Golden treasure inside hid

client_id_210_media_file_name_1456438758.7976Who among us hasn’t wished to find a treasure—buried or otherwise? The allure of opening up a seaweed-encrusted trunk filled with gold doubloons or having Publishers Clearinghouse knock at your door or hitting the lottery is pretty universal. Yep. We’ve all dreamed about it.

What if I told you that you’ve already won? It all depends on how you define treasure.

Treasure is one of those words that has a thousand fulfillments. Yet looking through a long list of quotations about treasure, you quickly realize that the things we humans treasure are as diverse as we are.

Christopher Columbus treasured gold. Gandhi treasured truth. “God, as truth, has been a treasure beyond price,” he said.  Ralph Waldo Emerson would have agreed with Gandhi. “Truth,” he wrote, “is the treasure of all men.”

Many people treasure love in all its myriad forms. Some consider memory their best treasure. Others find it in relationships. Martin Luther’s treasure, next to the Bible, was music. Author George Sand treasured kindness. One man valued witty women. One famous woman valued anonymity. Louisa May Alcott valued friendship, especially a faithful friend.

Some treasures are more mundane. Some treasured pets, BBC programming and food processors. Surprisingly, Walt Disney valued books. “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island,” he said.

Friedrich Nietzsche valued knowledge: “Our treasure lies in the beehive of our knowledge.”Philosopher Roberto Unger suggested we should treasure what we do not yet know: “The scientist should treasure the riddles he can’t solve, not explain them away at the outset.” Another person said that treasure can be found in what we learn from facing our fears.

When I think about JMU’s first-ever Giving Day — which is today, March 15, 2016 — it seems that many of our human heart’s treasures are touched through the experiences we gain during a college education — friendships, knowledge, love, books, truth. In toto it is an experience that empowers, challenges, prepares, teaches, encourages — and changes us.

Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote, “There is great treasure behind our skull.” And that’s the place where a university’s treasure is discovered — in the knowledge and promise that an education provokes. And it is priceless.

Author L. Frank Baum (of Oz fame) said it this way: “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”

If you graduated from JMU—or any other college or university—you understand that the value of an education wraps within it the means to find so many of the yearnings we desire throughout life: truth, love, memory, music, friendship, books, knowledge, riddles and even fears. To have a transformative Madison Experience touches on all of these treasures — and far more.

Perhaps J.R.R. Tolkien, a man who well knew universities, was describing them  when he wrote, “A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

So you see, you’ve already won treasures more valuable than even a lottery can provide. Tomorrow on JMU’s first-ever Giving Day, think about those treasures — your personal treasures — and think about how you can give back so that someone else can unlock their own.

Learn more about Giving Day here:

Most quotes from:





On that hot, chaotic August day

Freshmen, take a look at your new roommates. They might become lifelong friends, and there’s also the possibility that they will change your lives forever. Read on for the heartwarming story of two random roommates with an extraordinary bond. But beware: The story of Denise Dance Waff (’00)∫ and Amanda Howard Hoban (’00) could bring you to tears….

“If there’s ANYTHING I can do…”

by Denise Dance Waff (’00)

Amanda Howard Hoban ('00) and Denise Dance Waff ('00) — once random roomates, now extraordinary friends.

Amanda Howard Hoban (’00) and Denise Dance Waff (’00) — once random roommates, now extraordinary friends.

From the moment I received my freshman housing assignment from James Madison University in 1996, I began wondering what my roommate would be like. Would we have anything in common? Would we get along? Would she even want to hang out with me?!! Fortunately, our first phone contact eased most of my fears as we got to know each other and worked out all the important logistics for dorm life: Who’s bringing the fridge? Who’s bringing the TV? By the time we met in Eagle Hall on that hot, chaotic, August day, I already knew we would be great roommates. We spent the afternoon unpacking our things and organizing our room, and then headed out to a cookout welcoming incoming freshman. By the end of the night, we had coordinated our schedules, mapped out where we’d meet for meals, and had completely planned how we’d spend our first weekend as college students. Oh yeah, we were going to get along just fine!

Over the next four years, Amanda and I did something not many randomly paired freshman roommates do — we continued to live together. From Wayland Hall to Ashby Crossing, the idea of living apart never even entered our minds. We were roommates, confidantes, partners in crime — we were best friends. I think it’s safe to say that neither of our JMU experiences would have been complete without the other.

20140816_130924After graduation in the spring of 2000, Amanda and I began our long-distance friendship, she in Northern Virginia and I in Richmond. There was no text messaging back then (man, I sound old), so we called and emailed on a weekly basis. We burned up Interstate 95 visiting each other during those early years. New jobs, apartments, birthdays. We didn’t really need a reason to celebrate if it meant we could spend a weekend together. As we settled into adulthood in the mid-2000s, we each established careers, got married, and purchased homes. We served as maid/matron of honor in each other’s weddings, planning bridal showers and bachelorette parties. Soon after, pregnancies were announced and babies were born — two boys for Amanda and one boy for me. Despite growing work and family responsibilities, we still found time to stay connected. And as with any good friendship, it was like no time had passed every time we talked.

20140707_153050 In the summer of 2010, my husband and I began contemplating having a second child. With almost two years of parenting experience behind us, we figured we were adequately equipped to give our son a sibling. Around that same time, I received devastating news. At age 32, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What I had naively believed only happened to women over age 50 had actually happened to me. After my initial shock/anger wore off, I began telling people, which was almost as hard as hearing it the first time myself. I emailed Amanda because I was not strong enough to say the words out loud, and I remember literally feeling her sadness when I read her reply. She ended her email with the statement, “All I can say is if there is anything, and I mean anything, that I (or Joe and I) can do for you, just say the word. Don’t even hesitate.” Little did she or I know how true those words would ring true in the future.

Fast forward to 2013.

With chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries behind me, I was cancer-free and ready to put this awful disease behind me. At the urging of my doctors, my husband and I had preserved our ability to have more children by freezing embryos prior to my cancer treatments. I shared with Amanda that carrying a child would be risky for me and that my doctors were not supportive of this idea. Without hesitation, Amanda offered to carry a child for me and my husband. It was the most selfless , amazing, and humbling thing anyone had ever said to me.

Now, obviously, the next part of the story is anything but simple — doctor appointments, medications, legal contracts (required by law). It has been a PROCESS, to say the least. But in March 2014, we received the BEST news ever — we were PREGNANT!

As I write this, Amanda is currently 25 weeks with our precious baby boy. I am still just as humbled now as I was when we began this journey last year, and at times, my gratitude is so overwhelming it takes my breath away. Despite her concerns over her growing size (“I feel as big as a HOUSE!”), she has never looked more beautiful to me and I have never loved her more. We have been bonded as friends for 18 years, and now we will be bonded as family for a lifetime.

And although we were randomly paired by JMU, I am certain there was nothing “random” about it.

Thanks to Denise and Amanda for sharing their amazing story. We’ll update this story — in about 15 weeks or so. Many thanks, also, to my former colleague, writer Colleen Dixon, who told us about this story.

Which one will you love?

Dr. Isaac Woo and his favorite student, his son Johnny.

Dr. Isaac Woo and his favorite student, his son Johnny.

If you’re coming to James Madison University as a freshman or transfer student next month, you probably have in mind the name of a former teacher who made a difference in your life. Maybe he inspired you. Maybe she challenged you at a moment when you needed a push. Maybe he disciplined you and in the process helped you understand the value of hard work or cooperation or integrity. Maybe she was just kind to you at a time when life was not.

Are you thinking of a name? I suspect you are.

Now, consider this:  The art and science of teaching, the kind of educational mentorship that inspires, is paramount at JMU. Here on our campus, teaching is not something professors do as a sideline while they conduct research. It is not an afterthought but a calling. Many professors come here because their primary mission as scholars is to impart knowledge and inspiration to a new generation. Many do research, of course, and JMU is very good at that as well, but commitment to teaching each student is their primary goal.

One JMU professor, Dr. Isaac Woo told me how much he loves the interaction and rapport he has with his students, how much he values the experiences he can provide for them—and in turn, how much is gained from the synergy that occurs. Growing up and going to school in his native Korea, Dr. Woo, who teaches communication studies in the College of Arts and Letters, says that he didn’t feel the same kind of engagement with his own teachers. But JMU is “very unique and engaging” in this respect, he has found. In deciding to join the JMU faculty, Woo says, “student and teacher interaction attracted me a lot. When I came here, they looked very close. They worked together.”

If you need more proof of our commitment to teaching, check out Madison magazine’s feature, Professors You Love —which, not surprisingly, is the magazine’s most popular feature for 14 years running. You’ll find the newest installment in the next edition of the magazine. Madison hits mailboxes and newsstands around campus in September and will explore changes in education and how we maintain our humanity in the midst of such change. You will also learn more about Dr. Woo and his Madison Experience.

Scholarship is not a barrier here, but it is the common ground that welcomes every student. It is a mountaintop experience replete with challenges, steep rock walls to ascend and inspiring vistas to savor—but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that comes with talented guides who are eager to climb alongside you. It’s your job as freshmen to find them. In fact, the most oft-repeated advice from alumni to freshman is this:  Get to know your professors!

And if you do, it’s a pretty sure bet that in four years you’ll look back over your JMU experience and click off a roster of  professors you’ve come to love.

As JMU goes, so go the Olympics

Wimbledon decked out for the Olympics in JMU purple.

The Olympic family and the Madison family have more in common than you might imagine, writes Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M) from London. Jeremy is guest blogging this week from the 2012 Olympics, his third trip to an Olympic Games. He’s traveling with JMU friends Liz Hadley (’98,’04M), Jennifer Philips Bost (’97) and Jimmy Bost (’97).  During their first few days they’ve taken in the London Zoo, Regents Canal, Hyde Park, the Torch Relay, Bell Ringing, Big Ben, Parliament, Camden Market, Opening Ceremonies, Wimbledon Tennis (and rain), the tube, the pubs, and lots of interaction with new friends.

Jeremy writes: JMU is alive and well here in London.  I have spotted more than a few JMU hats and bags around town, and JMU’s Jacob Wukie (’09) earned a silver on Saturday. Might have to try and find a ticket for the archery events on Monday and Tuesday to support Jacob!  

Welcome to London!

by Jeremy Brown (’94,’96M), guest blogger

The world has gathered here as they do every four years to celebrate sport and come together as a truly global family. This shared fortnight in 2012 happens only once and is unique to these athletes, officials, coaches and spectators. The Olympic family will gather again and again in the future, and each time those who participate will be added to the fold and connect with those from the past. The Olympic family and the Madison family have more in common than you might imagine, read on…

Tyler Rix lights the torch at Hyde Park as the torch finishes its final day before heading to the stadium.

The Preparation: Getting to the games, whether as athlete or spectator, takes advanced planning and preparation. You have to figure out if you qualify to go, in which events you will participate, where you will stay, who will you meet and how you will pay for it. (Sounds like preparing for your first year at Madison, doesn’t it?) Will you attend fencing or will it be volleyball? Will you meet people with similar interests and ideas? Will you be able to communicate and interact? (Take English lit or ballroom dance?  Who will be in my hall? What if I don’t connect with other on campus?) Arriving at the games you’re not sure where anything is, how to get there, and you can feel overwhelmed with the sheer mountain of things to do that lies ahead. (Yup, that’s summer before freshman year)

The Reality:  You get to the games and all is well — fantastic even. There are volunteers to assist at every turn. Hundreds of hours of planning and preparation went into assuring you enjoy the visit and get the most out of it. Everyone you meet had the same worries and challenges but work together for the good of all. All have their own unique background and story to tell, but they come together to create a new community. You can’t be a Duke and be at the games and not feel the similarities. The way everyone is focused to be the best and to do well is contagious. The positive energy is something you can’t shake.  Just like Madison Pride!

Traveling Dukes: (l-r) Liz Hadley, Jennifer Philips Bost and Jimmy Bost

Traveling Dukes: (l-r) Liz Hadley, Jennifer Philips Bost and Jimmy Bost

The Bond:  After the games you always will be connected to those who were with you and took part in what happened. Even if you never interacted or connected directly, you are linked. I met a woman this afternoon who also attended the Torino games in 2006. We had never met but were able to connect with the energy we still had from the experience. So it is with Madison. Whether JMU Class of ’38, ’68, ’98, or ’08, we are all Dukes and we share the same flame inside, just like the Olympic family. Following that focused time together we must go forward, to go out into the world and Be the Change!

Many thanks to Paula Polglase (’92,’96M) JMU’s social media specialist, for connecting Jeremy and this blog.

“Toto, we’re not in high school anymore.”

Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland from the tr...

Image via Wikipedia

So I’m driving to work this morning, thinking about today, which seems a little anticlimactic after an earthquake and a hurricane. But while today may seem like the calm after the storm, today could prove equally eventful as freshmen attend their first college classes. It is the universal freshman experience that comes before the full bore Madison Experience.

Today, freshmen are crisscrossing campus to Showker and Harrison and Forbes. They are hunting for room numbers and finding seats, hoping to see friendly faces and smiling professors. 

Michelle Hite (’88), editor of Madison magazine, remembers her first JMU class. “Mine was oceanography,” she says, “and there were about 100 people in it. There hadn’t been 100 people in my high school class!”

Another alum I asked said, “I remember I didn’t sleep a ton the night before. I worried about not looking like a freshman and knowing where I was going. Even though I really didn’t know. I am sure I thought a lot about what to wear before I realized that college is way different than high school. Sweatpants and flip flops are more acceptable. I was completely overwhelmed when I received all my syllabi. I wondered how I would ever survive — and none of the work had even been handed out.”

I remember my first class clearly. I was the only freshman in a sophomore political science class. It was intimidating. It was also incredibly exciting. I had arrived. Little did I know, however, that I had only begun.

Some freshmen will saunter into class today confident that this is just grade 13. Others will slip in, sit on the back row and take it all in. For all of them, it will be a new experience — even those who took college/AP/IB courses in high school. Today is their beginning, and I wonder how today’s freshmen are handling their first forays into their JMU classrooms? Did they make it to their 8:00 classes? Did they even sleep last night? How did they fare with no moms around to roust them out of bed, with no morning announcements by the principal reminding them where to be and when, and with no more calls from the principal’s office if they skipped school or showed up late.

Some, certainly, have had Dorothy moments: “Toto, we’re not in high school anymore.”

This summer we’ve been featuring 100 alumni — all freshmen once — in 100 days to celebrate the 100 years of the Alumni Association. Each had his or her own first class day at JMU.  Was it a music class? Was it English? Was it geology or economics? Do you remember that day? Where was your first class? Who was your professor? What were you thinking? Did you understand where this monumental day might take you? For freshmen, expectations are great. Their potential is even greater.

It has been a long time and an eventful road since that first class for most alumni. They survived day one and the next and the next. Some, like Phil Vassar (’85) and Charles Haley (’87) found fame and fortune, just as some in the Class of 2015 will no doubt. I wonder if Phil and Charles had an inkling of that when they sat down in their first class?  I wonder what they remember about their first class?

How about you?  What do you remember?

To follow the 100 alumni in 100 days, visit:

Read more about Phil Vassar who is featured on the JMU website this week:

To get a glimpse of the Class of 2015’s first week on campus, visit:

People magazine, Madison-style

People magazine's first cover

Back about 1974, some New York executives had an idea for a spin-off of the popular, game-changing, Henry Luce-started news magazine, Time. The new venture was to be an expanded version of the magazine’s regular “People” feature. Some said it was a dumb idea that would never fly.

How wrong the naysayers were. The executives persevered, succeeded in dramatic fashion — and proved a point. People magazine, launched in March that year, was a rousing success. Part gossip, part expose, part journalism, part news, People proved that people are interested in people.

Alumni associations understand this intrinsically. Anyone who has learned from an exceptional professor or who has been impacted by a classmate or who has made a lifetime friend, understands that the past, present and future wealth of universities is vested in people.

This spring, while the Alumni association planned a celebration of a century of Madison alumni, James Irwin (’06), assistant director of communications and marketing, and his colleagues in the Alumni Association office came up with an idea to feature 100 Dukes in 100 Days as a roll-up to this year’s Homecoming (Sept. 30 – Oct. 2) where the celebration will crescendo.

The challenge of the idea was who would research and write 100 alumni profiles? It was a daunting task — almost as daunting as pairing down the list of 100,000- plus alumni to a manageable 100.

Gabrielle Piccininni ('11)

Enter writer Gabrielle Piccininni (’11).  On loan from Madisonmagazine,

Gabrielle pitched in and started assembling profiles. Gabrielle graduated Magna Cum Laude in May with a double major in English and studio art. She was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. 

“Gabrielle has proven to be a driving force behind our ‘100 Years, 100 Days, 100 Dukes’ campaign. She’s an exceptional writer, a gifted storyteller and really understands how people are at the foundation of The Madison Experience,” James says of her work.

At last count, more than 65 profiles have been completed, some by James but the bulk has been written by Gabrielle.

What I love about the list — besides reading about interesting people — is that it features alumni from all decades, all walks of life, all disciplines and all occupations. The list that represents the thousands of other alumni clearly shows the tangible proof that JMU is changing the world.

So today’s blog post is a shout-out and an encouragement to Gabrielle. Thanks for featuring some of the people who make JMU such a special and exceptional university.

To read Gabrielle’s profiles of Madison alumni, go to:

You can read more of Gabrielle’s work here:

And to sign up for this not-to-miss Homecoming that celebrates a century of Madison alumni, visit:

Outback health care

Last week, my uncle,  ill and miserable, spent seven hours stuck in an emergency room before he was admitted to the hospital. He’s 84 and for him and his wife who was there as his advocate, it was not a pleasant experience. I couldn’t help but think about our American health care system. Few would disagree that it is in a state of flux. Some say it’s horribly broken. Others say we’re headed for medical Armageddon. No one, however, disagrees that change is needed. Certainly, not my uncle.

Whenever a problem like health care or the national debt or immigration piques our national attention, it leads to an flood of opinions (some considered and some not). The degree of rancor and the distribution of misinformation from all quarters is frustrating and mostly useless, if not destructive.

Sometimes we need to step back and think reasonably. To do so means learning about and considering other points of view — a novel approach, I know.

Earlier this year, I had some email conversations with psychology graduate Jennifer Stanley Dunkle (’78). Jennifer is a licensed professional counselor and for the past eight years, she’s worked as the intake coordinator for a psychiatric hospital. After leaving Madison, she and her family lived in New Zealand and Australia while she worked on and off in the travel industry and raised her two children. Jennifer says, by the way, that the best part of her Madison Experience was friendship with her roommate Karen Greene Copper (’79).

While abroad, Jennifer experienced first hand a different health care system. Her experience is informative and interesting. And as you’ll read, she is doing more than talking. Jennifer is taking what she’s learned and is actively involved in changing and improving health care for others.

Here’s what Jennifer had to say…

My family and I lived in New Zealand and Australia between 1995 and 2000.  We were permanent residents of Australia and then became dual-citizens, American and Australian.  Therefore we were eligible to participate in their health care system and got to experience it first hand.  I was very impressed because ALL permanent residents and citizens are eligible for their Medicare system — nobody is left out.  Unlike our country, nobody has to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills.  Rarely would anyone die prematurely due to a lack of access to medical care (this happens to about 45,000 Americans per year, according to Physicians for a National Health Program).  All pregnant women have access to prenatal care, and all children have access to well-child check-ups and immunizations.  Adults can get physicals and needed lab tests every year as well.

Everyone can choose their own doctor.  Most doctors are privately employed. Typically, one would pay the doctor (a much more reasonable rate than it is here), and then take the receipt to the local Medicare office to be reimbursed about 85% of the cost. Prescriptions cost no more than about $32.00 AUD per month.  (Low-income people paid even less, and some clinics would “bulk-bill” the government for the cost of seeing a doctor, so that the patient didn’t have to pay anything).

There are public hospitals and private hospitals. For those earning over a certain income, the government encourages them to buy private hospitalization insurance; otherwise they pay a tax penalty. But you can go to a public hospital if you want to. Emergencies and urgent needs are obviously seen right away.  There might be a slight wait for elective surgery, but it wasn’t usually too bad. For example, I had elective bunion surgery at a public hospital and only had to wait a couple of months.  There was no out-of-pocket cost for this surgery whatsoever.

Australia uses a “single-payer” system, meaning that the government collects taxes for Medicare and then pays the doctors, pharmacies, and public hospitals.  Administrative costs are much less than they are here, where we have thousands of for-profit insurance companies, all of which have different pre-authorization and billing procedures.

Other countries, such as Australia, are definitely faced with the increasing costs of health care, but they have health care for all of their citizens.

So, when we moved back to the States I became involved in a group at my church, trying to help move our country toward universal health care.  This group is called the Health Care Justice Action Team.  We write to and speak with legislators, have an information table set up in our church social hall, and give presentations at church and in the community for the public and for business groups.

Despite the passage of last year’s health care bill, it is unfortunately rather flawed and is a far cry from universal coverage. It doesn’t do enough to contain the spiraling costs in health care.  So we still have a lot of work ahead of us!

So, do you agree with Jennifer?  Is your experience different? My uncle’s experience certainly was. He’s better now, but not so the long ER waits that sadly are common. Do you have thoughtful perspectives to bring to the table? If so, let us know.

To read about other JMU people involved in health care, go to:

You can also read more about the Physicians for National Health Care Program at:

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