by John Lee Dudley ’95
The Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. was brimming with Hampden-Sydney College alumni and friends on the weekend of March 26 for the annual Society of Founders Dinner. Friday evening, Society members were treated to a party at the home of Warren Thompson ’81. On Saturday morning they had their choice of tours of the White House or the Capitol Building. However, the highlight for many was the dinner on Saturday night with keynote speaker Juan Williams of Fox News.
“That we had our largest gathering of Founders ever was most impressive,” said John C. Ellis, Jr. ’70, chairman of the Society of Founders. “I am excited that so many Founders attended this remarkable and inspirational event, and that participation in the Society of Founders is growing. Our little College on the Hill could not exist without them. However, at such a critical juncture in the financial life of Hampden-Sydney College, we must do more. Others need to experience the genuine passion our Founders have for their College by giving at the Founders level.”
Williams is an accomplished journalist with 10 years as a senior national correspondent and news analyst at National Public Radio and 23 years at The Washington Post, where he spent most of his time as a national correspondent and a political columnist. Mr. Williams is also an accomplished documentarian and author of six books.
“Juan Williams added a high level of discourse to an already wonderful collection of Hampden-Sydney College alumni and supporters,” said President Christopher B. Howard. “He understands the value of liberal arts education. As a graduate of Haverford, he knows first-hand that academic rigor and a developed sense of personal awareness enrich our lives. Having him appear before the Society of Founders goes to show how important that group is to the future of the College.”
During his speech, Williams discussed the changing face of America, the need for real leadership, and the role of Hampden-Sydney College in the 21st Century.
Williams spoke about a trip to Minnesota to report on the current state of youth in America. After meeting with student groups, he still felt he was not getting the whole story, so he met with a guidance counselor. “She said, ’You asked me to meet the very best students here. What did you notice? You asked to meet with the student leaders here, the people who are running student organizations, the people who are getting the internships in corporations around Minneapolis-St. Paul, the ones who are involved in volunteerism. What did you notice? You wanted to meet with the very best athletes, the ones who are getting scholarships to Division I schools. What did you notice? What you should have noticed when you met with the very best students was that seven out of ten of them were women. And when you met with student leaders eight out of ten were women. And when you met with the top athletes—after Title IX—how could you not notice that five out of ten were women?’"
“Well, I’ve got to tell you guys—I hadn’t noticed. The idea of women occupying positions of power and influence at the very top of society is a radical change that is taking place in America right now.”
As young women are entering more and more leadership positions and filling the top ranks of academic classes, young men continue to struggle. Williams says young men are dropping out of school and falling behind in class at alarming rates. The failure of young men, he says, affects everyone. “If you’re thinking about things like who will marry your daughter or who will keep up with these girls who are such high achievers, the fact is the boys are falling behind. And in terms of hoping somehow to groom them to become leaders, the need for Hampden-Sydney is greater than ever.”
Williams adds that Hampden-Sydney, as a place for young men to develop a value system and intellectual rigor, is crucial for the success of our country. He says Hampden-Sydney College addresses “the need for an institution that would emphasize the importance of family, the importance of identifying with achievement and tradition, and the importance of understanding that we go into this new century with these new demographics—they go way beyond the old white-black conversation that dominated for so long.”
Our America is a changing America. Not only are young women sharing leadership roles once dominated by young men, but also the number of “new” Americans is rapidly growing. Williams says the highest birthrates in the country are among immigrants and the children of immigrants. In addition, people are living longer, much longer, than they did in previous generations.
To better understand the effects of our aging population, Williams went to a senior citizens center in Central Florida. He was surprised to learn how active older Americans are. He found them playing rock-n-roll music together, booking trips with travel agents, investing money, and continuing their educations. Colleges and universities are flocking to retirement communities, trying to attract new students. Williams says retirees love the collegiate atmosphere because of the availability of concerts, lectures, classes, and sporting events. He quipped, “One guy said to me, ‘The seniors are our very best students; they actually read the books’.”
The graying of a community, however, is not perfect. Publicly, community leaders say they love having senior citizens in their area, says Williams, but privately they admit there are problems. “When we talked to mayors, they said, ‘When we want to build light rail, the seniors say no. They don’t want anybody else coming to Florida. They wish the door would close right behind them.’ When you talk to people in the education community, they say, ‘You know, one of the difficulties we are having is that the seniors are overwhelmingly white and they don’t relate to the kids in these schools, because the kids in these schools are a part of what they call ‘the browning of Central Florida’—lots of immigrants and minorities attracted to the area by its economic vitality. This is not the America they grew up in.”
So, what does Williams make of our modern America? He says we have shifted from a race-based gap to something more complex: “It would be easy to tell this story in terms of black and white, brown and white, but in fact, what’s going on is generational tensions, tensions that are much larger than race. They put competing priorities and competing needs in conflict inside the American family.”
He continued: “Hampden-Sydney—in terms of equal rights, in terms of justice, in terms of leading America through this transformative period—now has a central role to play, in terms of providing leaders who stand above the distrust, above the anger, and provide for us a clear vision of what it means to be an American, to care deeply, to be a patriot, to be dedicated to a larger cause than ourselves, to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. That is what Hampden-Sydney has stood for through time—and there have been rough times. What strikes me is that this is a new day and you are having to reinvent this institution—not to lose any of its traditions—but reinvent it to fit the challenges of the 21st century. You cannot be content to simply stand by and say that our men coming from Hampden-Sydney really would have fit better back in the 1950s and that’s our model for a Hampden-Sydney Man.
No, you have to create men today who can handle America and the globe in this new century. You can’t just sit back in the evening and watch people like me argue on the TV. You’ve got to get your hands into the muck and mire of American policy. And much like an artist, you’ve got to create a vestige of young leaders who can hold amidst the pressure and tension that comes with being leaders in American society. That’s your challenge. You’ve got to change this institution to accommodate the reality of tremendous change in American society.”
Juan Williams charged the Society of Founders to recommit themselves to Hampden-Sydney College, to investing financially, intellectually, and emotionally in the young men of The Hill. “It is so important that you stay in this fight, that you not become alienated or become turned off and say, ‘We’re on the wrong track’ or ‘This is not the Hampden-Sydney I went to. Why are things different?’ but that you have a sense that this is the very best at Hampden-Sydney. The transformation of Hampden-Sydney once again puts it at the pinnacle of grooming America’s very best leadership for a new generation. I hope that all of you remain dedicated to that cause. Do not join the pessimism. Do not turn to cynicism. Do not turn to anger and pointing fingers at minorities or immigrants or women. Have a clear sense that you are involved in a revolution of the 21st century, and that Hampden-Sydney is in the fight.”