Rooted in good soil

This presidential column originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2022 issue of The Bulletin.

By REBECCA J. STOLTZFUS ’83President of Goshen College

Last year a new ranking system of colleges and universities was rolled out to identify schools, regardless of their size, that are using their resources as effectively as possible to help students and faculty achieve their full potential.

Goshen College was ranked #8 in the nation for producing outstandingly achieving alumni for our size and resources. In other rankings, GC was #5 amongst baccalaureate colleges in the Midwest by the U.S. News and World Report, and #1 in the state of Indiana by Washington Monthly.

What makes our community so unusually fruitful? I believe it is because we are rooted in good soil. True to our Indiana home, we are like a prairie. And quite literally, our main campus is home to more than 10 acres of prairie, while our Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center is home to an additional 94 acres of prairie.

One of the surprising characteristics of prairies are their root systems. There is more prairie underground than above ground! And that is very good. The massive dense root systems of prairies slow the runoff of water after heavy rains, reduce soil erosion, prevent or lessen the severity of flooding, and rebuild the structure of damaged soil.

And as we humans continue to burn fossil fuels at record rates, our prairies are quietly and steadily absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and restoring it to the earth. Our prairies are taking care of us, as we take care of them.

Goshen College is also deeply rooted. We are first and foremost rooted in the way of Jesus. We are connected to the Mennonite Church, a lively part of the 500-year-old movement called Anabaptism that aims to put Jesus’ life and teachings at the center of faith and life.

And we are also deeply rooted in community — not just as a historical idea, but as a living practice. Prairies are made of many different plants with different colors and textures. None of those plants can be a prairie by itself. Prairies are communities. Our diversity is essential to our community and also our academic excellence. Teaching and learning about diversity and through our diversity connects our academic excellence, real world experience inside and outside the classroom, and active love for God and neighbor.

All of those roots, that massive underground goodness, expresses itself in the world. The hidden roots produce the visible prairie — our core values and all of your achievements as alumni that are recognized in our rankings. You can read the stories of five of those remarkable alumni who we honored this year during Homecoming Weekend with our annual awards in this issue.

Prairies are resilient. Goshen College is strong and designed to last, because we are an ecosystem that keeps enriching our soil. Our alumni care about our students as demonstrated by so many alumni giving back to GC, which topped $8 million last year. This issue celebrates all of those amazing and generous donors.

Thank you for being part of this GC prairie — here in Goshen and in communities around the world! The soil is good. As I write this, our new students are putting down their roots, preparing to grow and flourish. I can’t wait to see how their fruitfulness reveals itself in this community and in the world.