Today, I am sure, will be an occasion for lots of celebrations with graduates and families, whether you are planning on enjoying Maine lobster or Texas barbeque. Enjoy the moment: I suspect that some of you are rather weary of taking exams and writing essays. But before you get away I can’t resist offering you one last quiz. And since you are all graduates of a Christian liberal arts institution, this quiz will cover a wide breadth of academic topics and disciplines.
1: How many of you are interested in biblical archaeology and textual criticism? If so, do you know the name of the Gordon faculty member who is currently studying letters from Old Testament scholars during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially as they explore issues of biblical historicity and inspiration?
2: How many of you are interested in biological science? If so, do you know the name of the Gordon faculty member who has authored a book on Darwin, published by Johns Hopkins University Press?
3: How many of you are interested in philosophy? Then, do you know the name of the Gordon faculty member who recently received a prestigious research grant from the American Philosophical Association?
4: How many of you are interested in linguistics and the study of language? Then, do you know the professor who has written an acclaimed book on William Dwight Whitney, pioneer among American and European linguists during the Victorian era?
5: How many of you like jazz? Then, do you know the name of the Gordon faculty member who has done extensive research on the relationship between jazz and American political thought in the mid-twentieth century?
By now, of course, you have probably figured out that the answer to all of my questions is the same teacher, one who has enjoyed many fine conversations with his lobster-loving students and colleagues in New England as well as his friend and family in Texas. In addition to his intellectual curiosity, he is also greatly appreciated around campus for his conscientious teaching, his thoughtful mentoring of young scholars, and his unpretentious collegiality. When asked, he is always willing to step into the leadership role that is needed, whether that means serving as moderator of the Social Sciences Division, as the chair of the History Department, or as the developer of new courses for Education majors. In my own work with him, I have been grateful for his ability to balance a rigorous mind with a charitable spirit, the capacity to ask the important questions in curriculum meetings or understand when he needs to set aside some of his own priorities to assist others.
Here’s one example. Since he is on research leave this semester, I had to develop a scheme to be sure that he would attend today’s ceremony. I knew that if I implied that we were giving him an award he might shy away from the attention, so I told him that I need him here for a special occasion honoring another colleague. That worked. And that makes it all the more fun now to surprise him by announcing that the recipient of this year’s Distinguished Junior Faculty Award is associate professor of history Dr. Steve Alter.