This “Household Words” column appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Macalester Today.
By Brian Rosenberg
The longstanding commitment to having a thoroughly internationalized campus at Macalester has always been a distinctive institutional strength and something of an institutional challenge. The strength, of course, arises from the benefits to every student of being surrounded by classmates of varied backgrounds and cultures; the challenge arises from the commitment of energy and resources necessary to bring to Macalester students from more than 80 countries and every socioeconomic class. This is a challenge we have by and large embraced and overcome.
Similarly, having a very international alumni population offers both benefits and challenges. The benefits accrue to our students—and our reputation—from having well-placed and successful alumni in virtually every part of the globe. The chief challenge is maintaining close contact with an alumni population geographically so far removed from our St. Paul campus. Given the importance of alumni stewardship of the college, this is a challenge we must work to confront.
This is why I traveled in January to four East Asian cities—Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Seoul—with substantial populations of Macalester alumni, parents, and potential students. The highlight of each city visit was a gathering of the local Macalester community. The trip also included meetings with individual alumni and parents and visits to schools such as the American School in Japan, the Singapore American School, and the United World College in Singapore.
Here are some of the important things I discovered. Alumni and parents in each city I visited feel deeply indebted to Macalester and are fiercely proud of the college’s commitment to a global perspective. They would like to feel more closely connected to the college today and are anxious to find ways to support our work and particularly our current and future students. Virtually without exception, the alumni attribute their current success and outlook in large part to their experiences at Macalester with faculty and staff members and fellow students.
Here is the most important thing I discovered— or, maybe more accurately, had reconfirmed. Members of the extended Macalester community feel bound together in ways that transcend cultural, religious, and social boundaries. They model in their interactions with one another, and indeed in the quotidian interactions that form their personal and professional lives, the kind of civility, empathy, tolerance, and compassion that seems today in desperately short supply. They are citizens of their communities, their countries, and the globe—and our world would be an infinitely better place if there were more of them.
The trip reaffirmed my belief in the entwined responsibilities inherent in being at Macalester and being part of that broader community of Macalester alumni and parents. Those of us at the college must continue to find ways in the face of a very difficult global economy and a challenging environment for higher education to sustain and improve upon our historic mission. The most powerful evidence of all—not surveys or data but the lived experience of our graduates—tells us that we are doing the right thing. How can we do it better? How can we be sure to adapt Macalester’s focus on academic excellence, internationalism, diversity, and social responsibility to the world we live in today? These are questions that the faculty and administration of the college should be asking every day.
Upon those who have benefited and continue to benefit from the work of Macalester falls the responsibility to support and steward this special institution. I seldom use this column to make pitches, but I feel utterly unabashed in saying that Macalester is an institution that merits its alumni’s commitment of time and resources. This is true whether one lives in St. Paul or Seoul; it is true whether one graduated in 1959 or 2009. Generations of faculty and staff, trustees and donors, have given of themselves so that we can educate gifted people to live fulfilling lives and make a difference in the world. For this to continue—and it must continue— those people must turn their eyes and hearts back to the college and do all they can to sustain it.
Thank you to those many alumni and parents who took the time to meet with me during my recent travels. Thank you to the much larger group whose support of Macalester makes my job a privilege for which I am infinitely grateful.
Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, writes a regular column for Macalester Today. He can be reached at email@example.com.