A Bold Vision at Inauguration

President John McVay speaks his vision for our future

By: Kristi Spurgeon

On a cold, cloudy day at Walla Walla College, the institution’s bold vision shone brightly at the inauguration of WWC’s 23rd president, John K. McVay.

During his inaugural address, McVay spoke of his father, a 1950 WWC graduate, and the first in his family to graduate from college. “He invariably spoke in glowing, reverential tones about his experience at Walla Walla College,” says McVay. “He had an endless mental file of stories from his years here, ones that he would trot out with some regularity…as you listened to the stories, you could tell that he loved this place.”

“We each have such stories. Our history is full of them. In each such story echoes that grace-filled message: The presence of the Lord is in this place. I am honored to serve my father’s school.”

McVay also laid out “four rather daring prophecies” about WWC, which he called elements of the bold vision for its future. Noting the impending change in reference to WWC’s new name, Walla Walla University, those elements can be summed up as: Walla Walla University will continue to treasure and explore its past, while confronting the changing landscape of a different era; it will continue to practice careful stewardship; it will take seriously the central issue of the character, integrity, and faith of its students, honing their skills in faith nurture, spiritual formation, and Christian discipleship; and it will steadfastly resist becoming an end in itself, instead seeking to give itself in ministry to its students and to the world.

The president’s address followed introductions and greetings from Sheila Collins, the governor’s Eastern Washington representative, on behalf of the state of Washington; Whitman College President George Bridges, representing the Independent Colleges of Washington; Gerald Kovalski, vice president for education for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, on behalf of Adventist education; Bryan Brashear, president of the Associated Students of Walla Walla College, for the WWC student body; and Dave Warkentin, president and CEO of the Walla Walla Valley Chamber of Commerce, representing the local community.

“I can assure you that over the course of your tenure as president at this wonderful college, you will uncover enormous treasures in the wealth of great minds and hearts of the college’s faculty, staff, and students. They will inspire and encourage you and offer you great hope about the future of this college, and the future of our society,” said Whitman College President George Bridges during his greeting to McVay, after quoting from Isaiah 45:2-3.

Bryce Pascoe, executive secretary for the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, presided over the ceremony. As part of the formal investiture, Pascoe presented McVay with the WWC seal. Designed in 1912, the seal depicts the three phases of education as parts of an equilateral triangle: the mental, the physical, and the spiritual. The stained glass representation of the seal, presented at the ceremony, once hung over the entrance of the Administration Building, and now resides in the president’s office.

In a poignant moment of the ceremony, McVay was surrounded by four of the former living WWC presidents during a dedication prayer, presented by Niels-Erik Andreasen, WWC president from 1990-1994.

“We dedicate him to this noble task, and ask you, Lord, to bless him in every way, with your generous gifts. So Lord, give him the gift of vision to see far and clearly, even when the way seems dark and obscure to us. Lord, give him the gift of courage, when barriers block the way forward and criticism marks. And Lord, give him the gift of wisdom when everyone else is merely offering clever things. Give him the rare gift of humility for those few moments of success and vindication. Lord, give him a rich measure of grace and generosity toward others when the pressures of work tempt to impatience and irritation instead.”

Prior to his invitation to serve at WWC, McVay was dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He also worked as a religion professor at Pacific Union College and served as a pastor at the PUC church, as well as in Georgia and Iowa.  

McVay, 48, is a graduate of Georgia-Cumberland Academy, Southern Adventist University, Andrews University, and England’s Sheffield University, where he earned a doctoral degree in New Testament studies.

“I have admired his leadership ability and his scholarly commitment,” recently retired WWC President Jon Dybdahl commented during his introduction. “WWC cares deeply about academic excellence, and is pleased when her president not only espouses that ideal, but embodies it as well. Dr. McVay is part of that fine tradition.”

“The true measure of an institution is not its endowment, its buildings, its accreditations, the size of its student body or the number of its graduates, a prestigious academic reputation, its ratings in U.S.News & World Report, the number of active student organizations, or the qualifications and global recognition of its faculty,” McVay said near the end of his address. “All of these are important, but none represents the essential measure of the institution. The real measure of an institution lies in the character and grit of its students and the service of its graduates.”

Watch President McVay’s inauguration online at itunesu.wwc.edu

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