For the Sheer Joy of It!
He took piano lessons from the woman who has accompanied the Wabash Glee Club for more than 25 years, so it’s only fitting that Sam Vaught ’16 has become the College’s “accompanist.”
He’s a member of the Glee Club, plays “Old Wabash” at Chapel Talks, is the student organist on campus, plays at Tuesday religious services in Center Hall, and was a part of the musical team that performed at President Hess’s inauguration.
Watching all this has been a pleasure for Vaught’s teacher, Glee Club accompanist Cheryl Everett.
“Sam’s music is something that didn’t come easy for him; he’s really worked at it,” Everett says. “Just thinking back to how he started as a little boy and watching him play and develop the confidence and happiness he has now has been so rewarding.”
Much like his music, Sam’s passion for Wabash didn’t come easy either. A self-described “townie” who grew up five minutes outside of town just off Wabash Avenue, Vaught planned to attend college anywhere but home.
The leap from townie to Wally took time as he struggled to separate the College from his deeply set misperceptions.
“The further I got into high school the more I began to understand the College as an educational institution, and if I could separate it in my mind from my hometown, from everything I’d ever known, it made a whole lot of sense as a place to come and learn.”
Wabash Professor Rick Warner attended the same church as Vaught and became a catalyst for that understanding. The two traveled together on a church-sponsored mission to New Orleans in Spring 2010. That began to open Sam’s eyes to Wabash and the liberal arts.
“Halfway down we started talking about what Wabash was like for him and what it meant to me,” Vaught says. “I discovered that this wasn’t just the brick buildings that I’d seen my whole life. This is a place with a world-renowned faculty in religion and the other departments I was interested in. There is so much opportunity here, but I probably would have taken it for granted if I hadn’t sought it out.”
For Warner, it was an opportunity to connect with a student who possessed a thirst for knowledge.
“He is very smart,” says Dr. Warner, “and his interests are so incredibly broad. He’s one of those guys where there wasn’t anything he was uninterested in. I would have never forgiven myself if he had gone to a school that didn’t allow for a breadth of intellectual focus.”
After a time of aggressive recruitment, Warner backed off.
“He had heard enough from me,” Warner says. “At the end of the day, a guy has to own it.”
And own it he has. In addition to diving into the arts, the religion major has pursued passions in history and the classics, studying Latin and Greek, and caught the travel bug with immersion trips to England and Germany. He took a Glee Club excursion to Ecuador, is studying Spanish this summer, was involved with student government, and is on the Board of Directors of the Montgomery County Historical Society.
“He’s a Renaissance man,” says Warner. “He’s a reader. This is a guy who will talk to you about what he’s been reading. That tells me that he has an active intellectual energy. He never dominates a discussion, but he is the guy who has the nuance that someone else doesn’t have.”
Vaught has charted a course for his own brand of success.
“I don’t know what I want to do,” Vaught says, “but I know what I want to study. I found that the education I get in religion and classics, and the way those two fuse, is a type of education that works for me.”
As Warner says, “What we do really well here is work with guys who are going to come to the plate and work hard. Somebody with some real energy can go through the roof here. Sam is one of those guys.”
Such an impact is not lost on fellow students.
“Sam is a bright soul that says ‘yes’ and ‘what can we do about…’ with enthusiasm more times than not,” says Jeremy Wentzel ’14. “Not only does he recognize opportunities where others may not, but he proposes, acts, and follows through with an engaging personality.”
Vaught’s self-discovery hasn’t been limited to academics; he’s also changed his musical focus from the piano to organ. The switch has provided a new challenge and given Vaught a new stress reliever.
“I get to go in to the Chapel whenever it’s not being used—often in the dead of the night—and just play. No one is around and I can forget about everything else and just play.”
The challenge now for Vaught becomes determining his future. He has applied for a semester abroad at Harlaxton College in Lancaster, England to travel a bit, experience Gothic masterpieces firsthand, and develop an independent research project.
“I am a student and a learner at heart,” Vaught says. “I am happiest when I am learning something new. Discovery and knowledge for knowledge’s sake are huge parts of what make me, me. That’s why I’m here at Wabash. It’s what I wanted and what I needed.
“I hope to graduate from Wabash with the ability to hold two completely opposite ideas in my mind, be able to judge them rationally, keep them there together, and not dismiss one flippantly. I find myself challenged so much here to think outside my own experiences. If that’s the only thing I come away with, then Wabash has done something right.”
Sam sits at the piano in the Chapel and smiles when asked to play something of his choosing. He is in his element, completely at ease. It’s a look that Everett is very familiar with.
“I think he plays for the sheer joy of it,” she says. “I think that Sam will be one of these people after Wabash who will make a difference in the world. I don’t know where, but I can almost see it coming. There is a joy in what he does. He’s always ridiculously happy.”
Vaught’s response is a fitting coda. “No matter what I do or where I go, I will always have music. It will always be a part of me.”