75 Years and Counting
by Michele Tolela Myers
This year, Sarah Lawrence has observed its 75th anniversary with a year-long party, celebrating what our institution is about: its commitment to educating individuals one at a time and passionate belief in a pedagogy based on individual initiative, self-discovery and commitment to service.
The special dialogue between teacher and student that makes learning possible happens not in a vacuum, but within the larger context of an entire institution. Graduates sometimes leave the College believing that their experience was entirely a personal one—but, in fact, it takes a whole institution to make the individual moments possible: Security makes the campus safer, bills get paid, communications go out, money is raised, rooms are fixed, food is provided, buildings are cleaned, the grounds are kept, library shelves are stocked, computers run, events are held, students are treated when they are ill, faculty meet to develop curricula. And while we may not always do all these things perfectly, Sarah Lawrence is a place where we listen to one another and encourage all who live and work here to make the place their own and to leave their mark by changing it when and where it needs to change.
We should feel great pride that these qualities have always been synonymous with Sarah Lawrence, a school that has distinguished itself for the stands it has had the courage to take, for going out on a limb, decade after decade. We talk about the Sarah Lawrence Difference, a phrase that has come to characterize us: “You are different. So are we,” we say in our Admission literature. But, how different?
As a small liberal arts college, we go against the cultural grain. In a culture that values growth and bigness, we are small. Embedded in a mass culture, we deliberately focus on individuals. We are intimate and operate in real time in a culture where technology allows distance from the personal, where the virtual feels and looks just as real as real, and where the lines between reality and special effects are increasingly blurred. We offer an education that seeks to form habits of mind, foster critical thinking, hone leadership skills, reward creativity, emphasize the interconnections of knowledge, and prepare for life-long outcomes—yet we live in a society that insists on practical, immediate job training skills and “fitting in.” We recruit talented students, generally from the best private and public high schools, while a large majority of students in this country go to college under-prepared. We are hugely expensive when the gap between the wealthy and the poor is particularly pronounced, and we inevitably appear elitist even to a society in denial about the profound effects of race and class.
And yet, here we are, celebrating why we matter, and how many of us might continue to make a difference in this post-9/11 time, in a world menaced by the insidious threat of terrorism writ large, where weapons of mass destruction are for sale, where huge ideological conflicts between democratic ideals and religious fanaticism breed hatred and war, where influence-peddling and self-interest trump the public good, and where integrity may be the theme of public speeches but not of public life.
We celebrate this anniversary with a deep appreciation of our history and much optimism about our future. The new Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center will be completed during the year, a milestone for Sarah Lawrence. It is a green building, meaning that it will be built and used in an environmentally responsible way. It is designed to be a teaching facility, a real working building; it will be ready for use by the fall of 2004 and officially inaugurated during family weekend in November 2004.
This is also the year when we will complete our capital campaign, The Sarah Lawrence Difference: Preserve it. Enrich it, the largest campaign ever mounted at Sarah Lawrence, with a goal of $75 million; more than $71 million has been given or pledged as I write this. The campaign was designed to meet the major priorities of the College: Operating expenses, to support scholarships for students, faculty and staff salaries, information technology, and facilities upkeep; Endowment, to strengthen the long-term financial health of the College; and Facilities, including the visual arts center and the renovation of Bates.
I hope this issue of Sarah Lawrence will remind you of why this institution is—and has always been—a pace-setter among liberal arts colleges. The singular education we provide has a profound, lifelong effect on our students; and, in turn, each alumna/us makes a contribution to reforming the world and shaping its discourse. Truly, every successive generation sustains the heritage that began in 1928: Please join us to remember, honor and support Sarah Lawrence College.