Fall 2011 Letter to New Students

A letter to new students from President Nathan Hatch.

Dear Students,

Let me begin by expressing how pleased I am to welcome you to Wake Forest University. I know you must be excited, perhaps even anxious, to get started. I assure you that I am just as excited at the beginning of every new term. In fact, look around at the people with whom you will be sharing your experience here. Like you, most are feeling a mixture of excitement and some uncertainty, perhaps wondering just where and how they will find their footing in this new place.

Among your classmates you will find young men and women from different states, countries and cultures—each individual with a story to tell, and as of this moment, all are now a part of the story of Wake Forest. Although I trust we will have many chances to talk and know each other better during your years here, I want to encourage you to start the conversation now by sharing your story.

All of us were novices in the art of fly-fishing, but with patient guides and plentiful rivers, we learned something about the craft and caught some beautiful fish. We no doubt would have offended real anglers, like Norman Maclean’s father who believed that “nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.” But then again, we have to put ourselves into new challenges if we hope to learn more about each other and ourselves.

By way of example, let me go first by sharing with you something I did this summer. The last week of July I had the wonderful opportunity to join our three adult children in Missoula, Montana for a three-day fly-fishing experience.

I have wanted to do this for a long time. With our busy schedules and far-flung lives, though, it was a challenge to get everyone together. Admittedly, putting the trip off another year would have been all too easy. “Maybe next time,” we could have said. But we would inevitably look back and wonder about the opportunity we missed.

Instead, we seized this chance to embark on an experience that we will cherish always. We fished and floated about 10 miles a day for three days, each day on a different river: the Blackfoot, home river of Norman Maclean and A River Runs Through It; the Bitterroot, along which Lewis and Clark ventured; and the Clark Fork, a major tributary of the Columbia River.

All four of us greatly enjoyed the experience, the challenge and the fun. But the greatest thing was having the rare opportunity of three full days with our children: Gregg who lives in Seattle, David who lives in Charlotte and Beth who lives outside Washington, DC. At night, over dinner in Missoula, my children decided to pose a number of thoughtful questions of their father — What lessons had I learned from my own father and grandfather? What one word of advice would I have to them about money? How and why did I undertake the profession I chose as historian and university administrator? We had hours of discussion, reminding me of the importance of being open to different perspectives.

Although we caught (and released) dozens of beautiful trout, and I have brought home more than a few fish stories, the entire trip reminded me of something truly remarkable and entirely vital regarding the story of Wake Forest and the time we share here together. The story of Wake Forest is one of recognizing the opportunity to enrich our lives and the lives of others, and having the courage to seize it. The story is being written every day by you—our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni—as we pursue experiences that will allow us to grow personally, academically and professionally.

Following the fly-fishing trip, my wife, Julie, and I spent time with our children and grandchildren at the log cabin in Idaho that Julie’s grandfather had built by hand back in the early part of the last century. Last year we found the original deed for the land and had it framed while we were there, connecting our history with our future.

As we begin another chapter in the story of Wake Forest, I want to remind you of the many opportunities we have in front of us to connect, engage, share and grow. These opportunities go beyond grades, course credits or requirements. They are experiences that challenge our understanding and inspire our curiosity. They allow us to find what fills us with passion and to apply what we learn in the service of humanity—the very essence of our motto, Pro Humanitate. They will make your collegiate experience more complete and provide you with the story lines that you will carry with you throughout your life. This is what fills me with anticipation every autumn. In this letter, however, I can only scratch the surface.

Opportunities ahead

As much as we try to describe it, the Wake Forest story is best experienced firsthand. During the 2011-2012 academic year, there is a wide array of experiences from which to choose, and I encourage you to take advantage of as many of them as you possibly can. I’ve included a brief, though by no means exhaustive, listing of events, areas of interest and links to help get you started. Once you start clicking, you will find plentiful opportunities to enjoy.

Community destinations for engagement

• You’ll discover that the Office of Personal and Career Development (OPCD), under Vice President for Career Development Andy Chan’s direction, has been brought together in one central location to make it possible for students to interact and consult with faculty and staff on a more regular basis in an environment designed specifically for this purpose. I encourage you to visit the new spaces on the second floor of Reynolda Hall early and often.

“Because of Wake Forest, I am a more well-rounded, stronger and better person.”

— Jackie Swoyer (’12), Cincinnati, Ohio

• In fact, I invite you to drop by Reynolda Hall to see all of the other spaces that, in addition to the OPCD, have been redesigned to foster engagement among faculty, students, staff and administration.

• The construction of Farrell Hall is well under way. Completing this new home for the Schools of Business will have a positive ripple effect on much of campus life, freeing up much-needed space for vital academic programs and enhancing student and faculty interaction.

• Let’s not forget The Barn, an on-campus venue (officially opening September 1) that was completely booked by students for the 2011-2012 academic year 20 minutes after we opened the sign-up period. We are thrilled to see The Barn already becoming a popular destination for our community to connect.

• I also want to point out that safety and security of our campus community is always at the top of my mind. Please familiarize yourself with Wake Alert, the University’s primary source of information about emergency preparedness and response.

Student initiatives to expand the story

Students at Wake Forest are expected to take an active role in shaping how the University educates, engages and evolves. During your time on campus, I invite you to participate in developing student initiatives. You may be surprised to learn how receptive we are to new ideas—and how collaborative we are in our thinking. For example:

• The Barn, which I mentioned earlier, was motivated by and developed through close collaboration with the students. Not so long ago at a student gathering in Wait Chapel, one student suggested the campus needed somewhere, anywhere—even a barn—as a venue. Needless to say, the idea stuck.

“I love Wake Forest because it gives me the opportunity to explore what I’m interested in.”

— Margaret Gelburg (’13) Charlottesville, VA

• As you read this letter, I will be involved in our Student Leadership Summit all day with around 75 of your fellow students. In only its second year, this summit is a forum for discovering how we can work together creatively to address the biggest issues facing our campus.

• Chaplains Timothy Auman and Chris Towles, in the Office of the Chaplain, are hosting a series of events throughout the year under the national Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The events are designed for students and faculty to deepen their understanding of religious diversity.

• The Social Justice Action Committee is a group of students, faculty and administrators that meets regularly to plan cohesive justice programming for our community. In 2011-2012, the focus is on issues surrounding fair trade, with speakers, campus events, documentary screenings, and opportunities for action. Learn more about the committee and to access the event schedule.

• Interns play a critical role in our Office of Sustainability, which was created to support students, faculty and staff in making sustainable practices part of our community culture. Learn more about how we integrate green initiatives.

Faculty and academic progress to broaden our knowledge

Of course, the core of your Wake Forest story will be the academic experience in which you will be engaged over the next few years. Our mission is to provide a superior intellectual experience that challenges your mind and an environment that encourages meaningful faculty-student interaction. Our faculty members really want to get to know you and are fully available to you, inside and outside the classroom. Get to know them!

Experiences to enrich the mind and spirit

Throughout the year, our campus is alive with events that are intended not only to inform, but to inspire. My advice to you is to attend as many as possible. I find it helpful to bookmark the online university calendar, but I’ve also listed a few events and series here.

It was a memorable week. We had a wonderful time together, and the setting and weather were exquisite. Most importantly we pulled back from our normal fast-paced routines. We explored subjects never before discussed; and came to understand each other better. The time was a rare treat in a society in which many families, like ours, find themselves living in far-flung places.

• Keep an eye on the Voices of Our Time Series. These are enlightening, fascinating talks given by leaders from various professions, cultures and organizations. You’ll find Mark Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps, to be especially interesting, given that the Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and that our University has a long-standing tradition of service.

• We will have a Service of Remembrance at 7 PM at Wait Chapel marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This has no doubt been an important event in your lifetime impacting the way we live and view the world. Along with the service, we will provide opportunities to reflect on the events of September 11, 2001, to discuss issues related to that day and to channel our energies into serving others. Look for more information on the Wake Forest home page in the coming weeks.

Homecoming is a glorious tradition at Wake Forest. Beginning the week of October 10, look for special events, lectures and a great deal of fun. This is an excellent opportunity for students, faculty, staff and alumni to connect.

• Our student-athletes are part of an exciting ACC tradition featuring the highest level of competition in collegiate athletics. Part of that tradition is the spirit of unity and enthusiasm that permeates and energizes campus life. Look for opportunities to get together around these events all year, starting with this Thursday night when our football team visits Syracuse (8 PM, ESPN3.com).

Where does the story lead? You decide.

What I find most compelling about the Wake Forest story are the common threads of deep commitment to students and their formation, consistent linking of intellectual and moral virtues, and the building of a community that is human in scale. I believe in Wake Forest University.
– Nathan O. Hatch

The story of Wake Forest is deeply human. As a student, your Wake Forest story is just beginning and will continue throughout your life. And I, for one, cannot wait to see how it develops.

I invite you to click here to begin writing. It’s a website we created so everyone in the Wake Forest community can share their stories and pass along what they have gained through their experience on this wonderful campus.

I look forward to seeing you around the Quad. I’ll admit that even though campus has been quite peaceful, it has been a little too quiet for my liking. I am always energized by the influx of students on campus in the fall.

When you see me, please say hello. In addition to regular office hours, I will continue to host our “Hang with Hatch” discussions from time to time over coffee at the Starbucks in Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

Again, welcome and best wishes for an exciting first year.

Nathan O. Hatch

Categories: Letters