‘Change and Constancy' topic of Convocation

‘Change and Constancy' topic of Convocation

Convocation Address, Aug. 29, 2002
By Maryville College President Dr. Gerald W. Gibson

You have heard the bagpiper.
You have heard the Statement of Purpose.
You have heard the lines of scripture and of sacred song.

You have heard-we have all heard together-the echoes of the origins of Maryville College.

Well, here we are again. Or, for those who are new to the Maryville campus, here we are for the first time. For all of us, we are gathering to celebrate the start of the 184th year in the history of Maryville College. A little later this morning our Interim Vice President and Dean, Dr. Bob Naylor, will declare the start officially, and the Anderson Hall bell will ring in the 2002-2003 academic year.

184 years-that's a long time. When the College was founded in 1819, things were just a little bit different than in 2002. Up in Virginia, another institution of higher education was also opening for the first time-the University of Virginia, the "academical village" designed and presided over by Thomas Jefferson. In Tennessee, the new Southern and Western Theological Seminary, as Maryville College was called in the beginning, was one of only three colleges, the other two being Washington College-later absorbed into Tusculum College-and Blount College, now known as the University of Tennessee. Is anyone here from Florida? Well, 1819 was the year that the United States purchased Florida from Spain. And what is now California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona all still belonged to Mexico. This was still pretty much frontier country. The village of Maryville was, one of the history books tells us, "a mountain hamlet containing a stone church, a log jail, and a cluster of log and frame houses, with here and there an exception in brick." Even Knoxville wasn't much of a city; it claimed a couple of hundred houses, about twenty stores, and some tanneries.

So things have changed. That's the way life is. We're going to reflect a bit on that subject of change this morning. But before we do that, let me say some welcomes.

We need to welcome our new faculty staff, those who have joined Maryville College since last year's Opening Convocation. Would you please stand? And a very special welcome to the newest students here, those gathered around the Maryville College campfire for the first time. Members of the Class of 2006 and all the transfer students-will you stand to be greeted?

And the returning faculty and staff, who have gathered for other Opening Convocations in other years, would all of you "veteran" faculty and staff stand to be recognized?

Our seniors, members of the Class of 2003, marched in together this morning. Let me finally invite all of you, along with our other upperclassmen, to stand. Seniors, I encourage you to treasure this occasion. It's the last time you will march together until you follow the bagpiper next May at Commencement and go out to change the world.

I often begin these Convocation addresses with a test. It's time now for this year's test, and I'm going to call Laura Robertson up to take the test for all of you. Laura, I'll show you some slides on the screen behind me, and you tell me what they are. OK, here we go. Just let me know what you see. [Images are shown of the Margaret Ware Dining Room, Fayerweather parking lot and Thaw Hall columns - photos all taken before summer 2002.]

You did pretty well on that set of slides. Now, let's see what you can do with this set. [Images are shown of the same locations - photos taken in August, 2002.]

All right, I admit that this was a tricky test. I'm sure that your professors won't ever give you tests with tricky questions on them, so, new students, don't worry. Actually, these slides were a device to get me into the subject of change. They're "before" and "after" pictures that I thought you returning students might relate to well as you come back to the Maryville College campus to start your sophomore or junior or senior year.

I suspect that the visible changes on this campus between May and August of 2002 are the greatest that have taken place between Commencement and the opening of a fall term since Maryville College first moved to this site 132 years ago from its original site over on Broadway. Immediately after the 2002 graduation exercises the work began on what we have called "Campus Beautification and Improvement Projects."

These projects, some of which are still in progress, include a total redesign of the Fayerweather parking lot, construction of new parking lots down below the football practice field, creation of a new walk down to the new Court Street Entrance, replacement of the Thaw Hall columns, repaving of campus drives, creation of a new Humphreys Court plaza, additional landscaping, and the burying of overhead utility lines. Meanwhile, down in the College Woods, the House in the Woods was undergoing a complete renovation, funded by the Lilly Endowment as a part of the new Maryville College Initiative on Vocation. And in Pearsons Hall, Aramark, the new food service for the College, redesigned the serving area of the Margaret Susannah Ware Cafeteria. That's a lot of change for three months!

A college as old as this one has, of course, seen change before. I invite everyone here to get a more complete picture of how the College has changed from era to era by reading one of the three College histories. But perhaps it will suffice to focus for a few minutes on the Maryville College campus of one hundred years ago. Travel back in time with me to 1902.

There were two almost new buildings on campus, Fayerweather and Bartlett Halls. Fayerweather, the new science hall, was four years old. Bartlett had just been dedicated the previous year. Anderson Hall was the oldest building, the place where all the classes were held; it was 32. The two dormitories, Baldwin and Memorial, flanked Anderson and they were 31. Baldwin sat approximately where Sutton Science Center sits today, and Memorial where the current Memorial Hall sits, though the old Memorial, like Baldwin, was a wood frame building. The college bulletin proudly noted that rooms in the two dormitories were heated by steam, lighted by electricity and supplied with water on every floor. The electric light and steam heating plants were recent technological additions to the College, and there was reason to feel pride in them. The library was located in a fourteen-year-old building that looked like a little chapel; it even had a steeple and a stained glass window. It was called Lamar Memorial Library back then; we know it as the Center for Campus Ministry today. The new president lived in Willard House, a lovely brick, Queen Anne style house which had been built twelve years before.

There was no Carnegie Hall, no Thaw or Pearsons or International House or Alumni Gym, no Fine Arts Center or Honaker Field or Wilson Chapel. There was no Lloyd, Copeland, Gamble, or Davis Hall and no Beeson Village. There was no Sutton Science Center or Cooper Athletic Center.

There were over 400 students enrolled at Maryville in the fall of 1902, but only 89 of them were college students. The majority were students in the Preparatory Department, where many young people in the area got their primary education, there being no tax-supported public schools in Blount County. 356 of the students of a century ago were from Tennessee. The second-largest groups came from Illinois and North Carolina.

1902 was Dr. Samuel Tyndale Wilson's second year as president of Maryville College. Still new to the president's office, he was no stranger to the College. He had, in fact, been a student here, in the 1870s, served as shortstop on and captain of the "Reckless Baseball Club," Maryville's first intercollegiate sport, and graduated as a member of the Class of 1878. Later he returned to serve on the faculty, and as professor, registrar, librarian, assistant treasurer, president and president emeritus his official connection with the College totaled 65 years; that's a record.

Can you imagine what the Maryville College campus looked like and felt like a century ago? Try to put that "before" picture up beside the "after" picture of the campus in August of 2002. What a change has taken place over that stretch of 100 years!

Of course, the change that took place during the 29 years of the Wilson presidency wasn't insignificant either. Dr. Wilson's successor as president, Dr. Ralph Waldo Lloyd, said of that period from 1901 to 1930 that Maryville realized "The greatest advances so far in the development of the College…" Think about the scope of change that marked those years. Enrollment grew from 83 to 760 college students. The Preparatory Department was phased out, and for the first time Maryville College was strictly a college. In fact, it was first officially accredited as a college during this period. On the financial front, College assets increased ten-fold. And many of the buildings that we now see around campus in 2002 were built during those Wilson years: Pearsons Hall, Carnegie Hall, Thaw Hall, the Alumni Gym, the House in the Woods. One of them, Lamar Memorial Hospital, you may not recognize by name, but that's the building we now call International House. Two others you won't see because they're gone-Voorhees Chapel and the Swimming Pool building. In Dr. Lloyd's history book, he declares that it was during these 29 years that Maryville was changed "from a good college and academy to a first-rank college."

Now, I've talked about "change" as if change is always good and intended. It isn't, of course, and it hasn't been over Maryville's history.

There has been change by war: The College was closed from 1861 to 1866, as the Civil War devastated the nation. It very nearly didn't reopen, wouldn't have except for the heroic efforts of Maryville's "second founder," Professor Thomas Jefferson Lamar. Then, when World War II came, the enrollment of the College dropped by 35% between 1941 and 1943, as most of the men went off to fight. And between 1945 and 1946 it suddenly grew by 82% as the war ended and veterans returned to college in droves.

There has been change by fire: Voorhees Chapel isn't on the campus map because it burned in 1947. Pearsons Hall was severely damaged in February of 1972 when fire swept through that building. And many of us remember vividly the lightning bolt of May 1999 that ignited the fire that destroyed 101-year-old Fayerweather Hall.

There has been change by law: The Tennessee Segregation Law of 1901 was authored by an alumnus of Maryville College, a state legislator who wanted to nullify the strong position taken by the Directors of the College regarding (I quote from a Board statement) "the obligations voluntarily assumed and published to the world respecting the educating together of all youth without regard to race, color, or previous condition..." "The educational policy of the College has been long established and fully made known to the world as irrevocable," they wrote. But the Segregation Law did revoke that policy, and as Dr. Wilson came into office, through no fault of his, Maryville was changed from an integrated to a segregated college. Maryville Directors responded by turning over $25,000 of the College endowment to Swift Memorial Institute, which was founded and headed by black Maryville alumnus W.H. Franklin. It took the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that segregated education would be outlawed to bring black students back to the Maryville campus, but that took 53 years.

There has been change through cultural shifts: The decades of the 1960s and 1970s illustrate dramatically this route to change. This was a period when all authority was being challenged, all values questioned. Older alumni still lament some of the changes that resulted from the time known as "the Sixties." The end of the requirement that every student attend church and Sunday school every Sunday. The discontinuation of required chapel that brought the campus community together first thing in the morning five days a week. The mixing of men and women students in the same residence hall. The liberalization of dormitory visitation privileges. The dissolution of the YMCA and the YWCA, the student organization which had exercised a strong Christian influence on campus for nearly 90 years. The change in campus life could hardly have been more dramatic.

So, the Maryville College of 2002 is what it is as the result of a long string of changes, brought on by all sorts of forces. But the last thing I would want to do this morning is to give the impression that it is only in reacting to war and fire and laws and cultural shifts that the College has been shaped. No indeed. To be sure the very best kind of change, the kind of change that I commend most heartily to everyone here who wants to concentrate his or her time and energy on making this world a better place, is the change that has been produced through clear vision and purposeful design. We have one example in the addition of a third and fourth floor to Pearsons Hall in 1912, and another in the addition of a third floor to Fayerweather Hall in 1913. But most vividly, you see it in the great stories of Maryville College. You see it in Isaac Anderson's vision of a seminary for the Great Southwest, and in his unflagging work to make that vision a reality. You see it in Kin Takahashi's vision of a YMCA building for the College, and his incredible leadership and dedication that brought it to reality. You see it in the creation of the Forward Fund of 1901-1908, when Samuel Tyndale Wilson envisioned a Maryville College no longer in financial crisis, and, working prodigiously despite his natural dislike for fundraising, secured nearly $300,000 for the College coffers.

Poets have a way of capturing large truths in a small number of words. Carl Sandburg, for example, in his poem Washington Monument by Night, says "Nothing happens unless first a dream." It has surely been the dreams of Maryville's people that have fueled the most significant change for this College. In the late 1980s there was Vision 94, which resulted in enrollment growth from under 500 to nearly 750, renovation of Maryville's athletic facilities, the upgrading of faculty salaries, and the renovation and reopening-after a decade of being closed down-of Carnegie Hall. That was followed immediately by Maryville's first strategic plan, the MC 2000 Plan, which began with faculty, staff, students, directors and alumni engaging in "aspiration exercises," community dreams for what the College would be in the year 2000, and ended in growth to 1000 students, the largest enrollment in Maryville's history, and to the building of Beeson Village, the doubling of the College endowment, the refurbishment of residence halls, the renovation and expansion of Bartlett Hall, the launching of the instructional technology initiative, the establishment of the Maryville Curriculum, and recognition for the College by U.S. News and the Templeton Foundation.

Dreaming, planning, acting: These are the three steps for producing progress. They are the steps that have produced the changes that greeted all of you as you returned to campus for the fall 2002 term. They are the steps that will take Maryville College on to greatness, as the MC Window of Opportunity Plan unfolds between 2002 and 2007. There will undoubtedly be surprises along the way, changes we neither ask for nor welcome, as there have been throughout Maryville's history. But the brightness of the dream and the soundness of our plans and the energetic resolve of our actions will take us to a Maryville College that is the strongest, most effective, most respected in history. I invite everyone here to join in the work that will take Maryville on to greatness.

But work aimed at change will not be the only important work that lies ahead. There is a caution that we should be mindful of as we plan for change. We should never forget that, while progress requires change, not all change is progress. There are things worth holding onto, things that should stay constant. Assuring constancy in the vital things can take work, too. The turbulent cultural tides of the Sixties were powerful; they swept away much that the older alumni believe should have remained. As we started the MC Window of Opportunity planning, a Traditions and Values Commission worked to assure that we would not get swept away in the enthusiasm of setting goals for change, to make certain that we paused at the outset to identify the characteristics and values that have marked this College over 183 years. Whatever the changes that unfold over the next five years, we want to hold fast to our identity as a liberal arts college and as a college of the church. We want to make certain that the dedication of Maryville's faculty and staff remains a chief asset for our students. We want to keep strong our sense of community. We want the Maryville College of 2007 to be a college that Isaac Anderson would recognize and take pride in. Some things should be constants.

Let me express hope that all of you who are students here at Maryville College a 100 years after the fall term of 1902 will think about the balance your lives need between change and constancy. Education is transformation. You will change, even you seniors will, before you claim your Maryville College diplomas. But I encourage you, as you change, to be guided by a clear vision and by purpose, to seek to discern the calling for your lives. And I encourage you especially to decide what you need to hold onto.

We are beginning the 184th year of Maryville College. All the change since the spring of 2002 makes it feel like an "after" picture, but in another spring we will look back on it as a "before" picture. What we do between now and then, what we change and what we keep, is up to us.

May God bless us all in the year ahead.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,197.