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The Promise of a Silent Hour

Richard Paige — The pause lasted 12 seconds, so I knew the answer was meaningful.

During a recent visit to Phoenix, where Stephen Batchelder ’15 teaches eighth-grade science, I asked him about his favorite Wabash memory, and he took that long pause before responding.

“There are a lot of favorite memories,” he starts slowly, “but the one coming to mind right now, I think because its April now and the Springtime…”

He went on to describe “Poetry Hour,” a time during the spring semester his senior year that he and classmate Ryan Horner would carve a free hour out of a week and meet at the Senior Bench to share things of interest, whether it was a piece they had discovered or something one of them had created.

“We would kind of sit there and be quiet with each other and do some writing of our own,” Stephen remembers.

Ryan fondly remembers that shared time well, including the text message that started it all.

“Stephen sent me a text completely out of the blue, saying that he would be at the bench at so and so time, probably reading or writing a little bit of poetry, and that I’d be welcome to join him,” he says via e-mail from UC Davis, where he is finishing a master’s in creative writing.

It didn’t take long for these Poetry Hours to become a regularity, even a necessity. Nearly everything about the get-togethers were malleable. Sometimes they read (Horner started reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” during one of these sessions), other times, they wrote. They even took it on the road to places like Sugar Creek or Shades State Park. The only constant was friendship.

“We hardly ever talked,” Ryan shares. “Occasionally we would read aloud from whatever we held in our hands, no intro, no context, just conjuring poetry out of silence and then returning to silence afterward. Stephen is one of my best friends, someone who I look up to and who I know I can trust with anything, and the bench was our kind of shared space.”

Anyone’s senior year can rush by, and for Stephen and Ryan, those moments on the Senior Bench were much-needed respites of calm as a new chapter of life was dawning.

“When various responsibilities had piled up and the real world was calling out from beyond the gate of graduation, that’s when the promise of a silent hour, spent in mutual appreciation of something beautiful, at a special place with a dear friend, was enough to keep holding the world together for another week.”


Change of Plans

Not everything in college goes according to plan, not even for those focused and driven like Riley Lefever ’17.

One doesn’t collect 158 career victories on the wrestling mat, four national championships, including a spotless 129-0 mark against Division III opponents, and lead his teammates to three consecutive top-five national team finishes without those two adjectives linked closely to his being.

He came to Wabash thinking he would be a math major until his confidence was shaken by his first calculus class. “I didn’t do so hot,” Lefever explains.

That same semester, he also took an introductory English class with Professor Warren Rosenberg, which Lefever says sparked an interest in creative writing and literary theory that continues today.

“Anybody who knows Professor Rosenberg knows how awesome he is,” says the four-time champ. “That experience definitely persuaded me to take more English classes. I became an English major because of Professor Rosenberg.”

Riley Lefever relaxes in Rogge Hall.

The professor quickly returned the compliment.

“In the case of a student like Riley the pleasure is particularly great,” Rosenberg says. “He is an exceptional person and it is very gratifying to know that taking a class with me had an effect.”

Rosenberg went on to say he was particularly pleased that Riley, on the heels of that appearance in English 101 as a freshman, also signed up to be in Rosenberg’s final class at Wabash (he retired in 2016), where students took a deep dive into great texts, like “Moby Dick.”

“Riley showed me that not only did he have the skill, courage, and fortitude to win all of those wrestling national titles, but he had the requisite skill, courage, and fortitude to read, truly understand, and gain pleasure from studying such challenging literature.

“And, no,” he says, “it never gets old to hear a student believes you played some part in his making such an important life decision.”


Computerized Poetry, Is This a Game?

Two questions entered my mind when I found this tweet.

A computer makes poetry. Where is the humanity? How does that work as a teaching tool?

 

 

Thanks to the author of that tweet, Assistant Professor of English Derek Mong, I discovered the answers had all the elements of a good Wabash story: Enduring Questions (EQ), a dash of Kurt Vonnegut, the efforts of a computer, and the requisite suspicions.

Dr. Derek Mong.

Students in his EQ class had just read Vonnegut’s “EPICAC,” the classic 1950s short story where one unromantic computer programmer uses a supercomputer to generate love poetry to woo a co-worker. Being a professor of American literature and poetry, Mong knew that computers have created poetry in chance fashion, and the results reside an avant-garde world of poetry. Setting out to further engage his students, he went digging.

“I pulled the first links that looked sort of interesting, that I could clickably generate poetry,” he says. “I brought them into class and asked the students is this poetry knowing it’s a computer that made it?”

Mong says his students didn’t write it off immediately, but there were suspicions. The computer could recognize syllable length and was filling in spaces by surfing text. Click a button and a quatrain or a haiku was generated. Seeing it work made them curious.

From there, Mong had his students do a found-language experiment. Collect 10 sentences at random in the library, put them down in a notebook, take that material home, and create a poem or short story using the found material. Now, it becomes a teaching tool, because it creates limits similar to how the computer operates.

“It changes our idea of what authorship is,” Mong says. “Our associations with poetry are individual genius at a desk creating beauty. That’s what Vonnegut’s story pokes at. If a computer can do this, what are our ideas about the creation of literature? It’s useful intellectually for students to ask what are the possibilities of computational poetry, and for me what are the ideas of how poetry can change.”

Perhaps that change can inject an element of fun.

“A lot of what’s happening with these poems is play,” he says. “Can this be a game? Can I go on to write poems that are playful, game-like, and fun?”


Crossing the Unexpected Line

Growing up, Jordan Smith ’17 said there wasn’t much for high school students to do in his hometown in northwest Indiana.

Jordan Smith ’17 wearing his DC’s Country Junction shirt.

They were pretty close to Chicago, but that was expensive. There was the mall, but that was normally overrun by middle school students. And because they weren’t 21 years old yet, that ruled out a lot of the other options.

So Smith and his friends learned how to line dance.

“I had a group of friends who always wanted to go to this place called DC’s Country Junction,” Smith said, “and I was always turned off by it because it was country. So they spent a good six months trying to trick me and get me to go.”

Finally, his friends’ efforts paid off. Smith thought they were carpooling to go celebrate his friend’s birthday. Instead, he ended up at DC’s Country Junction without a way out.

“It was $5 to get in,” he explained, “and I’m the type of person that, if I’m going to spend money, I’m going to at least attempt to enjoy myself.”

It took a while, though. The first time he got out on the dance floor, Smith laughs remembering how he didn’t know how to do anything the other people were doing. There was a lot of confusion, and a lot of bumping into other people.

For many, that type of experience would be a turn off. But for Smith, it was a challenge he wanted to take on.

“I went back the next week and got a little bit better. And then the next week. At first, I just wanted to show people that I could do this, but then I eventually started to like it.”

So then for three years straight, the dance floor of DC’s Country Junction was where Smith could be found almost every Saturday night.

Though he doesn’t get back home much anymore, Smith can still be found breaking out some of his line dances at local clubs and bars. Sometimes he dances alone; other times, people who know the dance jump right in there with him.

“DC’s Country Junction taught me two things: to never judge a book by its cover and that you’ll never know what you like until you try it,” Smith said. “I saw the word country, and automatically assumed that it was not for me.

“It doesn’t come up much in conversation,” Smith laughed, “but I still remember how to do most of the dances, and I will happily do them anytime, anywhere if you ask.”

 


Humanizing Prison

Richard Paige — We weren’t 50 feet inside the dual fencing that surrounds the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility when the catcalls came from two inmates shooting baskets at outdoor hoops.

This had the makings of a very uncomfortable immersion experience.

The maximum-security facility in Carlisle, IN, was the destination for Assistant Professor of History Sabrina Thomas’ History of Mass Incarceration class. It was an opportunity for 18 students to step inside those 14-foot electrified fences topped by razor wire.

It was supposed to be a reality check.

“We are studying prisons, we are studying systems, theories and ideas,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at the prison objectively as academics, and we sometimes forget that this is a real thing with real people involved.”

From the maximum-security Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), where inmates are escorted to and from cells by pairs of guards with handcuffs and leads, to the minimum-security J-House, where the dormitory style housing provided more smiles than anticipated, the students saw those inmates on their turf.

The tour included a visit to the PLUS unit (Purposeful Living Units Serve), a faith-based outreach program that provides hand-made quilts and clothing to the surrounding community, as well as a stop at the Educational Department, where one student got an impromptu lesson.

History of Mass Incarceration students view the maximum-security Restricted Housing Unit from inside a security pod.

“I was surprised by our close contact with the inmates,” said P.J. Mays ’19. “Often times they would say something just to make contact. In the educational facility, one guy said to me, ‘this is not what’s up,’ and his message was obvious.”

The RHU might have provided the most eye-opening experience. From their vantage point inside a security pod, the students could see four hallways of maximum-security cells, watch inmates transferred to and from, and get a peek inside those cells from the bank of video monitors on the guard’s desk.

It was an immediate lesson to the real impacts of prison, especially since the RHU was the first building on the tour, and just moments after those initial catcalls.

“It was powerful to see in real life,” said Evan Frank ’19. “It’s like caging people. They are able to obtain some access to the outside world if they are really fortunate, but they are completely isolated. They can’t do anything.”

Multiple times during the tour, we heard that prison is its own city. It’s no different than any other community. At times, admittedly, it felt like we were the center of attention on this tour. At times, it felt like prison tourism.

“Everything we’re talking about in class has real-life effects,” said Thomas. “There are human consequences. (The tour) definitely humanized the idea of incarceration. “It may have humanized it a bit too much.”


Leadership, With a Side of Bacon

Nearly 220 Central Indiana Wabash men packed the Ivy Tech Culinary Center banquet room Thursday morning as the Indianapolis Association of Wabash Men’s Leadership Breakfast honored Kelly Pfledderer ’96 as its Man of the Year.

Now in its second year, the event included a panel discussion with Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State; Marc Nichols ’92, Legal Counsel & Director of Compliance, Rolls-Royce North America; and Jake Gilbert ’98, head football coach at Westfield High School.

Brandon Clifton ’06, the Deputy Secretary of State, introduced Canvas Founder and CEO Aman Brar ’99, who moderated the discussion that addressed civic and political engagement, mentors, and risk taking.

The IAWM Leadership Breakfast panelists included (from left) and Jake Gilbert ’98, Connie Lawson, and Marc Nichols ’92.

Lawson spoke early about the need to get involved in your community. She mentioned that even though many think of politics more broadly, a great deal of impact can be felt close to home.

“Participation starts young,” she said. “Not just at the national and state level, but locally as well. That’s where much of the political work happens.”

Gilbert, whose Shamrocks captured the Indiana Class 5A state football championship in November, was asked about how he deals with adversity, and how he shares those lessons with his students.

“Adversity is an opportunity,” he said. “It’s part of the process. You weather the storm and control what you can. Knowing that (adversity) won’t last forever, it’s about your long-term growth.”

When asked of career paths, Nichols told the gathering that simply having a plan was essential to his success.

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be General Counsel at a major corporation,” he explained. “I asked myself what do I need over the course of a career and all of those things become building blocks. I always have a five-year plan. Knowing what I am going to do next keeps me from fearing the unknown.”

He also spoke of the importance of mentors. Not simply on the impact they have on you, but on the impact you could have in another’s life.

“Mentors are incredibly important no matter how old you are,” Nichols said. “No one can figure out the path to life without mentorships. Be sure to return the favor because there are always people looking up to you.”

Pfledderer, the founder and former CEO of Apparatus, was humbled to receive the honor amongst a room of his peers and mentioned how Wabash aided in his success.

2017 IAWM Man of the Year Kelly Pfledderer ’96.

“This award is very meaningful to me because I realize how many people in this room are friends and colleagues of mine,” he said. “Wabash College built my confidence. I’ve always been a bit of a risk taker, but I’m a better risk taker because of the experience.”

Brar, a former co-worker at Apparatus, spoke highly of Pfledderer’s leadership qualities.

“His eye for talent, for great design, and for doing things the right way, combined with a willingness to empower people to accomplish great things shows that he has a lot of classic leadership strengths,” Brar said. “There is no one more deserving for his business accomplishments and for his commitment to the community, which is an even bigger statement about who Kelly is.”


Lasting Impacts

In this time of year when nets are cut and trophies won, sometimes the impact coaches and players have on each other is taken for granted. Not here.

Thirty-five years ago today, Coach Mac Petty guided the Little Giants to the last of 19 consecutive victories en route to the 1982 NCAA Division III national championship, the singular team accomplishment in Wabash athletics history.

In the end the game wasn’t close. The Little Giants shot 59 percent from the field, grabbed nine more rebounds than Potsdam State, and collected 24 assists on 29 buckets. Teddy Parker hit a jumper with 10:48 to go in the first half – his only field goal of the game – and gave Wabash a lead it did not relinquish. Pete Metzelaars netted 45 points (still a DIII championship game record) and the Little Giants cruised to the national championship with an 83-62 win.

Recently, I asked Coach Petty what it was like to lead a team to a moment that, when it mattered most, every one of his guys delivered.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” he said. “It was like a dream. It just happens.”

The 1976-77 Wabash College basketball team. Coach Mac Petty is in the back row (far right), while Bob Knowling is front row (third from the left/#12).

That dream was built with hard work, practice, and time spent together forging a bond, that when tested, would not be broken. Championships don’t happen by accident.

Coaches are measured by victories, or championships won, especially in March. Petty’s 541 wins and that national title secure his championship legacy. However, the impact on his players is measured differently.

Bob Knowling ’77 was a standout football and basketball player at Wabash, and was a rising senior when Petty was named the head coach in 1976. They spent one season together in 1976-77, and it turned out to be a memorable one for Knowling.

“I bought into you and your vision totally when you arrived in Crawfordsville and it was an easy decision for me to choose between football and basketball,” he wrote to Petty in an e-mail prior to the 1982 team’s 35-year reunion in January. “Even being a three-year starter on the football team, my love of basketball and the opportunity to play for you was exciting. While we won more games than any of my previous three years, the lessons I learned from you are what I remember most. Thank you for investing in me and for pushing me. It made a difference. Know that you influenced hundreds of young men to be great, including that championship team.”

Forty years later, Petty’s impact still resonates with Knowling.

“I played on numerous teams and played multiple sports,” he said, “yet when people ask me who I played for I only mention one name: Coach Petty.”


Embracing the Uncomfortable

Jacob Budler ’17, left, and Nicholas Budler ’19

Jacob Budler ’17 and his younger brother Nicholas Budler ’19 slept on the floor of their home the night before the big trip. Their family had sold most of their belongings in order for their parents to become missionaries in Cape Town, South Africa. But they, as Jake said, “were just along for the ride.”

“We were kids,” Nick added. “We had the typical questions like, ‘Are there lions?’ You don’t really know what to expect, and that’s probably the biggest part of it. I think that was tough – knowing that you’re flying into the unknown and it wasn’t just for a vacation, but I’m glad I was forced into being uncomfortable.”

The brothers from Aurora, Illinois agree that their time in South Africa was a good experience for them. They went to school, became friends, and lived amongst people from different cultures, places, and languages.

The two really didn’t have a choice when it came to moving to South Africa. But after realizing just how different and yet strongly connected people from around the planet can be, both Jake and Nick have a passion for learning about those very people.

“I don’t really subscribe to travel in such a soul-searching, find-yourself way, but more as a way to get other people’s perspectives,” Jake said. “The more you can understand where people are coming from, in the future, you can understand more people.”

Combined, the two Budler brothers have been to countless U.S. cities 15 countries – both because of and beyond Wabash College – including Botswana, Spain, Venezuela, and, next year, Nick will be studying abroad in South Korea.

“I think it’s important to put yourself in other people’s shoes,” Nick said, “to scrap all of the prejudices that you have and put yourself in another environment in order to educate yourself and be a better person and better the world around you. And I don’t think you can do that as well if you just stay in one place all the time.”

For the Budler brothers, travel is not just part of their college experience – it’s enhanced it. They both have made friends at Wabash with whom they decide to travel with. They’ve brought back stories that have helped them connect with others on campus. And they’ve taken what they’ve learned around the country and across the globe and applied it to their readings, their studies, and their classroom conversations.

“I think it should be a priority for everybody,” Nick said, “especially considering the number of opportunities that Wabash gives.”


Small school, big possibilities

Every student who steps onto this campus is looking at the legacies of previous Wabash men. The opportunities our students experience, the technology they work with, the dorms and fraternities in which they live, all of these are made possible by men who wanted to leave Wabash better than how they found it.

They believed in the possibilities of Wabash.

Bob Allen received a $600 scholarship, which helped him attend Wabash. Years later, he and his wife, Betty, donated $10 million back to campus.

At his Chapel Talk on Thursday, the president’s Chief of Staff and Director of Strategic Communications Jim Amidon ’87 explained it to current students this way: “A tiny liberal arts college in West Central Indiana once said, ‘We have a place and a voice in higher education.’ We transformed the campus. And we did it through philanthropy.”

Wabash College is currently halfway between that comprehensive capital campaign, which began in 1998, and its bicentennial in 2032. Conversations are beginning to take place regarding ways to improve the Wabash College experience for future students.

The conversations and donations of the previous campaign raised $136 million and improved the campus in almost every aspect from new buildings, state-of-the-art technology, the establishment of immersion programs, and millions of dollars in scholarships.

Though today’s talks are still in their early stages, improving professional development, fraternities, campus life experience, and philanthropy are the pillars of the conversations.

Immersion trips would not be possible without the generosity of our alumni.

“You won’t be surprised to know it’s going to take a lot of money to do that,” Amidon said. “It’s not just about participating in these big conversations…it’s about investing in those initiatives because you believe that tiny, little Wabash matters.”

Amidon explained there are several ways for a person to contribute to the future of Wabash. Financially, they can give on the campus’s upcoming Day of Giving. They can take part in conversations with prospective students who visit campus. They can tell their story – where they came from, what they’ve done, and where they plan on going.

The Princeton Review says we have the No. 1 alumni network in the nation, but that only continues if current students also transition to being active alumni.

“Is there really any question about the value of a Wabash education?” Amidon asked. “Don’t let our future be up to fate. My point here, gentlemen, is that you should take ownership of this place. After all, whose Wabash is it anyway?”


‘Three Time’ And So Much More

Nicknames and sports kind of go hand-in-hand, so it’s not surprising that someone on campus refers to Riley Lefever ’17 as “Three Time.” When you win three individual national championships, monikers like that are bound to follow.

It’s Riley’s response to sharing the story that sheds light on the person behind that championship veneer.

“I find it a little embarrassing,” he says. “I try to shy away from that stuff.”

Yes, Riley is a top-notch student-athlete, the leader of a nationally ranked wrestling team. He is also an English major who dabbles in poetry and has plans to teach following graduation, as well as the head resident assistant on campus, overseeing Rogge Hall, so his impact is far reaching.

Riley Lefever ’17 in Center Hall.

According to Associate Dean of Students Marc Welch, Riley relates well to a variety of people with the ability to lead through his words and actions. His attitude is contagious.

“As an R.A., Riley is naturally caring and concerned for others,” Welch says. “He is an encourager while at the same time holding them to a high standard.”

Fellow R.A. Brian Parks ’18 understands the commitment and integrity that goes into the job, and he witnessed some of those qualities at their first meeting.

“He automatically makes the room more relaxed,” says Parks. “Even though the job is stressful, he tries to put everybody at ease. He cracks jokes, but at the same time, he is a leader. He keeps us in order and makes sure we’re on task.”

One of Lefever’s character traits surprised Parks. Riley is a goof ball.

“He’s goofy. He seems to put a smile on your face every time you walk by,” Parks explains. “You can be yourself with him, and that translates very well to being an R.A.”

Chris Wilson ’19, who claims Riley as both a teammate and an R.A., says that Lefever earns respect on the mat and in Rogge Hall because of who he is, “You can look at him and tell that he’s athletic. I mean, he’s big and strong, but I don’t think everybody realizes how unique he is. He’s laid back. We respect him because he allows us to be ourselves.”

As Riley shoots for a fourth consecutive national championship and a B.A. degree this spring, one professor noted the attributes that help him stand out athletically and as a mentor, also aid him in the classroom.

“The excellent work ethic no doubt helps him in athletics, but it also defines him as a student,” says Agata Szczeszak-Brewer, Associate Professor of English. “He is a good listener, and his responses to texts or to other students’ comments are detailed and always respectful. I view Riley as a humble, down-to-earth guy who never brags about his achievements.”

Riley has impacted the Wabash community in a number of ways, but he is quick to point out the positive effects on him along the way, too.

“Being an R.A. has made me more approachable. I enjoy being able to impact young men’s lives,” “To be someone to talk to – to be a presence in their lives – has made me who I am. These experiences have shaped me as a person, a learner, an educator, and a leader.”



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