By Kylie Stamper
Staff reporter

The first thing most people notice when they take their first step on campus is the 77 steps leading up to four pillars at the top of the hill. Those four pillars represent four different meanings and traditions for the college. Hope, Courage, Knowledge, and Freedom live in those pillars and as of last school year, those pillars became themes.

These words came directly from a line in the school’s alma mater. “Heights of knowledge, hope and courage. Free from doubt and fear.”

Southwestern started with hope in the 2013-14 school year. Several events were planned around the theme of hope and distinguished speakers shared what hope meant to them. This year, the school has decided to follow courage.

The purpose of using these themes for each school year is to foster a sense of community on campus. Following the themes helps create an integrated experience for new and old students alike.

Sara Weinert, vice president for communications, said, “This project gives a global theme at Southwestern. It’s intended to be a suggestion that ties together the experience the students are having.”

“Once you do something that takes courage, the next time your courage is stronger and you can draw on the fact that it worked,” said Weinert.

The idea to explore each of the themes began about two or three years ago when the homecoming service project centered on hunger. Students helped pack food for families in need. Hunger ended up being the theme for several programs on campus and people stuck with the idea.

“People started thinking ‘wow that had a kind of coherence. It gave us a thing to focus on. We liked that,’” said Dick Merriman, president of Southwestern College.

He said, “We pulled a group of people together and said let’s think about whether we can come up with broad themes, sort of like an umbrella that you open up and you see what would naturally cohere beneath it. Sometimes you need integrating moments where instead of being specialized you need to come together. That was the reason we started talking about it.”

Each pillar will serve a purpose to Southwestern. Taylor Fogle, SGA president, said, “The purpose is that we don’t have just a ho-hum theme but we have a theme that the college can center around, which is the four pillars. Because of that there’s such a strong sense of worth that falls around those pillars. So moving through them, I think each one of them is a pretty powerful thing in its own sense.”

This year, several events will incorporate the theme of courage in their daily activities. Even homecoming will follow with the theme of “There’s no place like homecoming.” Most teams involved in homecoming will focus on the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz who is known for his diverse thoughts on courage. Some may even tie the Jinx into the theme.

Outside of homecoming, there will be several events to uphold the courage theme.

President Merriman said, “Philosophers would say [courage is] a virtue that allows you to act on other virtues, the ability to do a thing when you’re afraid or when there’s a consequence for it, it’s a hard thing to develop. It’s like a muscle you have to develop.” With this in mind, several distinguished speakers will make an appearance throughout the school year to elaborate on their perspective of courage.

After the 2016-17 school year, the four themes will be done and new themes will be discussed. President Merriman met with a group of people from all areas of the school to help decide on the pillars project. He said, “I think we’ll probably assemble that group again. It was a fairly diverse group. We had people from campus ministry, faculty, administrators, and leadership. We tried to pull in people who usually do one or two events in the course of a year whether it’s a concert or a lecture or whatever. We’ll probably get together in year four and figure out what’s next. “

Until then, Southwestern is going to further explore the significance of each of the four pillars in a way that most schools tend to ignore. By following the themes, the school is building a sense of community.

“The advantage [of the themes] is that you do think about the virtue in a different way because you’re coming at it in different directions. You’re coming at it maybe in your student activity, you’re coming at it in your classes, and you just have a better chance to really be deep about this. I think there are also opportunities for faculty members that would let them do something new. There’s always the opportunity for collaboration when it comes to something like this,” said Weinert.

The freshman of 2013 will have the opportunity to go through each of the pillars. At that point, the favorite theme will be chosen amongst students and faculty. While everybody will have a different personal favorite, President Merriman’s favorite is hope. He said, “That spoke to me last year. Because I think colleges like Southwestern are special and they run on the energy and optimism of the people. I like watching people work out the sense of, not crazy hope, but realistic hope that things can get better; we can help them live better lives.”

To put it in a way students can relate, Fogle explained what courage means to her. She said, “Being a senior and having to go out into the real world and finding a big girl job. I came in with one idea of what I wanted to do and that changed and now I have no idea of what I want to do. Just finding the path that I’m supposed to be on requires courage.”

Kylie Stamper is a sophomore majoring in communication. You can email her at kylie.stamper@sckans.edu.