My Favorite Chapel Talks
I was sitting in Chapel recently and listening to Dr. Timothy Lake present his case for a “black studies program,” and it got me thinking about past talks. In my time at Wabash, I have never missed a regular Thursday Chapel. No matter how much homework I have, no matter how busy I am with extracurriculars, I have always made the time to spend an hour of my Thursday morning listening to my fellow Wabash community members impart their wisdom for the rest of the campus.
There are surprisingly few Chapel Talks that are truly memorable. There are plenty like Dr. Lake’s — political pleas for a new department, or area of concentration, or what have you. A couple of years ago, Dr. Warner made his plea for a sociology / anthropology department. I’m sure there have been plenty of “gender studies” pleas too. These talks are usually boring, as they are not directed toward students — Dr. Lake amusingly spent the first half of his talk quoting and appealing to President White.
Some Chapel Talks are legendary. I wasn’t fortunate enough to be at Wabash yet for Dr. Kubiak’s famous 2006 talk in response to a feminist talk given by Dr. Joy Castro (an English professor who no longer works here), but the conservative student leadership at Wabash loved it so much that they created a DVD, and it was passed down to me when I became editor of The Phoenix. The current editor now owns it, and I imagine it will continue to be inherited by editors for years to come.
Speaking of The Phoenix, I remember Dr. Webb calling on students during a Chapel Talk my freshman year to “always be nice to people, but never be nice to ideas.” I can’t say for certain, but I imagine that talk had some influence on what ultimately became The Phoenix mission statement.
Dr. Humberto Barreto delivered an infamous talk two years ago, in which he declared that after two decades at Wabash, he could no longer work at a school which “discriminates against women.” He is now teaching at DePauw. Needless to say, this talk didn’t sit well with most students, but it was unforgettable nonetheless.
Dean Phillips also gave a Chapel Talk that is legendary — but for all the wrong reasons. It was the second talk of my freshman year, and the topics included the Apostle Paul and, of all things, email wars. It lasted over an hour, and it was so complex and bizarre that it was very nearly incomprehensible. Most of us walked out of the Chapel scratching our heads that day, and Dean Phillips hasn’t given a talk since.
I heard the late Dr. Placher speak at least once — it was either my freshman or sophomore year. He told some funny stories, but most of his speech focused on Wabash’s flaws. I was annoyed by it at the time (Wabash was perfect to me back then), but I have come to appreciate the message a little more with time. Dr. Rogers, apparently not given enough time by the Sphinx Club to prepare, read extensive excerpts from this Placher speech in his Chapel Talk this year.
The best Chapel Talks, in my opinion, tell Wabash stories. These are usually delivered by old Wabash veterans — Dr. Blix, Dr. Cook, Dean Bambrey, Dean Raters — though Sherry Ross delivered a very nice one this year that I would also throw into this category. There’s no shortage of anecdotes produced by this school, and I love to hear the stories of traditions and people past. Dr. Blix is the ultimate Wabash storyteller and tradition-keeper. My freshman year, he spoke in Chapel about the proper usage of the “freshman pot” — an old tradition that was very briefly revived for the freshman class of 2010. The next year, he gave a very similar talk — minus the pots — about his experiences at Wabash.
Chapel Talks are also a good venue for new faculty to introduce themselves to the student body. Dr. Hoerl recently delivered her debut talk, and it was well-received. Last year, two of the most explosive talks were delivered back-to-back by young faculty. Dr. Salisbury pulled no punches in her debut talk, attacking a Bachelor contributor who had written a derogatory article about her — drawing a standing ovation, but provoking the outrage of some students. Then, the very next week, Dr. Hollander gave a talk in which he advocated (responsible) underage drinking. The latter was well-received by students, but as you can imagine, it was not promoted on the Wabash website.
Dean Bambrey and Jim Amidon always deliver when it comes to telling sports stories. I never liked sports at all until I came to Wabash. But I’ve grown to love the grand narrative of each football, baseball, and basketball season in no small part because these men have so eloquently connected me to glories of Wabash athletics past. Mr. Amidon, I would also add, delivered a timely talk during some of Wabash’s darkest days, memorably entitled “The Wabash Swagger.”
Most students would agree that the best Chapel of every year is the Monon Bell Chapel. My first two years here, Chris Creighton was the head football coach. Those students who never experienced a Chapel Talk with Coach Creighton are severely missing out. Coach Creighton was Mr. Wabash — with his dark hair and huge chin, he even resembled the College mascot. His booming voice would completely fill the Chapel, and his talks more resembled a violent call to arms than a peaceful college pep rally. Coach Raeburn has done an admirable and impressive job filling Creighton’s shoes, but with his quiet demeanor and subtle humor, I am never quite filled with the urge to murder a Danny that Creighton would instill in me. Perhaps that’s a good thing though.
It’s really a shame that more Wallies don’t attend these talks. If nothing else, when I graduate, I’ll be able to say that I attended every one of them — the good, the bad, and the ugly.