Another academic year is under way, and the rhythms of the fall season on campus are already carrying us along. We work hard to get new students into the flow of the greater East Lansing community with Fall Welcome activities such as One Book One Community (everyone’s first reading assignment), our Community Welcome Teams for new campus residents and the Fill the Bus donation program.
Homecoming is already just a few weeks away and so we’re also looking forward to welcoming so many of you back to campus. Th e lay of the land might prove disorienting this year. Th e Shaw Lane power plant “MSC” smokestack had to be brought down this summer before it could tumble down on its own schedule, and across the street the Wells Hall addition has been steadily rising—destined to become a home for some of those who, in turn, will be displaced by the removal of Morrill Hall in 2013.
The smokestack letter bricks were preserved to be used again somewhere, but what to preserve and what to recycle is always a tricky part of stewardship at a venerable institution focused more on developing people and knowledge than on buildings. There’s no denying that the physical nature of such a place holds a powerful influence on memory, as if to give a permanent address to a cherished part of ourselves. Yet we know we can never step in the same river twice, not even the old Red Cedar.
And so it is for Michigan State with the ebb and flow of the seasons washing across the campus through generations of students, faculty and staff . I’ve been thinking about the meaning of “place” recently and how we’ve come to understand it since those first pioneers started shaping this now-familiar landscape.
Universities are remarkable places. In an uncertain world, it gives us comfort to hold onto our rich legacies and so we in academia like to project a stable institutional bearing with brick and ivy and so on. But change is about the only thing any of us can really count on, and we embrace it every year in the form of new faces, new knowledge and new horizons.
Our own land-grant legacy of empowering and inspiring Michigan’s sons and daughters started as a pretty local affair and now it lives on every continent on the globe. We’re a leader in study abroad, faculty research overseas and in our enrollment of international students. And now we occupy a firm perch in the dimension of cyberspace as well.
A strong sense of place is important to Michigan State. It helps us maintain ties to our alumni, certainly. It helps us attract the best students and faculty. We find more willing collaborators outside our immediate community. And all of these help grow a cluster of brilliance and creativity, expanding out from the campus like a vibrant neural network that through technology is now unconstrained by distance.
If landmarks help anchor each of us to this special place through the years, its spirit carries far afield through the people who walked our halls, discovered new knowledge in our classrooms and found community in these environs. Th is living place dwells in the hearts of the Spartan family wherever we find ourselves and the credit you earn in the differences you make wherever you are, rebound positively back to us. And when it does, you help make everything here a little taller, a little more memorable.
Lou Anna K. Simon, Ph.D.
President, Michigan State University