Inaugural Address

Presented by President Jon L. Dybdahl 

Monday, November 18, 2002


Distinguished guests, honored alumni and generous contributors, esteemed board of trustees, nurturing family, admired faculty and staff colleagues, and most of all beloved students, thank you for coming to this celebration of Walla Walla College and its mission. 

I'd like to express special appreciation to those who have traveled far to be here. Like many new college presidents, I was very reluctant to have this much fuss made over an inauguration. I wondered if it was worth the work, the cost, the time. Couldn't we just move forward without it? Isn't the power of the office overrated anyway? 

One argument changed my mind. This inauguration is for the college110-year-old Walla Walla College. Our college, which is bigger by far than any one of us presidents or faculty or board members, is what we celebrate today. This institution, this learning community founded on a vision and focused on a mission, was here before any of us were born and, if time lasts, will be here long after we are gone. Let us with joy celebrate together the mission, the meaning, and the mystery of Walla Walla College. 

True education calls us to grasp life firmly and serve others fervently. A faith-based community like ours takes seriously Jesus words in John 10:10: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. If Jesus offers abundant life, we should grasp it. We should engage life and Gods mission for us because it is Gods good gift. People who do not understand this abundant life may not have the courage or strength to reach out. They fail to hold on to life at all. They disengage. We must invite and encourage them to reach out and take hold. 

I suggest further that Walla Walla College's mission is to with one hand hold our past and with the other firmly grip the future, that we may move forward in service to God and others. 

Walla Walla College's past is an illustrious one. Read Terrie Aamodt's book, Bold Venture, and youll be amazed. Our forefathers and mothers founded this college when the Adventist church in the Northwest had 1500 members. If you are religious, you call that faith. Faith or not, it is certainly courageous. Theologically, it is astounding. Our pioneers believed that the Jesus who had lived in this world was going to keep his promise and literally come back again. They taught that the same Jesus his disciples had known on earth and seen ascend into heaven would return in like manner as he had gone into heaven (Acts 1:11). Many who share a belief in that promise for the future take it as a cue to give up on the world. It is a reason to let go of life here with both hands. Our pioneers used it as an incentive to more urgently work and serve. They founded schools and this college to educate people so they could help a world in need and share their message. They grasped life so firmly that they wanted to reform everything. 

They believed in dress reform. They actually recommended shortening skirts and lightening their heavy petticoats so they didnt pick up the dirt of the streets or drag too heavily on the waist. 

They believed in health reform. Decades before the general population recognized the dangers of smoking, these pioneers fought tobacco. 

They believed in education reform. This college was part of educational reform. Our forebears advocated wholistic education for life that included work-study programs, vocational training, and industries as well as religious teaching along with the traditional subjects. What happened outside the class was as important as what happened inside. 

They may not have always been wise, but there is no question about the fact that they engaged all of life with vigor because they believed that was God's call. They related wholistically to all areas of life. We forget this heritage at great peril. I thank God for not only our leaders of the past, but for the unsung people who gave time and money, who worked, studied, and sent their physical and spiritual children to this college because they believed in this vision and their lives were focused on its mission. 

Our four living former presidents are a recent part of that great heritage. All of them are here today. Jack Bergman, Niels-Erik Andreasen, W. G. Nelson, and Clifford Sorensen. Their effective leadership is testified to by the fact that WWC is healthy today. Thank you for being here to celebrate Walla Walla College. 

I also want to mention four other stalwarts who represent a large army of heroes and heroines who are part of the heritage of our great school. 

Just last month, we laid to rest Prof. Ed Cross. Prof. and his wife founded our engineering school and literally built it from the ground up. Sight unseen, they came here from the East to launch a vision. Not only does their legacy live on in buildings, an engineering program, and the lives of students, but they, almost unbelievably (considering his salary), gave a large financial gift to continue the work they believed in. Their spirits live on. 

Mae Mehling, whom we recently lost, represents a host of people who faithfully and quietly work behind the scenes to care for the needs of people. While her professor husband lived, she supported him, and with him gone she continued to feed, house, and serve the college, the church, and the community untiringly. 

I mention two living legends who, again, are part of a larger host: Walt Meske Walla Walla College graduate, long-time mens dean, and vice president for Student Administration. When students shook hands with Walt Meske, the grip let them know he was in charge. But the smile and twinkle in the eye let them know they were cared about. Retired Walt continues to be a strong advocate of the college and to care for people as chaplain at General Hospital. He undoubtedly buries more people than anyone in this valley and possibly marries more couples than anyone else as well. Helen Zolber served for years as womens dean and then chaired the English department. Her influence is legendary. She has returned here in retirement but has been long-time chair of our Committee of 100 and served as president of the Alumni Association. She continues to give to the college in many ways. 

The lives and principles of our pioneers and living legends must be remembered and taken seriously. They not only inspire us, but also help to guide us as we face a challenging future. 

In a faith community like ours, there is always a danger. Some see only the glory of the past and the threat of the future. They want to with both hands grasp the safe past and pull us back to earlier times. To such we must gently but firmly say, We hold to the clear principles and mission of the past, but we have always believed in present truth. Our pioneers themselves reached out to their future, believing that the divine hand that had led in the past would still guide them as they moved confidently forward. Bold future plans rooted in past truth are not a denial of our heritage but an affirmation of its validity. 

On the other hand, others, perhaps disgusted or bored with their past story, with both hands eagerly grasp the future. To such, clear warning must be given. To disdain or fail to learn from our past is living dangerously. Biologically, socially, religiously, and in every other way our roots should and do affect us. To forget them impacts both the present and the hoped-for future. A rootless present is blown hopelessly about by the winds of fad and fashion. 

I like blackboards, and to go home with chalk dust on my pants was satisfying. Its like a carpenter who has sawdust in his hair you feel like you've done something worthwhile. But I see and hear the future in the technology of our smart classrooms, with their Power Point presentations and projectors. In both, knowledge is being imparted. 

I love to see inquiring faces in a classroom, but I know some can only get a degree by sitting before a computer screen in an online class. I want to grasp both. 

I am drawn to libraries. They are so serene, so scholastic. But I now stand among the stacks wondering if they may be replaced at some time by a rack of CDs or DVDs. 

Class notes, curriculum, and strategic plans of the past can teach us but must not control us and determine our destiny. 

The call to me and my call to you is to sustain faith in the vision and to celebrate and pursue the mission. Our vision must understand the past and anticipate the future and unite the best of both in a vibrant present. 

Today, although we are not perfect, we are strong. We have a pervading sense of community and a deep loyalty to the college. I was pleased to find during my visit last spring a feeling, even among students, that there was no place like Walla Walla College. Such convictions are priceless. For a long time, we have cared here about quality and excellence in academics, and it is satisfying to see that quality recognized by US News and World Reports rankings, which put us in the top 25 percent of regional masters universities. We have a hard-working, creative faculty who care about teaching and scholarship. A family atmosphere and friendliness prevail, as our recent accreditation visitors testified. Faculty, staff, and students do have an understanding of and a commitment to the colleges mission. We are not rich, but we are solvent, and, barring tragedy, will have a budget surplus this year. We are pleased about all of this. 

In initial thoughts about an agenda for the next few future years of the college, I mentioned to faculty, staff, and board five things we need to emphasize. Based on earlier work by the college and its board, on conversations with many people, on my sense of the needs, and on accreditation evaluation, I suggested five areas for us to work on: (1) clear articulation of our mission and vision; (2) an integrated, workable strategic plan which addresses financial issues, faculty and staff remuneration, and student needs in a wholistic context; (3) building of human relationships in all areas, both inside and outside the college; (4) think missionexpand our areas of service and our local and international outreach, and at the same time, encourage greater diversity among students, faculty, and staff on our campus; (5) continue our capital campaign to meet student, faculty, and staff physical needs for the future. 

These are the beginning steps to meeting present needs. But the vision is broader than this and the mission deeper. I would like Walla Walla College to be a powerful, positive, life-changing experience for all who work and study here. In many ways, this is already happening. We want that to grow so our campus can become a model and beacon light to our world and our church. This means that the education found here would not only address the mind but affect the soul and the heart as well. Academic excellence would be blended with spiritual commitment, moral integrity, and aesthetic appreciation, all contributing to the wholistic development of students. Intellect and religious faith would not be in separate compartments or be isolated in certain times and places. But faith would impact all academic disciplines and intellect affect all areas of faith. As such a place, we could help light our world and even our church. Many times in history colleges and universities have been a source of renewal for the church and the world. We want to do that. As such, Walla Walla College would not only be a life-changing experience for those on this campus, but would impact our world and church far beyond our borders. That is my dream. 

Yes, I do believe the words familiar to many of us from the pen of Ellen White (one widely revered in our church as a prophetic voice): We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history (CET 204.1). 

Our present is alive and exciting as we move forward in this dialogue of past and future. 

The best preacher is the one who clutches the Bible in one hand and today's newspaper in the other. I see with one eye and hear with one ear my paternal grandmother. She represents my heritage. As a young single girl, she left home in Wisconsin to become the first SDA church school teacher in Canada. That was not adventure some enough she became a single missionary to Tahiti, learning French in process. She came home on furlough and met widowed Lars Dybdahl and decided--perhaps as her toughest mission of all--to marry him and raise his 6 motherless children ages 4 to 14 as her own (one of them being my father). In the face of limited finances, she made sure all of them had an opportunity to attend college. With my other hand and eye and ear I grasp, see and listen to our eight grandchildren, represented by the oldest, Alexandra. Not a day goes by but I think about what kind of world, what kind of church, what kind of college will we leave to Alex and her sisters and cousins and their friends. Is there a way that what Grandma Anna and granddaughter Alex embody can meet and talk and play and worship and study together in love and understanding? That's our call.

Then again with one hand I grasp the past as I listen to the voices of Paul Heubach, Loren Dickinson, Don and Donnie Rigby, J. Paul Grove, and on to our present-day illustrious faculty and staff. At the same time I hear the voice, see the face, and grasp the hand of the future in students represented by student association leaders like Bobby Sanborn, Ross Brown, Ryan Lunsford, Caleb Foss, and Jessica Craik. 

In the face of the temptation to hear only one side and one voice we must continue the challenging task of listening to and holding on to both past and future personally and as a college community. As we do this successfully, under God we will succeed in accomplishing our mission. 

We will create communion between our heritage and the future and that common effort will forge us into a powerful life-changing experience of community here, now. After all, our statement of mission begins with a vision that calls this college a community of faith and discovery. These are not to be just high-sounding words. Best-selling author M. Scott Peck, in the preface of his book The Different Drum, says it bluntly and plainly, "In and through community lies the salvation of the world." If by the grace of God, Walla Walla can continue to be that kind of community and even grow in that togetherness, it can model and mediate community to a world that desperately needs that pattern of caring. 

I am thankful today for my country, where we can freely speak our minds without fear and be joined in the celebration of who we are by those who at the highest level represent our great state. I am thankful for my church, who has lovingly taught me in its community and facilitated mission. I praise God for His grace and healing. I am thankful for my family who make my presence here possible. I am grateful my father is here, as are my much-loved wife Kathy and extraordinary children and their spouses, who are also our children, and grandchildren and other members of my extended family. But today is Walla Walla College's special day. I am especially thankful for WWC. This college has nurtured, taught, and, in a real sense, helped make me who I am. I owe much to her. She has treated me graciously. I believe in her mission, and I pledge today to the best of my ability to serve her faithfully. To give as much back to her as I can. I have already in my short tenure here made it my business to ask many to pray for the college. I do the same today. Pray that this special place, this unique community, may fulfill its divine mission and be all we dream it can be so that in the end glory can be given to God from whom all blessings flow.