Jean died peacefully in her home with family present on the night of July 20, 2015. Born and raised in Kalamazoo, Jean earned her B.A. from K in biology. Later, while attending the University of Michigan’s summer graduate biology program at Douglas Lake, she met Nathan (Pete) Riser, her future husband. After completing her M.A. (zoology) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she studied and became a certified medical technologist at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo. During World War II she worked in a pathology lab near Lansing, Michigan. Her enthusiasm for that work was evident in her stories and detailed knowledge of pathogens. Before moving to Damariscotta, Maine, Jean spent more than 50 years in the Boston area, as a hospital pathology lab volunteer, a college anatomy instructor, a Girl Scout troop leader, a conservation advocate and a docent at the Peabody-Essex Museum of Salem, Mass. She was a lifelong learner, an avid naturalist, birder, photographer and hiker. Past 90, she was still able to walk two miles and to enjoy identifying fauna and flora. Jean was a world traveler, who took great pleasure in attending international scientific meetings with her husband. She also enjoyed living in New Brunswick and in New Zealand during sabbatical years, as well as participating in an East African ornithological safari and a South Seas sailing adventure. Throughout her life Jean maintained detailed records of natural history, family health, travel and other events of interest. In addition, she possessed encyclopedic knowledge on a great variety of topics from Asian art to Wagnerian opera to European history to scientific discoveries. Her daughter once said, “She was Google before Google.” Several of Jean’s relatives have K connections. Her mother Ruth Desenberg Folz attended K for a year. Jean’s first cousin, Samuel Folz, was a member of the class of 1947. And Jean’s daughter Claire graduated in 1967. Jean was predeceased by her husband and is survived by her three children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Doug retired on August 31 after a 21-year tenure as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Cooperstown, New York. He majored in religion at K and studied abroad in Clermont-Ferrand, France. His career service quarter with the Sioux tribe of South Dakota convinced him to enter the ministry. After graduating from K he attended Colgate Rochester Divinity School. He was ordained in 1976. Doug and his wife, Susan, plan to move to Cortland (N.Y.) to be close to their daughter and granddaughter. They also have a son and two grandchildren living in Seattle. One of Doug’s passions is model trains. He had train gardens set up in the yard of his Cooperstown home, where he would sometimes invite the public to watch train runs. Doug has more than one hundred model trains, and he expects to spend several years of his retirement setting up the train layout at his Cortland home. A retirement activity that he and Susan intend to share is visiting National Parks. And they also expect to babysit their granddaughter a lot.
From the “It’s a small world” department: Laura was hiking in early April the Chapel Trail in Sedona, Arizona. She happened to be wearing a T-shirt with the K logo. Two women she passed on the trail inquired if the shirt was related to Kalamazoo College. Turns out the two women–Larissa Miller Bishop ’96 and Stephanie (Gorman) Foote ’96–are alumni classmates, and both know Carrie (Graveel) Diegel ’96, a mutual friend of all three hikers. What prompted Laura’s recollection of the incident was a similar occurrence on a glacier trail in New Zealand, involving Holly Gillis ’09 and Jeff Palmer ’76. Holly remembered Laura; Laura remembered her recent story of Hornets crossing paths. Pictured in Arizona are (l-r): Laura, Larissa and Stephanie.
Welcome home, Andy Miller! The proud Kalamazoo College alumnus—class of 1999, English major, music minor, creative writing concentrator, Michigan-certified secondary school teacher (English and music), and K intramural softball phenom—has returned to his alma mater. He’s worked here before. Following graduation he was associate director of LandSea, a program he loved as both participant and patrol leader. He also worked to help the Stryker Center liaison with the greater Kalamazoo business community. Former K president Jimmy Jones recognized great talent, and when he became president of Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.) in 2004 he convinced Andy to go east for a decade. At Trinity, Andy created the Quest Program, which became that college’s outdoor orientation program for first-year students. Simultaneously Andy worked for Trinity’s advancement office—in major gifts, planned giving, alumni relations, and parent giving, making him one of the great five-tool players (think whatever corresponds to speed, power, contact, glove work, and a cannon arm) in the world of advancement. Andy and alumna Mary-Katherine Thompson ’06 married in 2009. They first met on LandSea. This past August Andy came back to K to serve as the College’s executive director of development. Why the return? “It’s a perfect fit,” he says. “It’s coming home.” And we think it’s great to have him home!
And now his answers to the questions we’ve all been eager to know.
What’s the best song every recorded?
“Apologies to the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Petty, Guns N’ Roses, and especially Springsteen’s ’Jungleland,’ which comes in second, but I’m going to have to go with ’Layla’ by Derek and the Dominos.
What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
“’Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“’You did a good job down there.’”
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
“Irregardless. People use it all the time, but IT’S NOT A WORD!”
What turns you on?
“Autonomy…challenge…the opportunity to create things…and, of course, my wife.”
What turns you off?
“Hate, prejudice, and close-mindedness.”
What sound do you love?
“The electric guitar. Specifically, a Fender telecaster coming through a Vox amp.”
What sound do you hate?
“I absolutely love dogs…but I have two at home who bark like maniacs every time another dog is being walked outside our house, which is regularly. Training remains a work in progress!”
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
“Professional rock and roll songwriter.”
What profession would you not like to participate in?
“Accounting. My lack of interest would pretty much assure my uselessness…and vice versa.”
What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?
“There are two, both of which happened spring of my senior year and involved synthesizing my previous three-and-a-half-years worth of learning and developing. My Senior Individualized Project gave me the opportunity to do a deep dive into every ‘art’ I had any competency in–a manuscript worth of poems (thanks Diane Seuss), a related series of photographs (thanks Richard Koenig), and an album’s worth of music (thanks Tom Evans). On the more traditionally academic side, my English Comprehensive Exams required me to, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on a Saturday, write essays on three different questions, with each essay using three literary references drawn from a list of texts read over the course of my entire time at K. Handing in my SIP and my ’comps,’ admittedly at the absolute last minute in both cases, was so fulfilling to me because they truly served as twin capstone projects of my liberal arts learning.”
Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
“Neither is famous. It would either be my paternal grandfather, who died when I was very young, or my maternal grandmother, who died before I was born.”
What memory from childhood still surprises you?
“I remember very well burning my arm on the stove at the age of two on Valentine’s Day when I was reaching for some Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup my mom was making for me. Somehow, despite being so young, I had managed to get my arm on top of the stove. My mom has never forgiven herself because she was out of the room preparing for a date with my dad to celebrate the birth of my cousin on that very day.”
What is your favorite curse word?
What is your favorite hobby?
“Songwriting and recording in my basement.”
What is your favorite comedy movie?
“Blues Brothers is a pretty solid go-to. I use the phrases ‘We’re getting the band back together’ and ‘We’re on a mission from God’ regularly.”
What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?
“Probably 9/11. I may remember it so distinctly because it happened when we were on LandSea in Ontario. Tom Breznau got a call from President Jones and we went to the one TV at the nearest one-street town to learn what was going on, which was unbelievable. And we had to figure out how to inform all the patrol leaders and participants scattered throughout Killarney. Then to live in the east for 10 years…9/11 has shaped a lot of what New York is like today.”
If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
“Absolutely, unless she was drinking orange juice.”
Gretchen recently received a Fulbright Fellowship (her third), which she will use to teach in Bosnia next year. Gretchen is the author of the four books, Dissent in Wichita: The Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest, 1954-72 ; Herstories: Woman to Woman ; Maybe Crossings; and Finding Duncan. At K Gretchen majored in history and studied abroad in Sierra Leone.
Corey retired from the U.S. Army in August, 2015, as a Major. Since then she has taken classes in underwater research methods and scuba diving in Key West, and she is currently learning about sustainable agriculture by volunteering with Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and exploring the U.S. national park system. Love that liberal arts spirit! Corey is also helping plan the class of 1997’s 20-year reunion this fall.
Scores of Kalamazoo College students do not usually gather outside Mandelle Hall’s Olmsted Room to await word on the fate of a faculty meeting agenda item. But gather they did late last fall, and they greeted one particular vote with applause and celebration.
The matter? At its meeting of November 14, 2014, Kalamazoo College faculty unanimously approved a new major at the school: Critical Ethnic Studies. It is the second major approved in the past two years. In 2013 the faculty voted to create a new major in Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Prior to that, the major in Business was approved in 2008.
After the vote for Critical Ethnic Studies, faculty and staff arose in a spontaneous standing ovation, which sparked the applause and cheers of the students quietly waiting in the Olmsted Room’s foyer. When the meeting adjourned high fives were shared among all.
“One reason I came to K was because of its commitment to diversity,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Justin Berry at the meeting. “I have many students who are looking forward to this opportunity.”
Assistant Professor of Music Beau Bothell added, “I’m very excited to have new critical ethnic studies majors coming into my courses and challenging our assumptions of what and how we will teach.”
“Not only does this help K catch up to where other institutions have been for years,” said Assistant Professor of English Ryan Fong, “it places K at the forefront of where the discipline is going.”
Calls for ethnic studies at K go back more than 40 years, to the late 1960s when the discipline was first born and institutionalized as academic programs at San Francisco State University and the University of California-Berkeley. Periodically, since those early days, the call for ethnic studies at K has been sounded by various faculty, students, and groups, including, among others, the Black Student Organization (1968), the Asian and Pacific Islander Student Association (2007), and the K chapter of the the national Chican@ student organization M.E.Ch.A (2012).
From the field’s origin its founding principles were (and remain) four: self-determination, solidarity among American racial minorities, educational relevance, and an interdisciplinary approach. The ethnic studies field provided early models to examine relationships between racism, colonialism, immigration, and slavery in a U.S. context. Its rigorously intellectual approach sought to create curriculum that reflected (and exercised) multiple voices and worldviews derived from knowledges and ways of knowing that have been silenced or made invisible.
At K, the culmination of the field’s disciplinary development and the calls for campus movement on the matter began in earnest in late 2013, when K appointed Reid Goméz the College’s first professor in ethnic studies. Her position was financed by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In addition to her teaching duties, Goméz worked as part of a Core Curriculum Working Group to write a “Critical Ethnic Studies Major” proposal for faculty consideration. With the approval of the proposal the group will administer the program and serve as the major’s core faculty. They are Goméz, the Mellon Visiting Assistant Professor in Ethnic Studies; Espelencia Baptiste, Associate Professor of Anthropology; Shreena Gandhi, Assistant Professor of Religion; Amelia Katanski, Associate Professor of English; Shanna Salinas, Assistant Professor of English; and Babli Sinha, Associate Professor of English.
Ethnic studies questions how knowledge is defined and who gets identified as a thinker. It’s less about the study of a specific area, ethnicity, or culture and more about disrupting singular notions of knowledge by ending the suppression and control of multiple knowledges. It’s somewhat akin to the fable of the five “scholars” trying to define an elephant based on their singular limited engagement with one portion of the whole. In this tale about blindness, multiple knowledges are excluded; as a result, the elephant is misperceived as a tree, fan, rope, wall, and hose when each “scholar” insists on the hegemony of his “knowledge” of the leg, ear, tail, body, and trunk, respectively.
“The ethnic studies field has always been counterhegemonic,” said Goméz. During the four decades of the field’s development the intellectual inquiry of one branch (called critical ethnic studies) has focused on “the logics of racism, colonialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and hetero-patriarchy” and moved away from the notion that people are oppressed because they are not known or understood.
At K, the Working Group wrote, “Critical ethnic studies [will] interrogate the production of knowledge. The primary project is to theorize from multiple, and simultaneous, narratives of silenced peoples and epistemologies.” The major will be an interdisciplinary, intellectual, and collaborative inquiry.
Eight units are required, including three core courses, four electives, and a senior colloquium. The core courses—“Argument With the Given,” “Language: The Colonial and Imperial Difference,” and “Insurgency, Solidarity, and Coloniality of Power”—define the field’s scope and approach to scholarship and provide the necessary practice with key language and theory.
The electives currently number 17 courses in the departments of anthropology and sociology, English, and religion. More courses from other departments will be added to the electives list as professors reshape them to fit the criteria for critical ethnic studies cross-listing, a process that involves the review and assistance of CES core faculty. According to the Working Group, “The core faculty aspires to serve as a campus resource. They intend to engage the campus community in questions of power, epistemology, and discipline, and to participate in a learning community shaped by the intellectual goal of substantive engagement with each other, within and across individual faculty disciplines and areas.”
The senior colloquium involves the entire cohort of each year’s majors. The majors will meet together in the fall term to decide the form and content of that year’s colloquium including assessment guidelines and procedures. “The purpose of the colloquium is to determine an intellectual social-political project that can be carried out over the year and that contributes to the field,” wrote the Working Group.
The new major is lauded not only by faculty and students. “We recently received funding for a campaign gift of an endowed professorship,” said President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran. “And the donors would be very pleased to have this endowed chair support a professor in critical ethnic studies.”
The College will extend Goméz’s appointment through the 2015-16 academic year and also will conduct a tenure track search that year. In academic year 2016-17 the funding for the position will transition from the Mellon Foundation grant to the endowed chair support.
“Critical ethnic studies is a process of engagement and shapes the ability to engage content in a variety of fields of study,” concluded the Working Group in its report. “The field requires the logic governing the academy to change [and] this change is realized through the relentless pursuit of other ways to engage and through ongoing discussions of additional means of engagement. These processes invert, rethink, and displace universalities. Central to the field is a refusal to consume the other. Critical ethnic studies scholars must go beyond themselves and devise conversations that move past voyeurism and consumption.”
Word of the decision spread quickly and far. One academic advisor heard within a day from an advisee on study abroad in Tokyo who expressed his delight and wondered if he’d have time to change his major.
I was not the most confident lad as I stood bright-eyed and bushy-tailed one fine August morning in 2006 in front of the Crissey Hall listening to our new enthusiastic head soccer coach welcome us freshmen into the family. These new freedoms and new rules (or occasional lack thereof) were a lot to take in. I didn’t dive flawlessly into the current, quickly hammering down strokes and adjusting to the flow. I belly-flopped, gasped for air, and skimmed the surface for the nearest flotation device. Life at K for my first two years was a constant struggle to keep up and find some sort of balance, some sort of identity.
First-year fall term I was a nervous sweaty wreck, concerned with what everyone thought of me and worried I would screw up. I tried to blend in, which wasn’t always easy. My first-year seminar, “Visions of America-On Stage,” was taught by Ed Menta, and he pushed me from my comfort zone. Normally I would sit in the back of a classroom and observe, taking notes like a mad court stenographer but never really interacting. That didn’t work with Ed. He demanded we take on characters and not only read plays but also interpret and analyze them, more closely than I ever had before. He forced you to question and to face the brutal limits of your adolescent level of understanding. It was after my first paper in Ed’s course that I realized K wasn’t going to be an easy road. I had considered writing my strongest subject and was abruptly taken back when I found a C- written in red pen at the top of my paper.
I realized I had to be more careful and critical of my work. But I didn’t want to put in the time and effort it would take. There were always people in every one of my classes that were smarter and caught on quicker. I didn’t take the time to learn from my mistakes. For the remainder of first year I was searching for answers but not the method or path to find the answers.
And by the middle of sophomore year I was fed up with my college life. I didn’t like my mediocre performance in class and on the soccer field, and socially I felt invisible. I’d been denied a three-month study abroad program in Spain for the spring. Nor would I be allowed to live off campus with my soccer mates during junior year. I was in a hard place.
I’m not sure what exactly clicked, but something began to change sophomore spring term. It started with little risks. The voice within me grew stronger and I started questioning outward. I worked up the courage to pipe up more in classes. I socialized outside of my soccer circle and got to better know the wonderful mix of eclectic students. In our spring outdoor practices and scrimmages I tried different positions and showed my versatility. It dawned on me that I needed a broader perspective on each part of my life before I could identify what I needed to do and how I needed to do it. I was looking at myself differently, not in an overly critical way but instead evaluating goals I wanted to accomplish, examining the paths I could take to reach them, and then forming and executing my plan within a realistic time table. By no means did I have one of those enormous desk calendars for my room where I could fill in every single waking hour of my life, but I did find harmony in a semi-chaotic balance of opportunity and cost, and I picked my battles properly. By the time I was half-way through my junior year my work was improving and I was finding balance. My last two years at K were the best of my life.
By senior spring term I was walking confidently through the sun-filled quad. I was smiling more often. I had finished my final two soccer seasons as team captain and started every game. I made Dean’s List and completed a major in economics and a minor in religion. I participated in on-campus and off-campus events and held strong friendships beyond the circle of my teammates. Those have endured to this day. I still get goose bumps thinking about those last spring days—discussing the financial crisis in Professor App’s senior seminar, throwing a Frisbee or football around the quad, and raucously cheering on the men’s tennis team to another MIAA championship.
K is not a school for everyone. But for me it was the place to learn more about myself and how adaptive I could be. I learned I can jump into the unknown without a lick of experience and rise, ready to take on the world.
Today, at age 29, I work as a senior sales representative at a two-billion-dollar logistics company. It had 250 employees when I started and has grown to an operation of 2,500 employees at 10 offices nationwide. I multi-task daily, providing cost and problem-based solutions to a multitude of customers in a variety of industries. I’ve learned to question even the processes we’ve put in place and to absorb all of the knowledge I can to make insightful and innovative decisions. I push myself to learn what is new and to live outside my comfort zone. (Thank you, Ed Menta!) When I look back, I don’t think about doing anything differently. I smile, and hope that some young nervous first-year student like me will be lucky enough to experience the full metamorphosis that K can offer.
Back when she was a third-grader in Marshall, Michigan, Kate Belew ’15 certainly wasn’t going to argue with Conrad Hilberry, professor emeritus of English and founder of Kalamazoo College’s creative writing program. If he told her she was a great poet—and he did—then she would prove him right—and she has.
Jane Huffman ’15 had been writing stories all her life; by the time she was in high school in Livonia, Michigan, she’d learned enough about poetry to have her work published in an anthology. When it was time to choose a college, Huffman applied to only one: Kalamazoo College. “I saw Kalamazoo as a mecca for writers,” she says.
Of course Belew’s and Huffman’s orbits would coincide at K, and it was only natural that it would happen in one of the classes they both took from Diane Seuss ’78, writer in residence and assistant professor of English. Under Seuss’s mentorship, the two English majors (Huffman also has a major in Theatre Arts) have learned how they can turn their passion for words into their life’s calling, and both have done an extraordinary—although radically contrasting—job of laying that foundation.
Belew’s K roots run deep. Her dad, Kevin Belew ’85, had taken classes from Hilberry, and her mom, Patricia Franke Williams ’85, is also an alum. Yet another K grad, a class mom, was the one who had issued the invitation to Hilberry to visit with Kate Belew’s third-grade class.
At K, Belew has combined her passions for language (she and Huffman co-edit K’s literary journal, The Cauldron) and for dance (she also co-directs Frelon, the student-run dance company). As a first-year student, she received the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute for Environmental Education’s Nature in Words fellowship. Participating in the Great Lakes Colleges Association New York Arts Program during her sophomore year, she says, opened up her writing horizons and helped her envision her future as a writer. The culture shock of living in New York that term was huge: “I couldn’t even grocery shop for the first few days,” Belew recalls. “But writing was a way to understand what was happening to me.” Four days after returning to Michigan from New York, she left for her study abroad program in Spain, and the personal development and life experiences from that time gave her still more inspiration. Her Senior Individualized Project (SIP) is a collection of poems centered on the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and is based on her experiences in Madrid.
Back on the K campus, Belew honed her skills with experiences at literary magazines and workshops. Along with Huffman, she served an internship at Sundress Publications (a national press), and she assisted Hilberry in planning a children’s poetry workshop in Kalamazoo. She has had work published in a long list of journals and reviews.
Likewise, Huffman’s K years have been spectacular. She’s studied at the Frost Place Advanced Poetry Seminar in Franconia, New Hampshire; the O’Neill Theater Center’s Critic’s Institute in Waterford, Connecticut; the Medieval and Renaissance Conference at Albion College; and the Newberry Library in Chicago, to name just a few. She has had dozens of poems published in anthologies and reviews; she’s won a number of awards and honors—not just for her poetry, but also for her work in theater. As dance is a second passion for Kate Belew, theater is for Jane Huffman. “I’m obsessed with language,” Huffman says, “and theater lets us make words visual and spatial. It’s the stage of the poet.”
For the next phase in her academic and literary life, poetry will take the forefront, because Huffman has been accepted into the prestigious University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, the top-ranked creative writing program in the world. Accepting her into its MFA program, the Iowa committee told Huffman they consider their candidates to be “the future of American literature.”
Kate Belew and Jane Huffman are very different, in both their writing styles and their career goals. Huffman describes herself as a formalist, “drawn toward form and narrative.” Belew’s work, in Seuss’s words, is “nebulous, like grabbing air.” As Huffman is launching her graduate work at Iowa and hopes someday to get a Ph.D. (“I’m an academic person”), Belew wants to spend a few years in the workplace before she considers graduate school. She’ll choose a big city (“I could never go to Iowa,” she laughs), and hopes to teach poetry to children. Living up to the descriptor “nebulous,” used by Seuss to describe her poetry, Belew says, “My life is going to zigzag a lot.”
Both Belew and Huffman say that poetry influences the way they think. Writing a poem, says Huffman, makes the writer approach every word with precision and thoughtfulness; it lets them dig deep into a small area. Belew says that her poems are like a snapshot of one moment of her life. “They allow me to focus and to voice things I couldn’t articulate otherwise.”
What is it about Kalamazoo College that has given Belew and Huffman such a boost at such an early stage in their literary careers? Huffman knows a lot of words, but she can answer that question with just one of them: “everything.” “Everything I’ve done at K,” she says, “has helped me develop what I need to go out into the world as a writer.”
Seuss says she tries to instill some specific lessons into students in her writing classes, including:
• Read all the time. She asks all her students to keep up with contemporary poetry.
• Send out your work. Be prepared for rejection, cope with it when it comes, then send the piece out again. To make it in poetry, she advises, you have to be tough.
• Be brave. Contact people you admire and ask them questions.
• Sustain and help each other. Belew has learned, she says, “If somebody lifts you up, you lift the next person up.” To grow the community even further, they point out, K writing students have recently opened the Kalamazoo Poetry Collective to Western Michigan University students and other members of the Kalamazoo community.
• Don’t take yourself so seriously that you’re not willing to take risks. In Huffman’s words: “My biggest lesson was to be fearless.”
Huffman and Belew agree that one of the major contributions K has made to their writing lives is community. “As a writer,” Huffman says, “it’s easy to isolate yourself. At the beginning, it’s just you and the page. But Di [Seuss] has helped us turn this thing we love into something we can do as a career.” Seuss agrees. “All of us have hermit tendencies, but writers need to make connections with other writers.”
Seuss says she’s been impressed by the class of 2015. “This senior class is amazing,” she says. Then, nodding toward Kate Belew and Jane Huffman, she adds, “and these are two of the amazingest.”
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.)