Top Ten Highlights of Whittier College

Sharon Herzberger
Admitted Students President's Reception 
April 13, 2008

Welcome to Whittier College on this glorious, if unusually warm, day.

There is hardly a more important decision than the one that brings you here this afternoon and perhaps I can tell you a little bit about the Whittier College that you will encounter if you matriculate on another glorious day in August.

I've organized my thoughts around a list of the "top ten highlights of Whittier College." They are not ordered in any special way, and you should know that they each represent my own ideas about what makes Whittier so distinctive.

Number 10, the faculty: The most important part of any college or university. Undoubtedly, you are looking forward with excitement and trepidation to your college years and dreaming of your future. Your families are dreaming too; they're envisioning the day when you are well-employed and paying your own bills, and when they can enjoy a little extra space in the house. Our great faculty will help your dreams and your parents' dreams come true. How can you tell? Today make it a point to find seniors and ask them whether they know at least three faculty members well enough to write in-depth, personal letters of recommendation. Ask this question at all of the schools you visit; Whittier College faculty will always excel on this test.

Number 9, again, the faculty: Each year we ask our seniors to participate with seniors from about 600 other colleges and universities in the National Survey of Student Engagement. And each year Whittier earns marks that place us in the top tier of colleges across America on four out of five factors that most predict intellectual and personal growth in college.

Here you will find accessible faculty and you will find yourself engaged in discussions, actively participating in demonstrations and labs, and discovering new knowledge in concert with professors who are here because of you and your success.

Number 8, faculty master houses: With three faculty members living in houses on campus and numerous others living nearby, you will find a wide array of stimulating opportunities outside class. Over the last year, students have gone to faculty master houses to mingle with author Ray Bradbury, and to have dinner Rick Gilchrist (an alumnus who chairs our Board of Trustees and who is president of the Irvine Company). They have learned the ins and outs of film making with alumnus and director Arthur Seidelman, and have be cued into the funny, insider stories of Josh duLac, pop music critic for the Washington Post and also a Whittier alum.

One of my favorite faculty master programs involved a visit by the Asst. Secretary of Defense for Counterterrorism. When you sit for a couple of hours talking with an insider about war, diplomacy, and America's role in the world, you realize that this is what college is all about. Our faculty master program brings that to you many times a week.

Number 7, our small class size: Which means you are never a number and, be forewarned, you cannot get lost. Check with our seniors about that too!

Number 6, our curriculum: Which ensures that — regardless of major — each graduate is broadly educated and prepared for a lifetime of change and opportunity; a curriculum that honors our Quaker Founders' ideals by making sure that every student develops respect for community, learns to listen well, achieves an international outlook, and truly learns to see the world from varied cultural perspectives.

Number 5, our traditions: From passing the light of learning during a ceremony on your first day on campus, to sometimes sitting in silence to honor our Quaker roots, to painting the Rock. Our alumni are so attached to that piece of stone that we built a special window overlooking the Rock in the new campus center. You will find students camped at the Rock most days and see it painted a new color each morning. As we used to say, "go figure."

Number 4, our Whittier Scholars Program: Which enables talented students to put together their own curriculum. Try writing a novel, or combining your love of music and business, or studying the psychology of politics. Dream about what you want to learn, and — whether as part of the Whittier Scholars Program or not — you will find professors eager to help you achieve your dream.

Number 3, location: I urge you today to walk up the hill to Turner Hall and look out in one direction at downtown L.A., then turn your head and look at the Pacific Ocean. (If it is clear enough, you can even see Catalina Island.) You will see a world of opportunity awaiting you for class projects, for service learning, and for fun. Then walk back down the hill on the other side to see our athletic fields. And notice the vast, undeveloped wilderness of the hills behind. I can't think of another campus so well situated within a charming small town nestled close to wilderness and with one of the most dynamic cities of the world right at our doorstep.

Number 2, our students: They hail from most states and from many countries abroad. They are a diverse bunch, making Whittier, according to US News, the one of the most diverse private liberal arts college in this nation. And even more important, this diversity prepares students in class and out of class to live and lead in multicultural communities and corporations all around the globe.

Number 1, you will join the extraordinarily accomplished family of Poets. Sure, by having the Poet as our moniker, we will always, always be named to the top ten lists of "worst named mascots." But frankly we are fiercely proud of that listing. We are so proud that a few years ago, students urged us to trademark the saying "Fear the Poet," which you will shout as you enter this College in the fall and shout again as you graduate some years from now.

Joining the Poet family means that you are coming to a college that stands for something, a college named after the renowned John Greenleaf Whittier — Poet, devoted Quaker, staunch abolitionist, newspaper editor, and founder of the political party which became the Republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln. (John Greenleaf Whittier might have been the first multi-tasker!) He characterizes the students who come to this college today — principled, smart, and headed for lives of greatness.

I hope that this August I will have a chance once again to welcome you to this extraordinary College and to induct you formally into the family of Poets.

Fear the Poet, Go Poets, and enjoy your day.