An early spring has blessed our beautiful mountaintop campus in Bethany. Beyond my campus window are daffodils, lush green grass, budding bushes and flowering trees. Day by day, in the words of a colleague, “the transformation is amazing and inspiring.”
Spring term at Bethany fulfills the sense of promise and possibility that begins with each new academic year. In addition to Commencement, perhaps no event captures that spirit as meaningfully for the entire institution as Founder’s Day. This year we welcomed back to campus as our Convocation speaker noted historian and Johns Hopkins Scholar D. Duane Cummins, who served as president of the College from 1988 until his retirement in 2002. Dr. Cummins’ remarks generated an appreciative response from faculty, students, alumni and friends as he recalled the improbable survival of the College in the darkest days of the Civil War.
“During 1861,” Dr. Cummins recounted, “students in large number began to leave Bethany. Some went home, while most enlisted in the army. The student body was reduced to 38 and the faculty to two. Only five degrees were conferred in 1862, and enrollment soon fell again to 33.
“In 1863, on July 3, Commencement was held for four graduates. Only 10 trustees had been able to make the trip. Common sense suggested that they should simply close the doors of the College,” Dr. Cummins continued.
On that July 3, however, “with no other asset than the ideal of Bethany College,” Dr. Cummins noted, “the trustees made a fateful decision. . . it is recorded in the minutes, and the vote was unanimous that ‘The operation of the college will continue in all respects.’”
As if to validate the trustees’ decision, and entirely unknown to them, twin Union victories that same week—at Gettysburg and Vicksburg—marked the turning point of the war, while simultaneously “marking the turning point in the survival of Bethany College,” Dr. Cummins concluded. Enrollment that fall jumped 40 percent.
Decisive leadership by Bethany College trustees in 1863 had saved the College. Today, this small liberal arts college continues to embody the mission of our founder, while adapting its programs to the needs of a global, knowledge-based economy.
The mobility of our society is one of many aspects of contemporary life that would likely have astounded our College’s early leaders, with student groups fanning out in every direction during our recent spring break. Student-athletes traveled widely, with the golf team to Myrtle Beach, softball to Clermont, Fla., and baseball to Ft. Pierce, Fla. Puerto Rico was the destination of Spanish Club members and advisors, who toured the El Yunque tropical forest, the famed Bacardi rum factory, Rio Camuy Caves, Bioluminscent Bay and Luquillo Beach, among other attractions.
German Club members and advisors flew to Milan in two groups, touring various attractions, museums and other sights there, with day trips to Venice, Verona and the Italian Dolomites for skiing and sledding.
The Economics and Business Clubs visited seven European countries, with stops in cities including London, Brussels, Venice, Innsbruck, Paris and Dijon. Closer to home, Bethany students completed an Alternative Spring Break in the Florida Everglades where they helped to remove invasive species to rid the swamps of plants competing with the natural flora and fauna. Students and advisors also participated in beach cleaning on sea turtle nesting grounds.
The Tri-Beta Biological Honorary Society, Alpha Phi Chapter, traveled to Boston where they visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the New England Aquarium and the Boston Museum of Science.
Some of our brightest future Bethanians joined us March 24 for the 28th annual Kalon Scholarship Luncheon. Emmy Award-winning TV producer Jhamal K. Robinson, a 1998 Bethany alumnus who serves as head of production for Yahoo! Studios in Los Angeles, was keynote speaker. The luncheon is part of the Kalon Leadership Scholarship Competition, which recognizes incoming students who possess special leadership potential. It offers future students with exceptional promise an opportunity to be inspired by successful alumni. One of many Bethany graduates who have achieved excellence in their fields, Jhamal built on the base of knowledge and experience that he received at Bethany, becoming one of the youngest, yet most influential, producers in the television industry.
Another highlight of our year is the Oreon E. Scott Lectures. The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins launched the 57th annual Scott Lectures, March 26-27, at Bethany’s Mountainside Conference Center. Dr. Watkins currently serves as the general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. This year’s event focused on “The Challenge of Being Church in the 21st Century.”
Our campus will wind up the spring term with Alumni Weekend, May 4-6, and Commencement Weekend, May 11-12. We invite you to join us for these annual traditions.
As we prepare to conclude another academic year, it is appropriate to echo the words of Dr. Cummins: “Memory, heritage and a profound conviction about the value of the Bethany College ideal have always undergirded Bethany’s courageous response to every challenge it has faced.” May we always continue to honor this firm foundation and the spirit of renewal that attends springtime and the forward-looking activities of Bethanians.