By Gayle D. Beebe, Ph.D. President
A wise friend once said that leaders have a responsibility to honor the past, manage the present and map the future. So what does the future look like for Westmont?
Our mission is unique and plays an indispensable role in the world of higher education and the work of the kingdom of God. I love Mrs. Kerr’s vision: cultivate a deep love of God and a rigorous academic program to prepare students to go anywhere in the world and serve effectively. When I hear about our alumni and the incredible impact they make, I marvel that an institution can sustain itself, renew itself and call people to serve in a compelling way because generations of people have faithfully served its mission. We’re blessed to have such a legacy at Westmont.
We believe that God isn’t just preparing students to serve in every sphere of society, he’s equipping them to lead in every sphere. That’s a huge and holy calling. What will faithfulness mean as we go forward? As we confront society, we must provide great guidance and an able, faithful response. We need to help people answer basic questions that often get overlooked. What is the good life? Who is a good person? How do we become a good person? How valuable is it for society to be filled with people who are not only good but are pursuing goodness for the entire society?
Our intellectual response is critically important. One of my professors at Princeton Theological Seminary, Diogenes Allen, made a great impact on my life. He was a Rhodes Scholar and a brilliant philosopher who gave me an intellectual foundation that sustains me. Another Princeton professor, James Hastings Nichols, also shaped my thinking. He taught a class about 19th century opponents of Christianity that met twice a week for two hours. During the first session we discussed why people like Karl Marx, Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, August Comte and many others made compelling arguments. He wanted us to begin to understand the most ardent and threatening critics of Christianity. Later in the week, he explained how ultimately they missed the mark. Christians have a more compelling intellectual response if we work to understand society and communicate that understanding. This model of being comfortable with the prevailing ideas of society and capable of critiquing them from a Christian viewpoint lies at the heart of Westmont’s mission.
There’s absolutely nothing we should be afraid to address at Westmont, and we should go forward with a sense of confidence that whatever great challenges society might present, if all truth is God’s truth and if we’re faithful in learning and making a faithful response, God will guide us to the knowledge that can make an even more compelling answer and provide the guidance and wisdom our society needs.
As we look to the future, we’re committed to raising up intellectual leaders in every sphere of society. One of the great joys of being the president at Westmont is interacting with students. Seeing so much talent and raw ability is inspiring. It’s motivating — and sometimes it’s entertaining. A significant percentage of our graduates go on to graduate school, many to the most prestigious institutions: Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Stanford, London School of Economics and many more. It’s a testimony to their Westmont experience where professors mentor them and help them become individuals who not only command respect with their character but accomplish great things through their intellect.
Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn’t enough; we seek knowledge in order to serve the kingdom of God. Our professors not only teach students but shape their character. I see faculty members as both caretakers and critics of every student they educate. As caretakers they care deeply about students’ spirit, character and formation as a whole human person. As critics they shape students’ minds and help them develop the capability to go anywhere in the world and serve effectively.
I like to think of Westmont as a five-talent institution from which God expects a 10-talent result. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable about a master entrusting slaves with either five talents, two talents or one talent. The person receiving five talents produces 10, and the one given two turns it into four. But the slave with just one talent is so scared he buries the treasure in the ground and earns nothing with it. God gives us each a variety of gifts and opportunities; will we be faithful in how we use them? As we look forward, I want Westmont to be place where students learn to invest their God-given talents and yield a lifetime of returns.
As I complete my fourth year here at Westmont, I look back on what has been the hardest assignment of my life. I don’t say that with regret; the stakes are high. God wasn’t calling Pam and me to a life of ease but to make a difference at an institution that matters so much to the kingdom of God. It’s a blessing to be in leadership at Westmont during this significant and exciting time.