Over my 23 years as a college administrator, I have had lamentable occasion to contemplate the deaths of students and young alumni. A college is entrusted with men and women whom it seeks to equip with the intellectual tools and habits of the heart to pursue lives of meaning and purpose. At news of a young life ended, I mourn for one untimely cut short, but I also find comfort that a life well-lived does not have to be measured by its length.
One of our young alumnae died in a car accident September 5th in North Carolina. Lindsay Budnick graduated in May 2011, two months before I took office in July. Yet she touched me. She wrote to me during my first month as president, and I kept the letter and quoted from it because it captured her passion to live for others and how Ursinus fanned that flame. She personified what Ursinus is about: enabling students to make a life worth living.
Lindsay graduated cum laude with honors in her major, Environmental Studies, and with a minor in Biology. In her letter, she wrote that her most treasured titles were Bonner Leader and Bonner Senior Intern. Ursinus is fortunate to be one of some 55 select campuses in the U.S. with Bonner Scholars and Bonner Leaders programs, with the goal of transforming the lives of students and changing the campus, community, and the world through service and leadership.
Lindsay wrote to me about how the Bonner program was the linchpin to her commitment to community service. It gave her the purpose she needed. During her time here at Ursinus, Lindsay made her mark on our campus by her extraordinary dedication to the campus groups that were dear to her: as a sister of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority; as President of Sororities for Inter-Greek Council; as a Campus Safety Associate; as president of the Residence Hall Association; as a biology tutor and tutor for America Reads; and as a rugby player. Her interest in environmental studies led her to an internship at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in San Francisco, and as a sophomore, she was the recipient of the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lindsay studied abroad in both Florence and Costa Rica, and she conducted independent research focusing on sharks, one of the great passions of her academic work.
As a Bonner Leader, Lindsay devoted countless hours working at Parkhouse Geriatric Center. The Bonner program provided resources and support to enable students, in Lindsay’s words, “to explore their interests, passions and values . . . This means that every person becomes a leader in something that motivates them, maximizing their community impact.” In Lindsay’s case, she created a partnership with Parkhouse that fostered the creation of an art program for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. How appropriate that the Berman Museum’s Access-Ability exhibition currently on view at the Berman Museum was made possible through the College’s continuing collaboration with Parkhouse.
Through the Bonner program, Lindsay traveled to Jamaica to work in poverty-stricken areas most people don’t see on vacation. She was forever changed by the experience. She was inspired to apply to Teach for America, which assigned her to a middle school in eastern North Carolina. In her year there she had obtained a grant to begin a drama program for her students. Her Ursinus experiences, she wrote in her letter, “made me realize that I have a duty to share my success with people who may not believe they can be successful.”
In the recent book College: What is Was, Is and Should Be, Columbia University Professor Andrew Delbanco writes that college should be an exploratory time for students to discover their passions and test ideas and values with the help of teachers and peers.
Similarly, Lindsay exhorted me with my own words, spoken when I was being introduced to the Ursinus community: “Colleges exist to foster opportunities for individuals to find themselves and to service the world. Ursinus is a place where ‘we can be truly ourselves.’”
Lindsay found her passion in the Bonner program. Other Ursinus students find theirs in research or in theater or in athletics or in student government. All are changed with the support of our small, residential community. In intertwining her life with the welfare of others, Lindsay lived a well-lived life. We can do no better than to heed her example.
It is not growing like a tree
In bulke, doth make man better bee;
Or, standing long an Oake, three hundred yeare,
To fall a logge, at last, dry, bald, and seare:
A Lillie of a Day
Is fairer farre, in May,
Although it fall, and die that night;
It was the Plant, and flower of light.
In small proportions, we just beauties see:
And in short measures, life may perfect bee.
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