Full coverage of the presidential inauguration (videos, photos and stories): goshen.edu/inauguration
In 1984, just months after she had graduated with a degree in chemistry from Goshen College, Becky Stoltzfus’ father Vic Stoltzfus was appointed as president of Goshen College. With encouraging words and remarkable insight, she wrote a heartfelt letter to her dad. Little did either of them know that nearly 35 years later, Becky would find herself in shoes similar to those of her father’s, as she assumed the presidency of her alma mater.
Here is the letter Becky wrote:
A letter to my dad before he becomes president…
I wanted to say a few words to you before you take the big step and become the pres.
I feel like a parent watching a child leave for college. I’m giving up an intimacy with you. We’ll still have our special father-daughter time I’m sure, but they’ll be fewer and farther between. You’re no longer going to belong just to me － you’ll belong to the faculty, the Board of Education and to the whole Mennonite Church.
I’m also afraid for you. I love you, even with all your foibles, but will others? I’m afraid of how bald you’re going to be up there on top. I don’t want people to dislike you, and presidents are highly unlikeable people.
And finally, nothing can make you not my dad, not even being the president. More important than the simple and eloquent spokesperson you will be, you are a man of choice words, who creates and forms his words to tickle the tongue and elate the ear. During your term as president you will have grandchildren. I don’t want my children to have the Goshen College president for their grandpa, I want them to have my dad.
And dad, after you retire, I want you to find a patch of land where you can have a garden, some fruit trees and an Allis Chalmers Tractor. And I’ll help you dig your potatoes.
In the spring of 2017, when Vic learned that Becky would be appointed as the college’s 18th president, he responded with a letter of his own. Here’s what Vic wrote to his daughter:
Thirty-four years ago this fall you wrote me one of the most thoughtful, tender, supportive, intimate letters that I have ever opened. I “accidentally” found it while I was looking for some old photos in files in my office. When I read it now, it brings me close to tears.
You had a remarkable ability at age 21 to see that becoming the president of Goshen College would mean exposure to critics. When I became president, I had quite a bit of dark hair. You anticipated my bald head!
Then you went on to express confidence in my ability to be a spokesperson for Goshen College. And you followed up with the clear declaration that the corner office would not mean that I would cease to be your father. You anticipated our seven grandchildren but did not envision two of them in the future student body of GC.
And finally, you knew of my close ties to the land. You wanted me to enjoy growing things and promised to help me dig potatoes. Perhaps I should plant some potatoes this very spring!
I treasure every word, every sentence of your letter. And now it is my turn.
Yes, your mother and I are tempted to hurt even before you begin your presidency for the ways that a public life attracts critics, some of them unfair (even unfair critics can sometimes be valuable and unintended helpers). We are aware that you inherit some financial strains. We know that the sheer amount of work is a challenge. Responding to multiple and competing constituencies is a strain on integrity. You won’t go bald but you may get very white. It is possible that some on your administrative team may disappoint. It is possible that the occasional faculty member or student will embarrass you.
You already have presidential manners. You recognize the gifts of others and genuinely appreciate what they have to offer. You don’t need constant affirmation. You have kudos already in the bank from an outstanding career. You have faculty, administrative, research and church credentials plus remarkable national and international experience. You respect research and know how to access best practices and learn from the best minds. You are at home with information technology.
Your husband, your two children, your parents and the larger Miller and Stoltzfus families will be cheering you on. Your Ithaca friends and colleagues will not forget you.
You have a strong board and one that will be looking to you for your ideas and leadership spark. You will start with strong faculty support and I believe that you will connect in a vital way with students and other important parts of the constituency (it is not a bad word; be glad you have one). Town-gown relations are at a high point. Our student body today is diverse religiously and that has its strengths. Alumni are loyal and generous and on every inhabited continent. SST is one of the best international programs in the country.
Don’t be uncomfortable with some public acclaim. It can be useful. I don’t worry about you finding all your headgear two sizes too small.
And yes, your retirement years (I pray that God will falsify the actuarial tables and allow all four of us to be retired contemporaneously). I’m not sure what simple joys or what setting will make you happy. But I want the happiness for you and Kevin on your patch of land – that you envisioned for me 34 years ago.
My 12 years in the corner office had more joy than pain, more fulfillment than disappointment. My values and the college values were mostly aligned which released my energy and motivation.
I have experienced 19 years after a college presidency. They have been so fulfilling. And so it will be with you, our beloved daughter. Yes, we will respect your time and your priorities but you will still be our daughter.
Love, Dad (for Dad and Mom)
*Selections of these letters have been edited for clarity and length.