Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Classes are over, finals are wrapping up, and graduation is only a few days away. It is a perfect time for our graduates to reflect on their time at Lawrence before they plunge into the great beyond. I’ve been taking this opportunity to ask seniors to tell me what aspect of their Lawrence education was the most important to them. I was curious to see if their experiences today would bear any resemblance to my experiences as a graduate 23 years earlier. Could the plugged-in, laptop toting, iPod listening, cell phone using, Facebook posting, information Googling, totally wired student of today have anything in common with the typewriter pecking, letter writing, reference shelf scouring, Neanderthal of the mid-1980s?

Well, it turns out the answer is a resounding “YES!” The most important aspect of a Lawrence education for the graduates of today, as it was for the graduates of ’86, ’46, and I suspect 1896, transcends technology; it is deeper than how we get things done at a specific moment in history. It turns out that the most influential part of our graduates’ Lawrence education is the opportunity they had to work closely with our outstanding faculty. Student after student related the profound impact these relationships had on all aspects of their education. And this influence extended well beyond the classroom– a hallway chat that opened up new ways of looking at Beethoven; a conversation over a cup of coffee that explored new ideas and concepts about the aesthetics of music; a debate between professor and student about the merits of twelve tone music; a discussion around a Bjorklunden campfire about Balinese performance practices. These encounters all had a common effect– inspiration. One student told me that whenever he had a conversation with a particular professor, he could barely get to sleep that night because of all the amazing ideas that would emerge.

The importance of this unprecedented access to Lawrence professors really hit me a few years ago when I read an article on great educators. The author stated that if a person is lucky, he will have had five teachers who had profoundly influenced his life. This got me thinking. . .and counting. It turns out that during my twelve years of undergraduate and graduate work, I have had seven of these remarkable educators–lucky me! The interesting part is that five of the seven were all from Lawrence, while only two came in my seven years after Lawrence. Furthermore, my relationships with my Lawrence professors have continued unbroken from the time I left Appleton until today. The slow evolution of these relationships from professor, to mentor, to colleague, to collaborator, to peer–and always friend–has been incredible to witness; incredible to experience. I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

Louise Eklund captured this particular magic of a Lawrence education perfectly when she told me “appreciating a Lawrence education is like a timed-release capsule; it is only over time that the full impact begins to reveal itself.” I couldn’t agree more. Twenty-three years after my graduation and I feel like I’m just beginning to understand the full impact of what Lawrence provided for me.

So as our graduating seniors receive their diplomas, toss their caps in the air, and bid a fond farewell to their friends and their professors, they may be thinking that they are leaving Lawrence behind for good; the door shuts; the era ends; the bonds between professor and student are broken. I know, however, that they couldn’t be more mistaken. It gives me a deep satisfaction to know that a certain timed-released capsule containing the wonders of a Lawrence education will be sustaining them for many, many years to come, and that witnessing the impact that their time at Lawrence has on their lives as their histories unfold, will be a wonderfully satisfying revelation!