As he went through the numbers about the Class of 2021 – among the most academically talented and most diverse in the history of Franklin & Marshall College’s 230 years – President Daniel R. Porterfield spoke to the College’s mission and people.
“What most excites me about F&M is not just the numbers,” Porterfield said at Common Hour, a community discussion open to the public and held every Thursday classes are in session. “It’s our mission and it’s the people who animate our mission. That’s what it’s all about.”
Porterfield, who became F&M’s president in 2011, is leading a strategic plan for the College, “Claiming Our Future.” It is further developing the nationally recognized institution by launching the Office of Student and Post-Graduate Development (OSPGD), expanding partnerships with college access networks, and formulating an acclaimed student talent strategy.
During his well-attended address in Mayser Gymnasium, Porterfield talked about how the College is lived and supported by real people “making differences in the lives of still other real people. That is what I love the most.”
Among the people the president mentioned is Art Clark, who thanked F&M for the education his father received with a recent contribution of $4 million to the College for finacial aid.
Porterfield outlined three aspects of the College’s mission that defines its human aspects.
“We cultivate the intellectual and personal growth of young adults from all walks of life,” Porterfield said. “That’s the core of what we’ve been about since the beginning.”
He talked about some of the College’s hallmarks: mentorship, student and faculty research, programs such as “Creativity, Innovation and Design,” creating something from nothing, and initiatives on humanistic intellectual work, led by Associate Professor of Philosophy Lee Franklin.
“We foster the preservation and enhancement of knowledge and the values of reason, creativity and discovery,” Porterfield said.
He described the F&M community, including the College Houses with their seminar rooms and open-mic nights, and last year’s Day of Dialogue, in which classes were rescheduled to have a day devoted to discussion and events for everyone to learn more about each other.
“We create and sustain community, one in which we can flourish individually and flourish collectively,” Porterfield said.
He reiterated the enduring value of liberal arts that is embodied in F&M, and dismissed criticism on the worth of higher education.
“Higher education has always been the answer to how we live in democracy, invest in our people, and build our society,” Porterfield said. “It takes a little bit of a leap of faith to believe it. We have to believe that it’s worth it.”
Porterfield brought some levity to his point and said, “When I say it’s a leap of faith, I mean that literally. I took a leap this summer with a group of F&M students standing behind me.”
He then showed the video clip of his 800-foot bungee jump, off one of the tallest bridges in South Africa with the F&M soccer team standing behind him, offering support and cheering his courage and faith.
Porterfield pointed to the changes that have occurred at F&M the last few years – the increase in the number of talented, but underserved students, OSPGD, this fall’s opening of Shadek Stadium and the proposed Winter Visual Arts Center – as evidence that F&M is as relevant today as ever.