A Future for the Founding Values of Bethany
I look forward to Founder’s Day every year. When the processional enters historic Commencement Hall, Bethanians pause to celebrate the past, reflect on the present and look to the future. With its banners suspended from the ceiling and plaques commemorating speeches by Presidents Garfield, Nixon, Kennedy, Johnson and Ford, this magnificent site inspires thoughts of how far we have come as an institution. Alumni often tell me how much the transformation of this impressive place, restored to its original splendor, means to them. Indeed, Commencement Hall naturally evokes memories of Bethanians who have preceded us and, in the case of this year’s principal Founder’s Day speaker and other alumni, returned to campus to share their stories.
In his March 4 Founder’s Day address entitled “An Honor to the Age and a Blessing to the World,” Dr. Walter M. Bortz III, a 1967 Bethany alumnus and president emeritus of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, eloquently linked our past to the present. Dr. Bortz stressed the continuity of our founder’s legacy and its impact on Bethanians today.
“Alexander Campbell’s vision and love of this place continue to be an integral part of the experiences that so many have had and will continue to have here at Bethany,” Dr. Bortz noted. He spoke movingly about the leadership exemplified by Campbell and others, especially in the realm of intellectual freedom, one of the College’s founding values. Alexander Campbell, he noted, “saw education as a continuum of layers that eventually permit one to live a full life and to help others to do the same.”
Referring to small colleges as “magical islands of learning,” Campbell believed that moral philosophy and the formation of character were “basic and fundamental to education.” This conviction continues to matter today, because small liberal arts colleges such as Bethany do an especially effective job of producing men and women who go on to mentor and lead others.
“Bethany provided me with the foundations necessary to contribute 43 years to higher education and the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of thousands of young people and their families,” Dr. Bortz noted.
Time and again, Bethany alumni tell me how the men and women who taught and led them at a formative time influenced their future life and work. As another alumnus, Jeffrey L. Seglin ‘78, a leading author, professor and business ethicist who returned to speak at the March 6 Kalon Scholars Leadership Lunch, remarked, “Bethany did not change who I was, but it did define who I was.”
Dr. Arthur Keys, Jr., ’67, founder, president and chief executive officer of International Relief and Development (IRD), one of the nation’s largest non-government organizations, believes that liberal arts colleges such as Bethany “provide the very best foundation for future careers which can go in many different directions.”
Critical to that foundation is intellectual rigor. At a young age, shortly after arriving in America from his native Ireland, Alexander Campbell declared that his life would be spent bringing together the various churches, sects and movements of Christianity into one Christian Church. Thus, “unfettered thinking,” free of sectarian bias, was one of Campbell’s great legacies that we foster today through our first-year learning and capstone course experiences, for example.
One of the challenges that our founder did not face, however, was that of keeping pace with the information explosion and technology. Here again, alumni of liberal arts colleges such as Bethany possess an advantage in identifying the possibilities as they respond to new opportunities. Their rigorous academic experience has taught them how to think critically, analyze and synthesize information from divergent viewpoints, and adapt to change in a way that a more narrow vocational education cannot.
Modern-day Bethany College leaders such as Trustees Greg Jordan ‘81, Bob McCann ‘80 and Neil Christman ‘55, carry the faith of our founders and students of the 19th century into the 21st. Likewise, Dr. Kathleen B. Gaberson, mother of the late Bethany alumnus Matthew Quay Ammon ’96, who created the Matthew Quay Ammon Professorship in Mathematics in 2009 to honor her son’s life and work, and others share the commitment and support the vision of our founder.
There is both hope and perspective in history, and occasions such as Founder’s Day, Baccalaureate and Commencement remind us of the importance of heritage and tradition in perceiving and acting upon today’s challenges. It is always important to be reminded of why we are here.
To paraphrase President Obama’s remarks after the historic March 21 House of Representatives vote to pass health care reform legislation, “Bethanians did not fear the future; they shaped it.”
Scott D. Miller, Ph.D.
President of the College
To see Dr. Miller's biography:
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