Dear Wake Forest community,
Welcome to 2019! I hope your time away from Wake Forest was refreshing and you return with a deep anticipation of what this year holds. As we start a new semester, I want to offer you a reflection and some encouragement.
Last year, we spent a lot of time talking about and discovering how our community could engage in greater understanding of one another. In the classroom, among colleagues and within our community, we joined in more frequent and deeper conversations with one another; we shared and chose to become vulnerable; and we learned that what we have in common is more important than what we hold in difference. We introduced Call to Conversation on our campus, and I am grateful to all who facilitated and participated in the effort. I look forward to more of these gatherings that blend hospitality and mutual sharing.
Beyond conversation, we carried out the practice of caring for one another. This fall, in the midst of two hurricanes and a historic snow, I watched as our community rallied together. Faculty worked with productivity and flexibility to reschedule exams and accommodate student needs when snow disrupted finals week. Facilities and maintenance personnel worked around the clock to clear snow and ice – some even spending one or two nights on campus to ensure the rest of us could go safely about our routines. And we reached out to our alumni, parents and friends affected by the storms to assist as we could.
At the end of last year, we also reached a milestone because of the contributions of many. To date, Wake Forest has raised more than $900 million in gifts and commitments to invest in students, faculty and facilities as part of the Wake Will Lead campaign. This achievement is possible only because of widespread support, including the gifts of more than 2,000 current and retired faculty and staff who have collectively committed nearly $20 million to the future of Wake Forest.
But our greatest strength as a community is often felt most in the quiet moments that are not widely known. Philosopher Simone Weil once noted that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” What I see every day is the critical work of faculty and staff extending themselves in such generosity. I note our Counseling Center staff and Campus Ministry colleagues who see to the many needs of our students, faculty and staff. It is evident in the ongoing efforts of Campus Kitchen and other service organizations that connect us to our local community. It is found in the listening ear and generosity of a professor, staff member, roommate or friend.
I am grateful for this community – one dedicated to understanding, supporting and caring for each other. Thank you for your efforts in making Wake Forest a place we can call home.
Looking at the year ahead, I encourage you to be resolute in seeking to understand by cultivating the life of the mind and fostering your character. For example, looking for a respite from current national politics, I read the book by James and Deborah Fallows, “Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America.” It is a vivid portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in medium-sized cities across the country – towns like Winston-Salem. It is heartening, indeed, when you see the cooperation, compromise, pragmatism and goodwill on a local level.
In addition to exploring the world we are part of, also focus as much attention on the person you are as the student, scholar or professional you are. It is not enough to be accomplished in a field or successful on an exam; we must concern ourselves with, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “the content of our character.” In the end, that is what we will most be remembered for.
One opportunity to pursue the development of character is coming up next month. On February 1-3, Wake Forest and the Oxford Character Project are co-sponsoring an international conference on “The Arts of Leading: Perspectives from the Humanities and Liberal Arts.” The conference will start with a special interview and performance by Renée Elise Goldsberry, the Tony Award-winning star of “Hamilton,” on Friday, February 1 at 6 p.m. in Wait Chapel. The conference will continue with scholars from Wake Forest, Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, Penn and Duke, among others, exploring what the liberal arts can teach us about leadership. I invite all of you to partake in this exciting event.
Later in the semester, we will celebrate the character and long-standing dedication of two members of the Wake Forest community. At Founders’ Day Convocation, on February 21, we will present the Medallion of Merit, the University’s highest honor for outstanding achievement and distinguished contributions to Wake Forest, to Sandra Boyette (MBA ’95), former vice president and senior advisor to the President, and Charley Rose, professor emeritus of law. I hope you can join us as we recognize these two exemplary people of character.
As we walk into a new year and a new semester, thank you for your daily efforts in caring for one another. And even as you commit yourself to the exploration of new knowledge, know that who you are and how you go about this life will be remembered far beyond what you know or what you have accomplished.
My best wishes to each of you for a productive and enriching 2019.
Nathan O. Hatch