The air in Pioneer Chapel was rippling today as 300-400 students prepared for the last chapel talk of the year given by outgoing President Patrick White. I sat uncharacteristically further back due to the great number of people between Martindale brothers Tom Blaich and Korbin West. What was truly one of the finest chapel talks of the year was opened by White’s characteristic humor as he silenced the resounding applause to his introduction by saying “I only have twenty-five minutes!”
Seconds later he invocated speech that drew an equally loud applause. “God I love Wabash!” As President White continued speaking I was struck by his many personal stories that showed how much of a personal president he was to Wabash. So much so that even incoming freshmen such as my roommate Patrick Bryant and next door neighbor Daniel Craig were mentioned for their interaction with White in preparation for a Calculus test and in his replacement of White in a titanic battle of Risk respectively.
But a more personal example is Dr. White’s participation in a very small book reading club over “The Great Gatsby.” As a member of this group, I witnessed Dr. White’s unassuming presence as he diligently took notes during our meetings. But it was an even greater surprise when during his speech he reference’s Gatsby’s green light at the edge of the horizon when talking about the high expectations of Wabash. In the same way that Wabash continually demands more from its students, Gatsby’s consuming desire to reunite with his dream is symbolized by this lone, green light in the horizon.
Another personal story would be meeting a lone man in a baseball cap. After traveling with the track team back from Wooster, a five-hour drive that yielded another conference championship (hoorah!), we walked off the bus at 2 am to discover President White ready to shake each of our hands and congratulate us on our accomplishment. These are just two examples of White’s commitment to personal relationships.
What is possibly less unexpected is Dr. White’s approbation of brotherhood, referencing his ringing in ceremonies in which he has traditionally invoked the words of Shakespeare, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” So when he asked everyone to stand and greet the neighbor to their left and right, you can imagine the exuberance and amiability filling that moment.
I recall most clearly Dr. White’s citing of an exemplar alumni named Bob Armstrong who, upon his cancer bed, made the analogy to our president that his doctors who were “trying to save his life” would now meet the president of the college “that gave him his life.” This great approbation of Wabash matches Dr. White’s compliment of an institution that is a “community of heart and mind.”
So Dr. White concluded his chapel talks by praising Wabash for its consistency in the ever-changing world, for showing its students that “Wabash always dreams,” and possibly more importantly, “Wabash always fights!”