Category Archive for: ‘Alumni Beat’
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Wendy Raymond, who began her work at Davidson Aug. 1, addressed her inaugural class of seniors as a group for the first time at Fall Convocation.
“At Davidson, excellence comes in the context of lives of leadership and service, of humane instincts, of disciplined and creative minds,” she said, quoting the college’s oft-cited Statement of Purpose.
Raymond pointed to the “mutually reinforcing” attributes of integrity and transparency as twin foundations that serve Davidson’s readiness to “change and evolve without losing balance.”
She offered the example of her fond familiarity with transfer RNA (tRNA) in molecular biology labs as a framework for understanding change. The function of tRNA is to decode DNA molecules in genetic protein translation. Like the liberal arts and sciences, tRNA molecules have been around a long, long, long time. Both can be seen as an integral part of the changes, evolutions and ongoing iterations of humanity.
So, where does the beagle come in? Well, Raymond’s beloved beagle Lita, a lady of a certain age, is prone to fall down in the midst of all the vivacious spiritedness she brings to each day of being a dog. And what does she do, over and over? She gets back up and keeps going.
Raymond encouraged Davidson students to get used to falling and to getting back up and keeping on, taking risks and learning and bringing those lessons and that experience cheerfully forward. Not bad advice for the rest of us, too. Thanks, Dean Raymond, I needed that!
Davidson College Presbyterian Church filled with love and memories of President Emeritus Samuel Reid Spencer, Jr. ’40, on Monday, Oct. 21, as friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate the life of the college’s fourteenth president. Following are remarks made by President Emeritus John Wells Kuykendall ’59, with kind permission.
SAMUEL R. SPENCER, JR.
June 6, 1919-October 16, 2013
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
“From everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Everlasting to everlasting is a mighty long time. Our dear loved one, friend, leader, mentor, and hero Sam Spencer lived a mighty long time, too, much to our joy and gratitude. He made 90 look like the new 60!
The psalmist—later generations thought this psalm must have been written by Moses—wrote in a later verse of the 90th Psalm that “the years of our lives are three score and ten.” (v. 10) But Moses or whoever, that psalmist obviously hadn’t met Sam Spencer!
Sam lived a long time, but he also had an awareness of the vast dimensions of “everlasting to everlasting.” He certainly knew that no one lives forever. And he also knew that wherever life begins, and whenever and however life comes to its end, we are encompassed by God’s love in that “everlasting to everlasting.” Sam also knew that in the midst of God’s alpha-to-omega continuum—that “everlasting to everlasting”—God’s watch-care makes whatever life we have a suitable “dwelling place.” Sam Spencer knew those truths.
Moreover, he seemed to have an innate gift for making his presence count for something at every stage along life’s way. The wonderful summaries of his life in the press and other media have called to appropriate remembrance the special qualities and accomplishments of our beloved friend. They gave us a passing summary of some of the places he called home over the years: Rock Hill, Columbia, Davidson (several times!), military service, Cambridge, Staunton, Germany, Richmond. I’ve surely missed too many for my list to earn a passing grade.
But never mind that. The point to be made is that in each of those places, from childhood to these latter days back here in the dwelling place he served and loved (and which surely loved him in return), Sam knew how to do what our Reformed forebears used to refer to as “improving the time.” Each “dwelling place” provided him with God’s gracious opportunity to make a difference. And so he did.
Way back there in the beginning, as a small child in Rock Hill, he made a lasting impression upon those around him as a good person of remarkable talents. I once heard one of his kindergarten contemporaries say some very complimentary things about her former schoolmate, Sammy Spencer. Sammy? She called him Sammy!
Now, as one who had been accustomed from our earliest acquaintance when I was a Davidson freshman to calling him Dean Spencer or Dr. Spencer or, after a few years, President Spencer, I was a little taken aback by that familiarity at first; but it also gave me the courage to start calling him “Sam,” as he had frequently insisted from early in our friendship. (Never got around to calling him Sammy; but that’s probably just as well!)
The main point of the story, though, is to suggest that in his earliest years of inhabiting our “dwelling place,” Sam Spencer had already begun to exhibit the sorts of special gifts and graces which adorned his life throughout. Then the record of what he did in all the other stations and stages is little short of phenomenal. The newspaper tributes could never do it full justice; indeed, neither could any words any of the rest of us might concoct.
Sam was the acknowledged—but inordinately modest—master of his vocation. At Mary Baldwin, at Davidson, surely at other places such as Union Seminary and the several colleges to which he dedicated himself as trustee and mentor, the St. Paul’s Cathedral inscription honoring Sir Christopher Wren is entirely appropriate to Sam’s contributions as well: “If you seek for a monument, look around!” Just here near at hand there is the E.H. Little Library, the Vail Commons, the first stage of the Baker Sports Complex (which he may have thought to be the most urgent part, since it was the Knobloch Indoor Tennis Center!), numerous other physical improvements, here and in his other “dwelling places.” He did not shy away from the task of being a builder not only of facilities but of self-confidence and reputations.
But Sam Spencer’s service in all those places where he had influence was not really—not even primarily—about such things. It was about people; and it was about people being accepted and welcomed and appreciated, and being well-served and encouraged, and being given the opportunity to grow, and challenged to foster their abilities and improve their competencies in order to serve others as they had been served. Every dwelling place for Sam became an occasion for loving and encouraging other people.
He was a leader, and in many respects a cheerleader; he was a visionary, and a practitioner of the possible; he was compassionate and companionable; he looked out for others without any tincture of selfishness or self-interest. Though he was not a large person physically, the word “giant” is entirely appropriate, especially concerning his attentiveness to matters of moral consequence. In such instances, the size of his presence seemed far more formidable than either of these namesakes sitting down front… or, I’ll warrant, any of the rest of us in this room, and most folks beyond.
Those wonderful capacities were certainly evidenced in the home, both the one into which he was born, and the one which he and Ava established and have kept so vitally alive for all these years. The obvious affection Sam had for Ava—and she for him—is for the rest of us a model for marriage; and their children—Reid, Ellen, Clayton, Frank—surely benefitted from his attentiveness to their lives at every turn, to say nothing of his pride in their special accomplishments… and certainly to say nothing of his boundless affection for each and every grandchild (and one great-grandchild), special in her/his own right.
But there’s much more to be said about his capacity for being a source of encouragement and an agent for change in the lives of other people in all his dwelling places. I heard it said last week that a very thoughtful current Davidson student who happens to be African-American made the statement upon hearing of Sam’s death, “You know, if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here!” And he spoke truth; not only for himself, but for many, many others among us.
And it, of course, almost goes without saying that if you happen to be a woman at Davidson—woman student or alumna, or woman faculty member or administrator—you are obliged to say something similar.
A brief point of personal privilege, if I may: I testify that he was as good a predecessor as one could ever imagine. When I was a rookie in this place, he said to me, “I’ll answer any question you ask about Davidson; and I won’t answer any question you don’t ask.” And he was as good as his word; and he also made good on a tacit commitment conveyed by his unwavering attentiveness and demeanor to be supportive and encouraging to me…even when I did something stupid!
But we should never forget the source of that sort of behavior and temperament towards all sorts and conditions of people: It was Sam’s profound commitment to Christianity and to the Church. That engendered what his son Frank properly calls an “incarnational faith:” “His was a faith that demanded action, justice, hospitality and compassion in the immediate, in each moment.” He intended the best; he intended “reconciliation now,” Frank says, “in the human moment of pain, injustice, or exclusion.”
Our “dwelling place” would not be at all what God had in mind, unless it is one which is open and welcoming to all God’s daughters and sons. That’s the essence of what motivated Sam Spencer; and any other accomplishments—and their name is surely legion— he had in these nine-decades-plus years were of lasting worth to him only to the extent that they served that purpose.
Though he would think it pretentious and maybe embarrassing to have it said, it is self-evident to the rest of us that the text from Micah 6:8 which Lib is about to use as a touchstone for her prayers of thanksgiving is an apt summary for the ways in which Sam occupied his time and energy here within God’s everlasting presence: doing justice, loving kindness (I still love the older word, “mercy”), and walking humbly with God.
Now, please let me conclude by telling a special story that Sam told on himself.
If it seems to anyone to be inappropriate, I have chosen to ask for forgiveness rather than for permission! This episode took place at Hollins College, which called Sam out of a well-earned retirement to serve as its interim president. (Clayton, he told me that you counseled him that it would be okay to go, so long as he were not “on some quixotic quest for his lost youth.”) Well, he went to Hollins and did a superb job, as one would expect.
It happened one winter evening, though, as he was heading home from the office just at dusk, that he found that the battery had died in his car. It was before the era of cell phones, and he needed to call Ava to come pick him up. He was parked quite near one of the residence halls, and seeing one of the students coming in from a late class, he asked her if he could come into the entryway and use the public telephone because his car wouldn’t start.
She welcomed him quite courteously, but as he stood in the hallway using the phone, one of the other residents saw him at a distance and sang out the time-honored cautionary alert, “Man on the hall!”
The woman who had brought him in quickly responded, “Oh, don’t worry; it’s only Dr. Spencer, and his battery’s dead!”
Well, we shouldn’t worry, either, even in this time of our sadness and loss; but for quite another reason: Sam Spencer’s “battery”—of humanity, of compassion, of honesty and fairness and immense capability, of commitment and of understanding of the nature of our “dwelling place” and the way to discover and achieve its possibilities–that battery is everlasting… in every way!
We give thanks to our Creator, our Redeemer, and our “Dwelling Place” for the life and witness of Samuel Reid Spencer, Junior.
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations… from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.”
Random inbox mashup says: Good news and bad news from the Internets this day. I’ll spin it up to say I’m just glad Baseball Head Coach Dick Cooke didn’t get an antibiotic-resistant infection while he was in the hospital!
First, see the inspiring story of Cooke’s return from a grave auto accident to a full and happy life with his family and Wildcat team, featured on Charlotte Today this very morning!
Or, maybe save that inspiring piece for second, to cheer you up after hearing Dr. Arjun Srinivasan ’92, an associate director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on PBS’s Frontline report that aired this week, “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria.” Have we cooked our own bacterial goose?
Professor of Art Emeritus Herb Jackson checks in from the Big Apple, where his show at Claire Oliver Gallery wraps up this weekend.
“Herb Jackson began his series Veronica’s Veils in 1980 as a way to create a new space in which he could explore the enigmatical nature of the moment when a painting attains a life of its own,” ODelle Abney writes on the gallery’s Web site. “33 years and 223 paintings later, the exhibition Veils: new paintings from the artists ongoing exploration, continues the Artist’s quest to create his own language of space
“Herb Jackson’s paintings are pigment mixed with pumice, built up thin layer upon thin layer which he scrapes off and smoothes as the medium is being applied. Shapes, marks and topography come and go as the Artist engages the paint; gouging, scraping and excavating each consecutive stratum with whatever tool is dictated be it knife, fingernail or even dental tool. For Jackson, the work is a process not dissimilar to experiencing a long life, slowly evolving and revealing itself, much in the same way that our environment changes over time.”
Some days it’s hard work being a humanist—or any other kind of human— in a STEM, STEM, STEM world. Already today, I have balked at Excel, pitched a fit at Verizon, and narrowly avoided a nasty Blair Witch Project reaction to a dizzying series of administrative Prezis marked “ACTION REQUIRED.” So I am trying to be easy with myself for being a bit behind in my reading.
I also admit to no small trepidation in getting to the next book on my list: Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, by James Barrat ’83.
Yes, the title is much. But having interviewed Barrat some years back for the Davidson Journal about his rock-solid career as a globe-trotting documentarian, I knew him to be a thoughtful, reasonable sort not prone to needless hyperbole. So I called him up.
He spoke of the high-tech “intelligence explosion” bearing us ceaselessly into the future.
“Computers can do recursive operations at lightning speed,” he said. “About the time we realize we’ve got something that’s the level of humans, it will be past us.”
Oh, dear. He proceeded to tick off a disconcerting list of possibilities and potentialities.
“Whatever is created,” he said, “will know our history of becoming addicted to our technologies. Its first appearance could be an app. Then it could slip whatever restraints it might have and become autonomous.”
I peeked into the book last night. In it, Barrat offers reassurance of his continuing commitment to thoroughness of inquiry: “My profession rewards critical thinking,” he writes in the foreword. “A documentary filmmaker has to be on the lookout for stories too good to be true. You could waste months or years making a documentary about a hoax, or participate in perpetrating one.”
Recommended reading! From Barrat’s website:
Our Final Invention explores how the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence challenges our existence with machines that won’t love us or hate us, but whose indifference could spell our doom. Until now, intelligence has been constrained by the physical limits of its human hosts. What will happen when the brakes come off the most powerful force in the universe?
NASA Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82 came home to alma mater’s patch of planet Earth this week, after more than five months in early 2013 on the International Space Station. It was a pleasure to shake his hand after having been in touch by phone, email and satellite uplink!
With grace and aplomb, my buddy Tom, the astronaut, gave several presentations on campus, as well as visiting the kudzu goats out by the cross-country trails (see previous post) and otherwise gadding about campus with his daughter Grace and wife Ann, two lovely and delightfully good-humored ladies.
At a Common Hour talk on Tuesday—unofficially subtitled “Bean Dip, Stewed Prunes, ZZ Top and YoYo Ma”—Marshburn spoke of things like translational velocities and parabolic arcs that match the curve of the Earth, by way of explaining the concept of orbital micro-gravity. Then, he recounted how his Soyuz rocket blasted off from Kazakhstan (“like lying on your back in a building that becomes a live animal”) and traveled to an altitude of some 250 miles up, sometimes at speeds of five miles per second. (Yes, per second.)
Next, with plenty of video clips to illustrate, Marshburn recounted some of the “science of opportunity” experiments he and his fellow astronauts and cosmonauts performed with “objects of opportunity” including smuggled vanillin (an ideal viscosity) and duct tape (self-explanatory).
“You start to notice things,” he said. “A lot of our experiments started with ‘Wow, that’s cool,’ and then ‘I wonder what would happen if….’”
• Spinning objects seeking a lower energy state behave differently on their spinning axes depending on whether they are liquid or solid, or both. Application: understanding how fuel tanks affect space flight physics.
• Table salt in a zip-lock bag coalesces in a noticeable pattern at a particular rate. (The grains of sodium chloride are dehydrated from food saline, which is the safety norm on ISS, to prevent weightless grains of salt from flying about willy-nilly at mealtime.) Application: Understanding how the very matter of the primordial universe came together into stars and planets, solar systems and galaxies.
• An Alka-Seltzer tablet dissolves in a huge drop of water big as your fist, in mid-air. Application: Um, I forget exactly, but it is totally cool to look at. In general, weightless liquids in space share some behavioral characteristics with micro-liquids on Earth, particularly in terms of “capillary” flow. Applications range from inkjet printers to HIV diagnostic tools.
At the end of his presentation, when Marshburn’s PowerPoint relinquished the screen to his computer’s desktop, the juxtaposition of astronaut and regular guy came into focus: next to desktop folders marked “Cosmonauts” and “Award Debriefs” were others marked “Invest and Retire” and that old, familiar standby, “Files I Never Use.”
And in the “Launch Pad Tunes” folder? U2’s “It’s a Beautiful Day,” Joe Satriani’s “Summer Song” and Muse, maybe a little “Uprising”?….
Tuesday night, after dinner at the President’s House with classmates, roommates, professors and others, Marshburn gave a public lecture in Duke Family Performance Hall complete with Q&A for the kids of all ages and photo-opps for all at the reception afterward.
Wednesday afternoon, Marshburn made time in his schedule for a visit to College Communications—housed in the college’s Julia Johnston House on Main Street, where he lived upstairs as a sophomore when the building was student housing. He regaled staffers with stories of how he and his housemates cheered, in what is now the office kitchen area, for televised matches of the U.S. Hockey Team in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.
He also regaled us with the story of the “party of the century,” held in the JJ House that year, a costume party with the theme of dressing up as your repressed desire. Already as a 20-year-old, though, he knew his own desire to be an astronaut, and showed up wrapped in tin foil and sporting a borrowed motorcycle helmet….
At a physics seminar hosted Wednesday afternoon by his erstwhile faculty adviser, Richardson Professor of Physics Larry Cain, Marshburn went in to deeper detail about all things physics, for instance radiation (astronauts in space are classified as “radiation workers” and can sometimes see solar protons flashing through their eyeballs). He talked about International Space Station experiments and observations that are adding mightily to the core of human knowledge about nutrition, mental health, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, fish and plants, microencapulation, antimattter, dark matter and “strangelets.”
As luck would have it, Marshburn’s fellow astronaut, Mike Hopkins, was blasting off from Kazakhstan during the seminar, so Marshburn toggled the NASA feed in at an opportune moment to watch the launch. (“I’m getting sweaty palms just watching.”)
With awe in the spirit Tom shares with Davidson, with admiration for him as a fellow Earthling alumnus with “humane instincts and a creative and disciplined mind for a life of leadership and service,” and with thanks on behalf of Davidson to Tom, Ann and Grace for a wonderful visit, I’ll close with a quote from Tom himself, from one of the April satellite downlinks from ISS to the C. Shaw Smith 900 Room:
“I think space flight is actually the epitome of what is important about a liberal arts education. We see this absolute wonder that’s up here, we see it with the robotics of exploration on Mars and in our solar system and even leaving our solar system….
“But how that relates to humans is the most important part of it. We can have complete technical mastery over our world, but we can still do bad things with that. So it’s not just about enriching our culture, which is very important, but it’s actually essential for our survival, that we know what to do with the technical accomplishments we’ve made.”
For archival coverage on Marshburn, including links to Davidson and NASA video, explore here.
This just in from a campuswide “town meeting” with President Carol Quillen and several enthusiastic hundreds of her closest campus friends.
It was standing room only during Common Hour in the Lilly Family Gallery, 11:05 a.m., Sept. 3, 2013.
“What will be different because we had this meeting?” Carol Quillen asked the crowd. “I hope you leave here with a sense of the high level of aspiration we have for the next several years, as well as a sense of objectives we hope to accomplish this academic year.”
Against a backdrop of stunning campus photography, compelling video clips and a few brief, concise and specific bullet points about Davidson’s most current themes and aspirations, Quillen called forth the good will and good work of Davidson’s staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners—up to and including those we have not yet met.
That’s a lot.
So, what would your 60-second “elevator speech” be to someone who knows nothing of Davidson? Quillen asked the crowd at one point during Q & A.
But first, Quillen deployed her formidable skills at evoking the Davidson of this moment—this very present and changing moment—in the collective mind assembled. Together, she said, we have designed new facilities, built and strengthened “Transition to Impact” initiatives, capped the strongest fundraising year in history, created new courses of study, and recruited the best faculty and staff nationwide. Among many other things.
“It’s an iterative process,” she said, “and we need your continued guidance to make it work.”
Quillen touched on many facets of the Davidson character that reflect brightly into the world, including the Honor Code, Division I athletics, growing relationships in Charlotte, and The Davidson Trust. “How do we pay for all of it?” someone asked in a video clip. Quillen responded that to stand fast in who we are and what we are about, with an endowment notably smaller than many peers, we are seeking more funding from people who do not yet know us. See “elevator speech” above.
Yes, we are reimagining the liberal arts, Quillen continued, and our commitment to the liberal arts ideal grows stronger.
“Approaching the liberal arts educational philosophy as a historian,” said Quillen, a history Ph.D., “I can tell you it hasn’t changed much since the 15th century!”
That said, it is 2013. “Our subjects, programs and methods change over time,” she said.
Then she moved outward from a classroom perspective to the broader, quotidian life of the mind, body and spirit at a small, residential, liberal arts college like Davidson. With a fine and heartfelt tip of the hat to President Emeritus Sam Spencer for his visionary work to help diversify Davidson in terms of race and gender in the 1960s and 1970s, Quillen sprang forward to more recent strategic planning themes that Davidson’s people—many of them in the room—were engaged in even before her arrival: interdisciplinarity, global perspectives, sustainability in all its senses, diversity and inclusion to match and meet the world we live in.
On the “excellence and access” plank of the platform that must accompany and support diversity and inclusion, Quillen stated the case succinctly: “Economic opportunity must be more than two words we say.”
On Davidson’s ethos of leadership and service, and the resulting disproportionate impact for good in the world, she let a long and growing list of alumni examples do the heavy lifting, including Tim ’00 and Brian ’07 Helfrich’s Summit Coffee just down Main Street, OrthoCarolina CEO Dan Murrey ’87 in Charlotte, Lowell Bryan ’68 and Steve Justus ’78 at the Touch Foundation, the civil rights advocacy of Yale law professor and GLBT advocate Bill Eskridge ’73, Agnes Scott President Elizabeth Kiss ’83, Astronaut Tom Marshburn ’82, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx ’93, education accessibility advocate Tiffany Hollis ’04, scientific researcher Rachel McCord ’04, educator and spoken-word artist Clint Smith ’10, Colgate University Provost Doug Hicks ’90…. The list went on.
Back to the tasks at hand for ensuring that this list continue to go on, Quillen reviewed, renewed and refreshed many specific programs and initiatives for “exploring what’s possible” this academic year and beyond.
She encouraged staff and faculty to get outside their departments and meet their colleagues from across campus: “Ask how what they do relates to what you do. That’s where some really great ideas come from.”
Those who know Davidson best, she said, should call attention in Admission to students who would be a good fit here, particularly those who might not apply without encouragement.
We should ask ourselves what makes Davidson different, and what it is and what it is becoming. And each person who comes in the door—students most obviously, and by extension everyone—gets to help decide just exactly what Davidson is and what it’s becoming.
That’s inclusion, said Quillen.
So, staff, faculty, students, alumni, parents, friends and partners, what’s your 60-second elevator speech about Davidson College?
Gay and gay-friendly Wildcats contributed to a record turnout at Charlotte’s annual gay pride street festival yesterday, marching with a Davidson banner in the Bank of America Pride Parade.
It was the first gay pride parade held since 1994. I rode my old Comet ragtop in that long-ago parade, with my church’s flag out one side, a rainbow flag out the other, and half the choir in the back seat. I’ve pledged the Comet for Wildcat use next year. There was even talk of a higher-ed group effort by area colleges and universities, with floats and all!
I’m not the world’s most consistent activist, for gaiety or anything else. I am moody, and sometimes I am just lazy. But I do know that it is important for everyone to stand up now and then for who and what they are, to show everybody else that that’s okay. I’m even more sure of that after talking to the young alumni and current students who joined several faculty and staff members yesterday, out there loud and proud in the middle of life’s rich pageant. There were the obligatory rainbow drag queens that tend to make the front-page newspaper pictures, and there were far greater numbers of regular folks, and there was pretty much everything in between, all parading gaily forward to consistent cheers and, yes, a smattering here and there of non-love-based preachifying. (Retort du jour: [brightly] “Is there glitter in Hell?”)
It was a great day to be a Wildcat. Now back on campus the first day of school, it is yet another one. To all Wildcats: Happy year of discovering new ways of being clear and free with exactly who and what you are!
I am touched and humbled by how many readers—parents in particular, as well as faculty, students, staff and alumni Friends of Dodger—have come up to me in the last two days to express their personal sympathy on the sudden loss in January of my best friend, Dodger the dog. Thank you, old friends I’ve not seen in a long while and new friends I’ve only just met. Thank you.
It’s not yet quite time for me to get my next dog/editorial assistant. (If I’m ever completely out of the running for a “next dog,” just take me on down around back and shoot me.) In the meantime, do keep reading this one alumnus staff writer’s take on the continuing adventures of this fine place, right here on Daybook. You can subscribe by email at right and/or you can like Daybook on Facebook.
And vive the wide open spirit of Dodger the squirrel-chasing fool dog, and of all the inquiring minds and bodies and hearts and souls—human and canine—that have enlivened and continue to enliven this place.
With deep gratitude and a “Forward!” shout,