Building Community for the Future
By Andrew K. Benton
President, Pepperdine University
Opportunities to experience community have been a constant in my years at Pepperdine. For instance, Debby and I have been changed by our time teaching, living, and learning with Pepperdine students, both here and when studying abroad. Even now, if I could be transported to any place in the world, I would choose Piazza della Repubblica, located about two miles from Pepperdine’s Villa di Loreto and Residenzia Tagliaferri in Florence, Italy. You would find me sipping a cappuccino, discussing life with one of our students, while watching the people of Firenze go about their daily lives.
Tranquil as that may sound, it is actually the vitality of the scene that moves me the most. Parents strolling with their children, merchants engaged in commerce, parishioners headed to church, and a constant thrum of human beings interacting with one another, all while creating a sense of community. When we developed the Mullin Town Square in the center of the Malibu campus, we did so with a keen awareness of the human yearning for life in community with others.
Sadly, the American “town square” is vanishing in the rush for brighter, bigger, and more expedient. Something is lost, I think, in this digital age; we need to redouble our civic engagement, to celebrate personally the members of our community, and to, as Tocqueville once said, “imbibe their spirit.” Though ubiquitous electronic devices may help keep us connected, there is something about having a shared face-to-face conversation that no handheld device can match.
A strong sense of community facilitates deep learning, and our faculty is the very core of the learning enterprise. As much as I love students, Pepperdine would have no reason to exist without our faculty and their passion for the life of the mind and the sharing of knowledge. The transformative nature of what happens in our classrooms is nothing short of magical.
Outside the classroom we urge students to ennoble their academic and career attainments with lives of “purpose, service, and leadership.” Nothing less. We do so, drawing them close and demonstrating the value of life lived in community with others. We want them to observe that one bold voice can be powerful, but when joined with other voices the world will hear and be changed. We want to give our students voices for change and societal good. We want the lessons of mind and heart to be absorbed deeply, and to impact indelibly.
I have written before about the importance of successful athletics and the contribution those programs have in campus life, alumni engagement, and national reputation. In support of that aspiration, we envision a new athletic and events center as part of the Campaign for Pepperdine, a significant effort we will announce very soon. The facility will be impressive, I am sure, but the impact on our athletic teams and the overall experience of our students will be more impressive still; indeed, I expect this new facility, with its presence adjacent to the heart of residential life, will become a significant gathering place for the campus community.
We also hope to fund and construct a new residence hall for undergraduate students in their junior year. You may ask, “Why focus on juniors?” Think about it: the first year is always exciting; our second-year students will either study abroad or they will engage in our new Sophomore Experience; and then they return to campus as juniors, with little class identity and the prospect of graduation just one year away. It is a hard landing! We can do better for our juniors. Moreover, bringing their class together in community as they prepare for their final year will help them identify with one another, establish friendships for life, and enable them to finish strong. We want them to finish strong, with deep affection for alma mater.
As with my nostalgic reference to Florence, the “vitality of the scene” within our community is rich and robust. There are so many destinations and opportunities. But one thing is for sure: We want the best for those who are embraced within the Pepperdine family. Nothing less. That is how it should be in any vibrant, caring community.