Two quick stories about our 18th president-elect—one about soccer; the other, students.
First. For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has attended every quadrennial World Cup soccer championship since 1986 except one: the 1990 tournament in Italy.
“Mexico wasn’t playing,” Gonzalez explains. “And a World Cup without Mexico is like a wedding without a couple,” he smiles, “still a great party but with the heart of the matter absent.”
Second. Gonzalez will begin his duties as President of Kalamazoo College on July 1. Until then he serves in the administration of Occidental College (Los Angeles, Calif.) as dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs. He wasn’t always an administrator. For 21 years–“the time of my life!”–he taught economics at Trinity University. He was a gifted professor, in part because he was so creative when it came to combining classroom learning with outside-the-classroom opportunities (often in different countries) where students could apply the learning. His students loved him. And now, former students, when they find themselves in L.A. for any reason, often reach out to connect with him.
“My secretary knows to always find time on my schedule for these students,” says Gonzalez, “a lunch perhaps or dinner with my family. Always! We both know that afterwards I’ll be happy and enthusiastic for at least a month!”
Love binds these two anecdotes—passion for soccer and passion for the outcomes of a particular kind of education we know as the K-Plan.
Example of the former: the London Olympics (2012) Men’s Soccer Tournament. After Mexico knocks out Japan in Wednesday’s semifinal to earn the right to face tournament-favorite Brazil in Saturday’s gold medal match, Gonzalez, having just watched the semifinal on television in Los Angeles, realizes he simply must be in Wembley Stadium in person on Saturday. No question! Also, no ticket for the match, no ticket for the plane, no reservation for a hotel in a very crowded city.
Because within 24 hours, by some combination of dream, boldness and sheer luck, Gonzalez is indeed in London with all three. And on Saturday he’s in Wembley Stadium, midfield, 30 rows up. “The seat was so perfect,” he marvels. “I suspect it was some corporate sponsor’s whose representative couldn’t attend at the last minute.”
Mexico claims the gold medal in a 2-1 thriller; Gonzalez was there! and tears come unbidden whenever he recalls the memory. So, a great ending to a great adventure most thought Gonzalez crazy to begin? Yes, but the ending’s hardly the heart of the story. After all, things could have turned out differently in any number of ways.
The heart of the story is the boldness, the sharing of the adventure (he took along friends and family via social media) and the way that all the stars aligned to support his dream of being there. Sounds like the kind of undertaking only an undergrad who studied abroad his junior year (like Gonzalez did) would be likely to begin.
Gonzalez shared that story (and other outcomes of his study abroad, as well as more experiences of the last three decades, including his marriage to K alumna Suzie (Martin) Gonzalez ’83, that, unbeknownst to him, have prepared him for this presidency) in his first meeting with the Kalamazoo College community last month. Fluent in three languages (Spanish, English, and soccer, if one considers the sport a worldwide “language” with the capability of connecting people across differences) our 18th president-elect quoted a poet who wrote in a fourth: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe–“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
“I can imagine a Kalamazoo College even stronger than it is,” he says in that speech. “And it is an amazing place right now. [President] Eileen [Wilson-Oyelaran] has left it in a remarkable place. And I can imagine it even stronger. So I can’t wait until July 1 when I can work with all of you to make K a better place.”
K’s amazing because of the K-Plan, according to Gonzalez, which embodies a particular kind of education about which he is every bit as passionate as he is about soccer. The responsibility of a college is to graduate students who are ready for the world. And today, Gonzalez says, that world is being re-shaped by four major forces–technological change more rapid than ever before, growing international interdependence, diversity, and urbanization. The combination of the liberal arts and experiential opportunities to apply the liberal arts is the most effective education for today’s world because of the outcomes that combination yields.
Gonzalez describes the feeling of peace and belonging that a soccer fan experiences in an empty stadium, almost the way one might feel in a church, synagogue, or mosque. Someone passionate about education would feel the same in an imaginary and immaterial work of architecture shaped from the outcomes of the K-Plan. “That ’cathedral’ would include the ability to think analytically and critically,” said Gonzalez. “Outcomes include creativity and the capability to solve problems by drawing upon a variety of perspectives through the prism of different disciplines. And the ability to communicate effectively in writing and in speech, and to interact with people from many different backgrounds, which is both the workplace and the world.”
For 30 years Jorge G. Gonzalez has dedicated his life’s work to that kind of an undergraduate education that results in those outcomes. No wonder he finds time for any of his former students. No wonder they seek him out. And no wonder he’s joyful for at least a month after every meeting with them. After all, more effectively than any other educational option, the liberal arts enrich a life.
(The cover story of the Spring issue of LuxEsto, which publishes the first week of April, is an in-depth feature of our 18th president.)