PATRICK MCAULEY ’19 | STAFF WRITER • It is a Thursday morning and 9:45 a.m. classes just ended. The campus is bustling with activity: birds are chirping, squirrels are swarming, and students are itching for some donuts and coffee. The Rhynes are shouting: “Gooooooooooooo to chapel!” Students and faculty hear the phrase over and over as they walk with classmates and friends to the large building at the south edge of the Mall. As more and more people approach the steps, anxiety and excitement starts to build for what lies behind the tradition-ally-styled, white front doors. It’s time for a Chapel Talk at Wabash College.
Historically, chapel talks have been a significant part of Wabash. They bring certain people and their contemporary topics to a campus immersed in the liberal arts. Unique as it is, there is also a certain standard that the Wabash community holds, for these speeches are a pathway to new understandings that can break through normative thinking. Therefore, students and faculty alike believe that these talks need to be under a certain light when given at the podium.
Wabash men think critically, and chapel talks reach for that. Each chapel talk speaker brings an idea to the table that washes over the minds of the listeners and leads them to contemplate on the different approaches present within the talk. Just recently, this October, Jack Kellerman ‘18, gave a “State of the Campus” address to discuss the well-being of the college in years past, present, and what he believes to be the future. For Kellerman, a good chapel talk sticks to a specific genre that fits an occasion.
Genre creates specificity. In his interview with the Bachelor staff, Kellerman alluded to three specific aspects that create a good genre: a perspective on an issue, having a stake in the community with references to the culture and campus life, and pulling from examples that carry their weight and relate to the genre. All of these different parts are extremely important because they add to the depth of the topic at hand; in other words, they help create a speech that is entertaining. In addition to this, Kellerman’s approach, based in a genre, also had certain facets comparable to previous chapel talk speakers. “I prepared my chapel talk by reflecting to the chapel talks I’ve attended,” Kellerman said, “By watching President Hess, Lt. General Michelle Johnson, and Tyler Wade ‘12 talk again on youtube…” All of these past speakers aided Kellerman in developing something specific, but not limited to following previous speakers. In general, the topics can be controversial, historical, religious, scientific; basically, they can be anything as long as the audience can relate in some way.
Relatability is key in keeping the audience in tune. Wabash College is made up of an exclusive group of people: specifically, men within the ages of eighteen and twenty-one years of age that play sports, study piously in the classroom, and have definitive social lives. It’s a busy place, and the men here are serious about what they do and how to achieve their dreams. Furthermore, the environment, based off of a tradition created by men of years past and the phrase “Wabash Always Fights,” is always changing and gaining new students, professors, class courses, and so on. Basically, this place is special, and chapel speakers need to realize that when thinking about what to say. However, there is nothing wrong with pushing the limits of thought, thus giving the men of Wabash something to reflect on.
Reflection creates a learning experience. In general, the learning environment uses reading and reflection in many different types of ways, mainly in the classroom. For example, in Classics 213 with Holly Sypniewski, Visiting Associate Professor of Classics, the class focuses on death and the afterlife in ancient antiquity, students must look through tough texts, take notes, and come to class ready to discuss. This discussion period is one in which students can take what they have learned from their readings, develop opinions, and converse with other students to find a conclusion or a higher sense of understanding. Similar to this classroom phase, firstly, chapel talks require attention to come to a general knowledge of the topic at hand. Next, students leave the chapel developing opinions, and, as Nick Pollock ‘18 believes, eventually will discuss them with other students.
“I think a good chapel talk is one that results in discussion afterward,” Pollock said. “It opens the door for conversations that don’t usually come up in casual conversation.”
This past year, Matthew Wells, BKT Assistant Professor of Political Science, spoke on patriotism in America. He began by going to the students for advice, and they responded rather well. Many Wabash Men told him that they did not want a topic rooted in the school’s culture, which is very much different from how Kellerman established his ideas. Wells, therefore, ran with the advice.
Furthermore, he thinks there are four primary characteristics of a great chapel talk: personalization, humor, controversy, and leaving after-thoughts. By making it personal, speakers can affect students directly, perhaps even emotionally as they relate to their own life experiences. Humor facilitates audience interaction via laughter, which can heighten the mood of any speaker’s environment. Controversy provokes responses by challenging the norm and forcing students, whether they are liberal or conservative in their approach to economics, society, human rights, immigration, religion, etc., to face alternative ideas. Lastly, Wells holds firm belief that a good chapel talk creates something to think about after the fact, similar to how a good book leaves the reader dangling in thoughts and searching for new answers.
Each chapel talk, good or bad, will forever create a reaction, mainly from students, faculty, and community members. This, however, is what the speeches are there for: to bring people together from across campus to share in an experience, and indulge into some idea that is truly bigger than the individual human being. Alumni, students, faculty members, and guest speakers all take part in this tradition, and they always will. It’s unique to Wabash because this place is different: there are standards, values, and meaningful opportunities to progress the learning environment. Chapel talks challenge these ideas, rather directly, but always come to some sort of conclusion in the end. So, come out this Thursday at 11:15 am, grab some coffee and a donut(s), enter through those pearly white doors, and take part in the tradition.