These are my final President’s Remarks.
Thirteen years passed quickly. As I have said elsewhere, I did not come to Willamette intending to stay this long. And now that it’s time to leave, I’m surprised at how suddenly it has come to an end.
As you might guess, I am frequently asked to reflect on what is endearingly referred to as my “legacy.” While that’s a job best left to others, there are certain features of our commonwealth of learning that I — immodestly, perhaps — look to with satisfaction: the increase in the academic profile and number of applicants to the College of Liberal Arts (more than 8,000 apply for 500 spots, up from 1,500 in 1998); national recognition of our sustainability efforts; five academic centers that promote interdisciplinarity and faculty-student research; increased diversity in several dimensions; the capacity of Willamette Academy to prepare first-generation middle and high school students for lives of meaning, hope and purpose; and our steady allegiance to the values expressed in our motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born,” now more than ever a central and distinctive attribute of Willamette’s character.
Heraclitus, the late-sixth-century Greek philosopher and empiricist, wrote that “everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” And while it is true that many things have changed and opportunities arisen since my arrival at Willamette, many essential
Willamette elements persevere.
Every fall, the 11 chestnut trees between Eaton and Waller Halls drop prickly bombs on the heads of unsuspecting passers-by, and the Star Trees still capture the wonder and romantic notions of students and visitors alike. The Quad still teems with activity from August to May with rugby, ultimate Frisbee, sunbathing, or the temporary relocation of class discussions on sunny afternoons. At the Bistro, one still hears 1970s Simon & Garfunkel songs — albeit from an iPod, presumably, instead of a CD player. Behind Waller, from his perch atop the Capitol dome, the Oregon Pioneer, a blaze of gold against cloud-darkened skies, gazes ever westward.
Another Willamette standby: wonderful students — a new crop every fall, some quite giddy with freedom and the power of their own potential, others turgid with aspiration or merely with youth “trailing,” as the 19th century English poet Wordsworth once wrote, “clouds of glory … [and] intimations of immortality.”
Like the hundreds of students who came before them, each has come to Willamette in search of answers to the big questions: Who am I? What will I become? What will my contribution be?
So begin their journeys into a world of incredible and unrelenting change. We light the way.
As a capstone to my departure, this edition of The Scene highlights my presidential accomplishments. Let me qualify: None of what you will read would have been possible without Willamette’s enormously gifted faculty, dedicated staff and many, many alumni, donors and friends.
As I reflect on my time as Willamette’s president, I am alternately nostalgic, proud and astonished at all we have undertaken together. I am also profoundly humbled when I consider the faith placed in my abilities and aspirations when I was hired — a promising but untried president-to-be — and by the support given to me by so many members of the Willamette community. Because of my time here, I will happily bring to my new position at Emerson College knowledge born of experience as well as a sympathetic understanding and appreciation for the concepts of shared governance and collaborative leadership.
My gratitude is deep, and my joy at having been given the opportunity to be a part of Willamette’s history and to help shape its future is undying. My warmest and most heartfelt farewell to you all.
M. Lee Pelton
“As I reflect on my time as Willamette’s president, I am alternately nostalgic, proud and astonished at all we have undertaken together.”