A Letter to Oles from President David R. Anderson ’74
We are embarked on a particularly consequential year at the college. Consequential because we’ve enrolled the largest first-year class in our college’s history. Consequential because we have completed one of the largest capital projects in our history: the Ole Avenue Project, which houses 440 students in a residence hall and 14 townhouses on St. Olaf Avenue. And consequential because after 17 years, the college will have a new president beginning next summer. These are meaningful institutional changes.
What’s more, members of our community are experiencing life changes at the same time.
Think of all the members of the Class of 2026, most of whom are living away from home for the first time in an unfamiliar environment and without the company of the family and friends they are accustomed to having around them. Think of our new faculty, entering new classrooms to engage with new students. Or think of a new member of our staff stepping into a new role at a new place with new colleagues. It’s not just the new members of our community who are facing changes. Think of a faculty colleague who is stepping into the role of Department Chair for the first time, or a member of the staff who is transitioning from one role at the college to a new role in a different area. Think of community members blessed with a new family member or those mourning the loss of someone dear. Think of those of us preparing for retirement after years of service to the college. Again, big changes.
In a time of big changes, I find a familiar verse from Ecclesiastes comforting: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Our lives are made up of a mixture of experiences, some happy, some sad, some welcome, some unwelcome, some within our control, some beyond our control. This verse reassures us that there is a time for all of those experiences.
Change can cause anxiety, and big changes spawn big anxiety. But when you think of change not as a deviation from the plan, not as an unsought and unwelcome intervention in your life but rather a part of the rhythm of human existence, that anxiety begins to fade. I appreciate the way the writer in Ecclesiastes uses the concept of time. He doesn’t just say that in our lives there’s weeping and laughing, or loving and hating, or mourning and dancing. Rather, there’s a time for each of them to occur. This idea that there’s an appropriate moment for mourning, just as there’s an appropriate moment for dancing, argues for overall coherence in our daily lives. We may not ever actively want to mourn, but in our lives we will, inevitably, experience loss. It’s then the time to mourn. And when we next experience happiness, it’s then time to dance. Neither of these is an isolated blow or an isolated gift: they are part of a larger pattern that we call life.
What does all this have to do with a bunch of Oles who are in the midst of a consequential academic year full of big changes? It tells us that it’s going to be okay. There will be seasons in the lives of our new first-year students, in the lives of our new faculty and staff colleagues, in the lives of our long-serving community members, and in the lives of our alumni around the world. Not every day will be a good day. Not every change will be a welcome one. Not every theoretically impeccable plan we make will work out. We will experience loss, pain, disappointment. But there will be many good days. And there will be many changes for the better. Many of our plans, hopes, and aspirations will come to fruition. As we make our way through this year, let us heed the good words of the writer of Ecclesiastes and take comfort in the fact that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
David R. Anderson ’74
St. Olaf College