A Once in a Generation Opportunity

The 2015 women’s softball team’s seniors walked together at commencement, fresh off a tournament game.

As I walk the campus I remain ever mindful of the legacy I hold as the 21st president of Central College. The Central presidency is best understood as a trust that demands stewardship to honor tradition and leadership to pursue innovation. Our history includes periods of aggressive growth and expansion, as well as times of reflection and renewal. An institution that is 163 years old will invariably have many stories to tell.

The legacy of intercollegiate athletics is one of our important stories. When President Emeritus Ken Weller first penned the words “student-athlete” more than 40 years ago, he established the enduring foundation for the philosophy that guides the NCAA Division III to this day. Though we constantly feel the gradual pull of professionalization and the influence of money in college sports, we continue to be anchored by our commitment to an educational emphasis that places the role of student ahead of athlete.

At its best, intercollegiate athletics is a form of experiential learning. Students are placed in a practice setting in which they learn to work in teams, exercise leadership, overcome adversity, manage conflict and become more resilient. So many of our alumni point to these experiences as being instrumental in their overall development.

We recently announced a new initiative that embraces our legacy of a healthy athletics tradition, with the innovations necessary for continued success. The program is aptly named, Forever Dutch. I love these words. They point to an enduring quality we honor in our history and a character that is uniquely ours. We don’t do things the way others do. We set our own course. Our academic community is willing to try new things and embrace change, as long as we do not lose our identity in the process.

Forever Dutch involves the expansion and renewal of our athletics complex, but if it were only about a building and fields, we would be much less inspired. The spaces we provide for our student-athletes and coaches are an extension of our learning enterprise and help us form lifelong relationships and build community. This is much more than a game changer. This is a life changer. Many of our alumni tell me stories of how their lives were shaped by participation in athletics. We bear a special responsibility for making sure this experience continues.

The P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium is a facility that has served us ably for 45 years. If ever a building was expected to fulfill more than its original promise, it is this one. I look back at the bold commitment of administrative, faculty, trustee and alumni leaders who stepped forward to accept a challenge to build an athletics facility for the future. The ambitions for that generation have been fulfilled. Now the long arc of time is reaching for us to step forward to preserve a commitment and extend a promise for today and for the generations to come.

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