Dear faculty, staff, and students,
Two weeks ago, Hiram College received a $2M gift to support scholarships in the name of Galen J. Roush, a Hiram graduate of the class of 1915. This incredible surprise came to us from an anonymous donor whose act of generosity and kindness will change the lives of many current and incoming students. Making an anonymous gift is one way to “practice” the art of giving, and we are very grateful that it will make such a positive impact at Hiram.
While we are thrilled beyond measure with this $2M gift, it is apparent that the giving is on at Hiram College in ways that seem to be contagious. I am grateful to be a college president whose Board of Trustees has this “giving bug.” Over the last few days, two Hiram Trustees – Betsy Juliano ’84 and Bill Recker – committed to making gifts that total $1.6M. Betsy’s gifts will fund scholarships, and Bill’s will support both scholarship efforts and programming initiatives at the Garfield Center for Public Leadership. It is hard to find ways to adequately thank them for their generous support.
Betsy and Bill are by no means the only Trustees who practice the art of giving. Dozens of other Trustees, alumni, and friends have stepped forward at this very time to make gifts that will do wonders for Hiram College. Thanks to the very weighty contributions of these donors, Hiram is in the process of overhauling its website, planning a few renovations to physical spaces on campus, bolstering its advertising and recruitment activities, and chipping away at operational expenses that weigh us down. Combining all of these gifts and pledges together, we have raised a total of $6M in cash and pledges over the last five months! Jen Schuller and her entire staff in development and alumni relations have worked hand-and-glove with me on all of these efforts. I am moved by the team we are becoming and the work we are doing together.
These financial gifts could not be coming in at a better time. They will be some of the brightest lights that chart our path to a stronger future. But for the many of us who can’t give the large financial gifts that better Hiram College, how can we practice the art of giving in ways that will positively impact the campus? I used my Thanksgiving holiday to reflect on that very question.
After our delicious family meal, many of us lingered at a large Thanksgiving table cobbled together by card tables. There, we talked and talked, speaking our minds as we typically do. At holidays like this, the “speak” can be a bit loud and spirited since it is often fueled by the divergent views that make my family the “interesting” group that we are. As I sat, listened, talked, and reflected this year, it occurred to me that it has been this very practice – dinner after dinner, on holidays and “regular days” alike – that has made me comfortable in engaging in authentic and deep conversations in my personal and professional life. As I finally pulled back from the table, I wondered how we could loosely replicate at Hiram College those kinds of real conversations – between people we care about even when they drive us completely bonkers.
Though I personally do not have the exact plan for creating a culture that encourages those kinds of conversations, I believe we can work together to shape that very community here at Hiram College. In my experience, the shaping of such a culture and community is fueled when its members are willing to give one of the greatest gifts of all: the benefit of the doubt. When someone asks a question that makes us flinch or says something that seems off-base, let’s try hard to focus on what the person said and not “who or what” the person is. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes and say something stupid now and again, but those mistakes should not cut off conversations. Professor Liz Piatt sent me a link to this video (view it here) that I found immensely helpful in thinking through these issues and practices.
I end this week’s note by genuinely asking each of you (as I will ask myself) to ponder this question: what can I personally do to make Hiram College a place where real conversations, marked by consistent and divergent views, are common occurrences? Moreover, I would like us to be brave enough to have some of those conversations around the pressing issues of our times, like race relations.
Most of us do not have the means to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to our College on the hill. But if we give each other the benefit of the doubt and engage each other in real and authentic conversations about some of the most important issues of our times, our experiences will be priceless.
Lori E. Varlotta