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The Inauguration of President Swallow

Inaugural Address: President John Swallow

Inaugural Address
By Dr. John R. Swallow

Carthage College President
April 21, 2018

John Swallow is formally installed as Carthage's 23rd President by Carthage Trustee Jeff Hamar.John Swallow is formally installed as Carthage's 23rd President by Carthage Trustee Jeff Hamar.

Members of the board, faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and friends: I am so glad you are here to share in this ceremony of inauguration … this celebration of Carthage, past, present, and future.

Ellena [Ignacio], Leslie [Cameron], and Hoyt [Harper], thank you so much for your words of welcome. I have enjoyed getting to know you and so many other students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I look forward to all of the good work we will do together. And John [McCardell], it means so much to me that you have offered your wisdom and perspective as part of this ceremony this afternoon. You and Bonnie will always serve as examples for Cameron and me.

I am privileged, humbled, and honored to stand before you as Carthage College’s 23rd president.

You have entrusted to me this office, and, in turn, I pledge myself to execute its duties faithfully and with great enthusiasm. You have entrusted to me the administration of the College, and I dedicate myself to its purpose, which, as the constitution of the College states, is “to provide opportunity through higher education for men and women to serve others in the world and the church.” And you have entrusted to me the leadership of the community of people — some of whom could be with us today, and others of whom are miles away — who support and encourage the progress of this institution.

And I embrace this community.

This community has welcomed Cameron and me so warmly, and that has been so important to us. The place I occupy at Carthage is, in countless ways, more than a job. It is a deep commitment that must spread to both members of a couple, requiring of each of them a special force and strength.

Cameron, my partner of nearly 27 years, is my partner at Carthage, too. Just as I have embraced this community and this new adventure, Cameron, too, embraces it, inviting students week after week to design and take her on tours of Kenosha, through which they welcome her to this, our new home. Cameron, would you stand, so that this community may embrace you, too?

Even as we look forward to the future, we must remember how much we depend on our past. Let us acknowledge our deep gratitude to those who have stood before me and are present here to celebrate our future. Greg Woodward, Carthage’s 22nd president, you brought a renewed sense of energy and creativity to our campus. Would you and Penny please stand and be recognized?

And Greg Campbell, Carthage’s 21st president, I have come to appreciate all you did to transform this College with your vision, willpower, and commitment. Would you and Barbara please stand and be recognized?

If any of us is able to see far, it is because we stand on the shoulders of those before us. And what broad shoulders these Carthaginians have.

• • •

In the truest sense, a college is more than a campus. More than an endowment. More than a business. More, even, than a community of common purpose. It is a movement, and more still: not just a movement, but an expedition — an expedition of astonishing magnitude — incorporating thousands upon thousands of lives past, present, and future: students and parents; faculty and staff; alumni and friends; neighbors and partner organizations, spanning decades, generations, and even centuries.

We are here together on this expedition because we share a critical mission: We educate students to have an impact on the future.

We diligently shape for our students a journey that requires them — like the characters we just met from “Into the Woods” — to contemplate carefully what they wish for, to reflect on what they’re doing here. Their goals, in many ways, become the institution’s goals, as we work together to prepare students for careers that likely don’t yet exist and future opportunities that we likely cannot fully predict.

As a college, we must understand the world as it comes to us. We must continually ask: What does the world need? And what do our students need to lead lives of significance in that world?

We are not always certain of the best path forward on this expedition. Yet we must act.

Careful the wish you make, we are warned.
Careful the spell you cast.
Careful the vision you set forth.
Children will listen.
It will make a difference.

Expeditions such as ours are fraught — fraught with uncertainty and, of course, with the possibility of failure. Colleges — particularly private four-year colleges — face very challenging times. Demographics are not in our favor. Fewer high school students, particularly in the Midwest, will be entering four-year colleges in the years to come. Colleges are competing among one another as rarely before.

Nor are economic forces in our favor. Colleges’ ability to raise tuition is constrained, as it should be. The more expensive colleges become, the fewer families can consider the sort of education they provide.

And there’s more still. Colleges work within an American society that has begun to distrust colleges, just as trust in many of our society’s institutions has fallen.

But, if the expedition is difficult, it is because it has never been so important. You know this.

If you say, as Ann Wagner Bundgaard, a dear friend of Carthage, said to me recently, “President, with our American society and the larger world so buffeted by constant change, to say nothing of violence, theft, sexual harassment, anger, and lack of civility and courtesy, students need to confront questions like: What do I really value? Are the values that I claim to hold really worthwhile? Are the values that I claim to hold permanent or transitory?” … If you said that, I would say you are right: Colleges must educate not only for skills and capacities, but for meaning and purpose, for vocation in the deepest sense.

If you say, as Bishop Paul Erickson said to me, “President, at a moment like this, we need to educate people for curiosity, courage, and compassion.” … I would say you are right: Colleges must develop in students curiosity, to learn and know the truth. Colleges must develop in students courage, to take up difficult topics, to say what must be said, and to act. Colleges must develop in students compassion, to recognize the pain that others feel, and to understand our neighbors.

Yes, a college is an expedition of risk, where the return is anything but guaranteed. But it is also an expedition of purpose, needed by the world that surrounds us as much as ever before.

And so, among the many colleges in this country, among the many expeditions into the future, in which should we invest ourselves? Which would have the best chance of success?

We might first look for a residential college. In a time of increasing individualism, a residential college offers the best hope to educate students to learn how to interact, to confront difficult topics together, and to be able to work productively with others.

We might next look for a college with a religious heritage and identity. Colleges with a religious affiliation are often unafraid to express values, even as they debate them. Students need both the challenge to values and the assertion of values.

If we are looking for our expedition to be successful, we might look for a college with a history of facing challenges boldly. Many colleges, founded in the 19th century in the wilderness, turned out later not to be well-situated for the future. While place is important, sometimes changing place is important, too. A college that showed the foresight and the fortitude to move, some 50 years ago, would be just such a college.

We might look for a college that chose, as part of that move, a community that understands how education affects the economy and vice versa. People whose grandparents and great-grandparents saw their region as one of the fastest growing in the country and invited that college in because they knew the importance of a well-educated workforce. A community that understands what it means to have lost industries and jobs but, nevertheless, has not lost hope. Instead, through effective political leadership, the community developed its downtown, replacing an auto plant with residential housing, museums, and an open-air market — and is already at work thinking of how to redevelop a second brownfield site.

If we are looking for our expedition to be successful, we might look for a college that has not only boldly faced its own challenges, but finds inspiration for boldness in a neighboring community to the north. H. F. Johnson Jr., a leader in Racine, proposed building, for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York, a golden circular structure to show a film about peace. His staff were doubtful. But he rebuffed them, saying simply, “Gentlemen, some decisions are only for the brave.” That same community formed a bold foundation – a foundation which brought national leaders to Racine for discussions, and out of those discussions emerged plans for no less than the National Endowment of the Arts and National Public Radio.

If we are looking for our expedition to succeed in a diverse future, we might look for a college that, through its long history, has welcomed students that other schools would not enroll. A college that enrolled women in 1870 and its first black student in 1946. A college that, in doing so, exemplifies the best of faith traditions — that, as Bishop Wayne Miller would put it, knows that “All creatures are endowed by their creator with a value and dignity that people … are called to protect and defend.”

If we are looking for an expedition that can succeed when resources are constrained, we might look for a college that has been a bold steward of its resources, spending far less on investment management than others while producing percentage endowment returns that exceeded Harvard’s.

And, if we are looking for an expedition with a history of success, we might gravitate toward a college with a pioneering tradition in the arts, in the sciences, and in athletics. One that founded the second oldest touring choir in the country and whose theatre program wins national awards. One where 20 of 24 sports teams have won conference championships.

We might look for a college that has built a pipeline to prestigious fellowships — one that last year produced more U.S. Fulbright recipients than any other undergraduate institution in the state of Wisconsin.

By now, you know where I am going. The college I have described is one that has become very precious to me in a very short time, as it already is to you.

There is something unusual here at Carthage College, in Kenosha, in southeastern Wisconsin. Our students are committed not just to coursework in their majors, but to passions well outside their fields of study, and to activities outside of class, because all of these things are part of their journey. The devotion of our faculty and staff ensures that no student will make that journey alone. Those who work at Carthage give of themselves more than I have ever seen. Our graduates are known for rolling up their sleeves and getting things done, not waiting for the world to come to them.

How will this unusual college, in this unusual place, look toward the future?

We will seek new programs and new opportunities to express our history, and build on our extraordinary legacy. We will go “into the woods,” explore the unknown. And we will not be afraid. We will deliberate nimbly, we will experiment boldly, we will work together with integrity and trust. And we will act.

We will not think in terms of “or,” but in terms of “and” — for what the world needs now is less “or” and more “and.” And that has been Carthage’s nature from the beginning. Art and science. Mathematics and music. Pre-professional and liberal arts. Classical foundations and career preparation. We will ensure that every student graduating from Carthage College is fully capable for the challenges ahead of them, in their own lives and in the work that they will do.

Yes, students are on individual journeys, and they must develop their skills and capacities as individuals. But college is not just about the private good of an individual’s experience preparing for an individual lifetime. It is a public good as well. The work of society occurs in organizations, in which people come together to solve problems creatively, carefully, and compassionately. We will prepare students not only for their lifetimes, but for the lifetimes of all those with whom they will come into contact.

This expedition, this journey, is a worthwhile one. If anywhere the world’s needs can be met, it is here. If by anyone, it is by us. If by any college, by this one.

You are witnesses here, in this chapel and in this ceremony, to my dedication to this expedition and its success.

Join me. The world is waiting. And there is so much good we can do.

Thank you.