapidly changing world.
I don’t mean to claim that this doesn’t happen elsewhere. It does, for sure.
But at Wabash, high standards of excellence are in the water; nobody here “settles.”
Rigor and challenge run through the bloodstream of Wabash students.
Guys here get their adrenaline flowing before the start of a game or race, sure, but also as they prepare to take a test they know will be difficult. This is a community bent on achievement.
Sophomore Kristijonas Paltanavicius just finished directing the Vanity Theater’s Miracle on 34th Street. He presented at a national theater conference in November. He was stage manager of a Wabash play in October. He’s taking five classes. English isn’t his native language.
Gary James is taking five classes. He’s involved in student organizations. He edits the award-winning student newspaper, The Bachelor. He goes to plays, sporting events, and lectures as a campus leader. He’s looking into graduate schools and career options. He’s a finalist for the Teach for America program.
Patrick Garrett, a local kid, is taking a full load of challenging pre-med classes. He’s doing research with a professor. He’s making the Dean’s List every semester. He’s also a really good father of his son, Myca.
These Wabash men are special. And while they are special, they are not unique.
There are hundreds of other “Wabash gentlemen” who are balancing similar levels of challenging coursework and extracurricular activities, while imagining their futures.
Indeed, it’s easy to take for granted what a motivated — and motivational — place Wabash College is.