At Concordia, all Homecomings are wonderful. There just aren’t very many places left that do it up the way we do.
One of the high points for me -- always -- is the opportunity to meet and celebrate the accomplishments of the Alumni Achievement Award recipients. I learn so much from them about what “influencing the affairs of the world” looks like in flesh and blood and about what it is we do here that prepares people for that.
Thank you honorees for your pursuit of vocations that make your alma mater so proud:
- Glory Monson ‘58, for your community building across generations through the performing arts;
- Olaf Storaasli ‘64, for your internationally recognized work on science applications for high-performance computers at NASA and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
- David Johnson ‘64, for your visionary leadership in building congregations as a pastor of the ELCA;
- Jim Jaranson ‘69, for your contributions to the field of psychiatry and to the care of refugees and torture victims.
At Concordia there is great joy whenever we get a roomful of Cobbers together – especially if they haven’t seen each other for awhile. And this year’s Homecoming is no exception. As always, there are many things to celebrate.
At the top of the list are two things that happened at the end of last year:
- First the successful outcome of last spring’s flood fight. I had no idea that it could be done by hand – or rather pairs of hands – filling one sandbag at a time.
- And second Roxana Saberi’s release from prison in Iran. She will receive the NCAA’s Award for Valor at their national convention in January. And, the whole Concordia community will hear from her at a special celebration on campus of her safe return from Iran (and we hope, of the release of her new book) this April.
We opened this year with another academically strong class of freshmen as well as a repeat of the high retention rates of the previous two classes. This year’s class was a bit smaller than last year’s. We don’t know to what extent that was due to our losing precious follow-up time while campus was closed for the flood or to the state of the economy. But a very important indicator is that, for the second year in a row, we did not experience a late summer “melt” of deposited freshmen. Last year, they all showed up, this year all but one domestic and two international students did. That tells me we are recruiting for fit between what we offer and what our prospective students seek. Ultimately, that is more important than the number of students we bring in.
The exuberance and quality of our current students was on display at this fall’s symposium which grappled with the role of technology in our lives. The stellar list of speakers had this auditorium packed for just about every session and elicited very thoughtful student questions and responses.
There is much more that I would like to tell you about what is happening this year. Here are just a few highlights.
- Cobber athletic fans have much to celebrate – Early this fall, three teams cracked the nation’s top 25 for the first time in Concordia’s history – football (23rd), volleyball (18th) and women’s soccer (22nd). As of last weekend, women’s soccer ranked 14th in the nation following 12 straight wins, volleyball stands at 19th and men’s soccer is tied for 2nd place in the MIAC.
- The 2009 Concordia Christmas Concert, Journey to Bethlehem, will be produced for broadcast on National Public Television, so alumni and friends across the U.S. will be able to share in the tradition that has heralded the Christmas season for generations of Cobbers.
- This summer we celebrated King Harald V’s bestowing of Knighthood on Dr. Tove Dahl, Dean of the Norwegian Language Village. She was made Knight of the First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit. And we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Chinese Language Village.
- This fall, 7 Chinese students are enrolled at Concordia. An additional 28 who were less fluent in English, spent four weeks on campus this July to participate in an American English and cultural immersion experience through our new exchange program with the United International College in Zhuhai, China.
We now offer Chinese in our language program on campus and the number of students enrolled in the college courses is dramatically increasing. Ken Foster in Political Science is one of 20 American China scholars to be chosen to participate in a three-year Public Intellectuals Program by the National Committee on U.S. China relations.
- We are continuing to develop the School of Business. We are creating a “destination” program with a liberal arts foundation and a global reach that focuses on preparing ethical business leaders. We have engaged alumni in discussions about what the character and distinctiveness of that program need to be, and we are very excited.
- In the past we have relied on comprehensive capital campaigns to fund initiatives like the School of Business. In light of new economic realities, we are replacing that model with a series of targeted efforts focused on three strategic initiatives:
As we look ahead to next year, and especially as we recruit for next year’s freshman class, we are sobered by the effect the economy is having on families. Frankly, we worry that parents and students will turn to lower priced, especially public, institutions and that it will be more difficult to sustain both government and donor support for scholarships. Put another way, we recognize how much we cannot take for granted about the strong economic foundations of our enterprise.
- Update the Jake
- The School of Business
- New Science facilities
This is a new day for higher education – one that is unprecedented in the professional lifetimes of anyone who is in a position of leadership today. We are in uncharted territory and many of our sister institutions will have difficulty just surviving.
Thus we must plan as if our resources will not continue to grow at the same pace as they have. And we must take a fresh look at how we will allocate them to support our highest priorities. As we develop our next five-year strategic plan we will be having serious conversations with our stakeholders about what matters most.
And we are going to do a very hard thing. We are going to force ourselves to consider what we can afford not to do. So then the question will be not whether but how we will support our highest priorities.
Concordia is blessed in many ways, but most especially with alumni and donors who are motivated by our mission and who are committed to helping us live it out. These current circumstances make us even more aware than usual of how much we depend on them – on you – to fulfill our mission.
You are making it possible for young women and men to find their deepest purpose in life and to express it, as our Alumni Achievement awardees tonight have, in vocations that expand the frontiers of human knowledge and artistry, that care for victims – for the lost and least, that build communities, that strengthen the faith and love of the people of God.
That is Concordia’s highest calling. And, with God’s help, and yours, we will succeed.
Soli Deo Gloria