January 30, 2008
Thomas L. Hellie, President
In some respects, today is like any other day at Linfield. Our students have just finished their classes, our athletes are getting ready to practice, our artists are heading to their studios, and our faculty are advising their students. Because this is January Term at Linfield, we have hundreds of students and dozens of faculty studying in England and Italy, China and Japan, Ecuador and Guatemala.
And yet today is like no other day at Linfield. For today our beloved college is exactly l50 years old.
When President Leonard Riley
spoke at our 50th anniversary in 1908, we were still known as McMinnville College,
and our future was precarious. But thanks to him, and to our faculty, staff,
friends, and alumni, we survived and began to prosper.
In 1958, at age 100, we were now Linfield College, with many new buildings, a national reputation in the sciences, and two consecutive winning seasons in football. The next two decades would see dramatic – and sometimes painful – change at Linfield College. But we endured and ultimately flourished.
And now, at 150, Linfield is thriving and still growing. In some respects we are the same Linfield: a welcoming, egalitarian college that serves students from all economic classes. A college that emphasizes the liberal arts. A college with a demonstrated commitment to excellence in scholarship and in the classroom. A college that blends the theoretical with the practical. A college that is at once inspirational and pragmatic.
But our college has changed substantially in the last 50 years. We now have programs in Portland, we operate a Division of Continuing Education, and we’ve doubled the size of our McMinnville Campus. More than 50 percent of our students study in foreign countries, and we are successfully competing with the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. In the last three years we’ve enjoyed two of our largest freshman classes in history. And while our football winning streak now extends 52 seasons, our most recent national sports championship was won, just last year, by a softball team of Linfield women.
Yes, much has changed here. But change is the watchword for the future of American higher education, and for the future of Linfield College. Politics, society, business, and science – all are spinning faster and faster in a global vortex. Thanks to information technology, communication, and travel, we are living in a vast web of cultural exchanges and connections. We share an earth that is endangered by our abuse of the environment – smokestacks in China pollute the air in Oregon; coal-burning plants in the Midwest spawn acid rain in the Adirondacks. Public health, personal finance, national boundaries, religious identity – all are wound together in a blur of global change.
And so we must prepare our students for change, to learn how to learn from experience, to gain cultural sensitivity and understanding, to become citizens of the world, to be flexible and adaptable rather than rigid and unchanging.
Three weeks ago, our beloved Old Oak fell to the ground. It stood here long before there was a college, but it was an emblem with which we identified. Enormous, strong, and dramatic, it sheltered us from the sun and rain. But it was old. And rigid. No longer able to bend in the wind, its roots weakened, it became vulnerable, and it fell.
In the coming months, we will continue to discuss and mourn the Old Oak. But we will also talk about the future of our many young trees – and of our many young students. Our task must be to bend in the swirling winds without yielding our place or identity. To harness the power of the winds rather than be damaged by them. To remain true to our heritage while facing the inevitability of change.
And so, we will remain egalitarian, excellent, pragmatic and inspired. We will honor and encourage the search for truth. We will connect learning, life, and community. And we will prepare young, flexible, strong, dynamic students who are ready to engage the world in their commitment to justice and their quest to serve humanity. Those values were familiar to Presidents Riley and Dillin; they will be cited once gain 50 years from now, when we celebrate our 200th anniversary. But most importantly, our students will be going forth into the world, doing well and doing good, remembering that the Old Oak — and Linfield — give us courage and keep us steadfast on our way.
Our founders gave us principles upon which to build. The lesson of the Old Oak is this: Nothing remains completely the same, and we must accept and embrace change; but if we remember who we are and what we believe, we will prevail.