March 4, 2013 Leave a comment
Historic events — whether they are meteorological or institutional — put us all in a mindset of anticipation. And that pretty much sums up this week on campus.
Looming over the Midwest is a snowstorm that might hit us on Wednesday. Or it might not. Far more certain is an event next week, which we anticipate to be far more important and historic.
Monday begins the university’s weeklong celebration of the inauguration of President Jonathan R. Alger. We are making last minute preparations and getting ready for the event that happens infrequently at Madison. Mr. Alger is only the sixth president to lead the university in its 105-year history.
Despite the possibility of snow this week, it is a good time for last minute preparations. The campus is empty, the residence halls are vacant and the classrooms are locked. Students have dispersed for a weeklong Spring Break. For many of them, though, the last thing on their minds is the upcoming inauguration because many — hundreds in fact — are participating in an Alternative Break Program. They have traveled throughout the country from Florida to California and beyond to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Jamaica, to name a few destinations. Wherever they have landed, they are becoming the hands, the feet and the faces of service to communities and organizations as varied as homeless shelters, HIV/AIDS organizations and refugee resettlement camps.
It’s symbolic — and quite appropriate — that inauguration week follows Alternative Spring Break. When students come back to campus this weekend, they will bring new experiences and understandings. Returning to their classrooms, they will bring these new perspectives that will enhance learning, especially as they share what they have given and gained during their week of service. This kind of engagement parallels and reinforces the vision for the university that President Alger addressed in his acceptance speech more than a year ago. He said:
James Madison University can serve as the national model for what it means to be the “engaged university” of the 21st Century. This vision is not that of an isolated ivory tower, but rather of an institution that is fully engaged with ideas and the world. JMU relishes its historic and timeless role as a place where knowledge is developed and enhanced-while also answering the call to put knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking skills to good use in addressing the most pressing challenges of our society and our world.
Next week the Madison community will change as Jonathan R. Alger formally accepts the mantle of president. And once again, we will anticipate — not a single-week event like a snowstorm — but decades of opportunity for growth, progress, collaboration and civic engagement that will deliver positive change here on campus and around the world.