Memories of my inauguration in October 2004 seem far too vivid to have happened that long ago. I recall it as one of the proudest days of my professional life. As Alverno’s seventh president and first lay president, I celebrated the start of my work surrounded by Alverno trustees, faculty, staff and alums. Awaiting us was an ambitious agenda set by the College’s leaders: expand graduate programs, grow enrollment, add new facilities and more. I was so excited to get started! Now, two strategic plans later, I’m still exhilarated to lead this College that does so much so well.
This month we are celebrating one of the most satisfying accomplishments during my time here: the completion of the Promise & Power campaign. The $30 million fund drive is reinventing Alverno’s campus. If you haven’t visited lately, you should. You will love the transformation that is underway.
But as I reflect on my first 10 years, I realize the spirit that moves us is far more important than the milestones we pass. What matters most, I believe, is our heart. What principles bring us together? What values shape our actions every day? Are they strong enough to sustain the hopes and beliefs that will serve as both compass and sail for the journey ahead?
As I have contemplated this, I have come to realize the importance of three traits that have defined and guided our College from its beginning. Today they are more important than ever:
1. We believe in women and the difference they can make.
We often speak of women and leadership in the future tense—as in someday there will be more women leaders. Truer words were never spoken, but women have always played important, if sometimes unnoticed, roles in communities that thrive. Solomon Juneau gets credit for starting Milwaukee, for instance, but it was Josette Juneau who organized support for its first school, established its first health care resources, recruited more churches and brought together the first “new-waukeeans” for social activities and mutual support. In education, health care, science and even the arts, women have always played leading roles.
Now business, government and other fields are also recognizing that talent trumps gender. Like many women’s colleges, Alverno excels at helping women develop their considerable talents and the abilities to use them in every profession. We’ve been doing this for more than a century, and it remains a bright beacon that constantly guides us. Our dedication to this purpose focuses the College and lifts our efforts every day.
2. Our students are the most important people in the world.
I first learned about Alverno when I studied its curricular innovations in my doctoral program at Seton Hall University. I marveled at how educators at Alverno found a way to help students acquire the wisdom of their disciplines while simultaneously mastering eight abilities to apply that knowledge effectively. Hundreds of higher educational institutions here and abroad today emulate the curricular approaches created here.
The invention and refinement of this curriculum is perhaps the best measure of how devoted our faculty and staff are to students and their development. On average, our students work three times more than the average American college student. They overcome these odds in large part because our faculty and staff are that good at helping them recognize their talents and commit to the hard work of developing them.
Our faculty and staff focus on our students’ enormous potential. The results show in our graduates’ accomplishments. Their careers in health care, education, business, science and other areas distinguish them in the community. When a group of 75 alums organized the Alverno Vanguard Society two years ago, we found their numbers included 70 advanced degrees, three Fulbright scholars, 14 CEOs and senior execs, several humanitarian, nurse, educator and civic volunteers of the year, and 13 college deans and department heads.
3. We are who we are because we are a Catholic higher education institution.
The tenets that guide all great U.S. Catholic educational institutions guide Alverno daily. We are called as a Catholic institution to offer the great opportunity of higher education to those who need it most, to engage our students with the community and help them understand how important it is to serve it well, to respect the beliefs of others, and to teach that belief is expressed in loving action.
But most of all, as a Catholic College we understand our students already are God’s daughters. That, after all, is their birthright. Our job is the absolutely essential work of helping them fulfill that gift by living it.
There will always be challenges. We must—as we teach our students—analyze these problems carefully before we respond. But our actions must be shaped more by our principles and values than by circumstance. These truths have gotten us this far. I am confident they will lead you, me and the entire Alverno community to new accomplishments and achievements in the years ahead.
Thank you for letting me share these values with you, and I truly look forward to putting these principles to work with you in the years ahead.
Mary J. Meehan, Ph.D.