Excerpts from a Chapel talk by Provost Stan Gaede, Westmont President-Elect, April 2.
Following David Winter as president of Westmont is a delight, a privilege, and an honor, but it is also scary, daunting, and worrisome. Fortunately, he has given me an example that will long sustain me. Here are 10 things I have learned and appreciated about him.
Number one is what he appreciates most: his wife and partner, Helene. There is deep love and admiration between them, but they also recognize their differences and make the most of them. His ability to be an effective president only grew through his years with Helene.
A second thing is that he is a genuine student. When he became an administrator he never stopped being an anthropologist, reading the culture, understanding its changes, and figuring out its implications.
While President Winter has an open door, he keeps a tight lid on the trash can. People comment on his accessibility. But when you have an open door, a lot of trash comes in: gossip, lies, accusations, and character assassination. Some leaders use rumors and gossip to get what they want. This leader gives rumor and gossip what it deserves: a quick toss and a flush.
Fourth, I have never seen anyone more adept and capable of explaining and defending the Christian liberal arts college than David K. Winter. He has a curious ability to be in the world, but not of it. There are two kinds of apologists: those who defend the faith by talking only with the faithful, and others, like Jesus, who spend time talking with the faithless. This president can explain the Christian liberal arts college because he engages those whose educational convictions lie elsewhere.
The fifth quality of our president is that he is slow to anger and quick to forgive. I have never seen him act in righteous indignation, born of pride or self-consumption. He really expects or assumes the best in others, and when they don’t live up to expectations, he is puzzled and surprised. It reminds me of the love the Apostle Paul describes in I Corinthians 13. Such love is inevitably painful because it trusts when trust is not warranted. It isn’t easy on the lover, but it is very good for those he loves.
Sixth, President Winter is no respecter of persons – he is kind to all. All people are made in the image of God and deserve nothing (because they are fallen), but deserve everything because they reflect the glory of their Redeemer. This president acts as if that is true.
Number seven has to do with humility. This man has no ego, unlike most of those in positions of power and authority. Leaders face the temptation to do what makes them look good as opposed to what is good. There is only one antidote to a large ego, and that is a large God. David has been a great president, not because he aspired to become great, but because he loves a great God, greatly.
His humility is genuine, but he doesn’t hide his light under a bushel, especially when it comes to Westmont. We have a good reputation in part because of what he does and says on our behalf. With confidence and humility, he makes the case for Westmont wherever he goes. He does this with actions, serving others, modeling what it means to be a servant of Christ in a world where Christ is desperately needed. He has been a light in a dark world, not by drawing attention to himself, but by reflecting the one who is the light of the world, even when the world doesn’t know it.
Which is why when he lost his sight a few years ago, he gained his vision. That’s number nine. I watched how he reacted. There was not one whimper about himself. He worried first what it would mean for Helene and for the college. Would he be able to perform his job adequately? Would we be hurt by his infirmity?
Not a chance, Mr. President — your loss was our gain. Your testimony to the community was a faithful witness for us all. How will the world know that we are different — that our joy and delight is in God alone? Only when we lose what the world values and count it all gain. When the world sees our president lose his eyesight and grow not only in vision but joy and delight and gratitude, then it knows who we are.
Which brings me to number 10. President Winter has only gotten better with time. He is a better president now than he has ever been — and a better man. Westmont is a better place than it has ever been. We are better people, and I am a much better person, because of his presence among us. I say, thanks be to God. Thanks be to God.
Student Tributes to David K. Winter
Joel Pierson ’01 composed an original choral setting of Psalm 46 which the Westmont Chamber Singers performed under the direction of Daniel Koh ’01.
Josh Clausen ’01, the student body president, read a proclamation honoring President Winter.
Sarah George ’01 composed an original song which she sang while playing the piano.
Tamara Wann ’01 created an original print of Kerrwood Hall.
“First I just wanted to extend a deep thanks for your support of the visual and performing arts as evidenced today in our chapel. It all began for me when Helene purchased one of my pieces, so I knew that it was a very personal support. I want to contribute this gift to you, the warmest Winters I have ever known. It’s a print I made of Kerrwood Hall, which has come to be a symbol of Westmont College. The process is just as important as the product, so I want to share that with you today. I used an acrylic board, took a needle and carved out the design. I inked the plate so the ink went into the lines, then I wiped the excess ink off, put a wet piece of paper on top of the plate and sent it through the press. The paper went into the lines and it printed wherever the line is carved out. This is really a model of our education at Westmont. It is a deeply etched component of our personhood and shouldn’t be a surface-level inking but really sink down into the lines.”
Jeremy Wold ’01 sculpted a hand.
“What I have for you today is a sculpture of a hand I have done in alabaster stone that is partially smooth and partially rough. This hand is your hand. I left it rough for two reasons. First of all, to get this college to where it is today, Dr. Winter has gone through a lot. The other reason is that I don’t think you are done growing. After you leave here, I’m sure your life is going to change and God will form you even more. I want you to touch this hand; that’s why I did it as a sculpture. On top I have a velvet bag and inside it are printed in a very, very small font the names of every single person who has graduated since you have been here. It’s your hand that has held up so many people and changed them and pushed them through college and helped them throughout their lives, whether they know it or not. You have had a great impact, enough to change my college experience. So on behalf of every person in that bag, I’d like to thank you.”
Tribute by Josh Higa ’03:
“We thank you Lord for Dr. Winter’s sincere humility and for the way he is a role model for me in a time when genuine true leaders are hard to find.”
Tribute by Jay Kenton ’02:
“Thank you for Dr. Winter and the little things he has done, like going by each freshman’s room on the first day of school and standing at his front door and welcoming each person to his home. Those little things have made a big difference.”