A Presidential Retrospective: Clarence Wyatt Looks Back on his Decade at Monmouth College

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Earlier this month, outgoing Monmouth College president Clarence Wyatt attended the 50th reunion of his graduating class at Christian County High School in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Just a few months after he received his high school diploma in 1974, Wyatt began his studies at Centre College in Danville. He has been involved with higher education ever since.

Wyatt, who has been Monmouth’s 14th president since July 1, 2014, said he made a decision about his career plans midway through his time at Centre.

Wyatt said his relationship with Monmouth students helped keep him young

“It was late April of my sophomore year, and I was talking with a good friend on the steps of Old Centre, which is Centre’s main academic building, just as Wallace Hall is here,” said Wyatt, who entered college with plans to prepare for law school and become a lawyer. “I decided I liked being on a college campus.”

Wyatt would eventually serve as a special assistant to four Centre presidents in addition to his work as an award-winning history professor. He still enjoys being in front of a classroom, which he’s done as recently as this spring, when he spoke to one of political science instructor Robin Johnson’s classes about Vietnam.

Wyatt will step down from his presidential role at the end of this month, but he doesn’t plan on being finished with higher education.

“I’m not regarding it as the end of 45 years working in higher education,” said Wyatt, who will leave Monmouth for San Antonio, Texas, where his wife, Lobie Stone, has settled to take care of their daughter. “In the words of (West Wing president) Jed Bartlet, ‘What’s next?'”

‘Students, first and foremost’

As a college president, Wyatt has been guided by the three R’s – not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic but, rather, he said, “Recruiting more students and retaining more of them, which creates more revenue.”

Using some ‘rithmetic, those three R’s can be reduced to a common denominator of ‘S’ – students.

“I think we’ve served our students, first and foremost,” said Wyatt of his 10-year presidency. “It sounds cliche or pollyannaish, but you bring your focus on the kids – the ones who are here with you now, and the ones who are to come.”

Those students come to Monmouth from all walks of life and from around the globe, but Wyatt is especially proud of the role the College – and its “liberating arts” – plays as a “point of entry” institution.

Monmouth’s 14th president will work his final day at the College on June 28

“We are distinctive – and nearly unique – as a point of entry for students into this type of education who wouldn’t normally get this type of education,” he said.

Those students may fall into the classification of first-generation students or, to use a term Wyatt turned to often during his presidency, “long runway students” – students who need to be allowed a little more room and a little more grace before they find their wings and take off.

“Fundamentally, students are still the same from when I was a student,” he said. “They have extraordinary confidence and extraordinary insecurity. Ambition and trepidation. They want to figure out who they are.”

Each year, Wyatt is part of the group of speakers welcoming new students at Monmouth’s matriculation ceremony.

“Standing up on the platform of Wallace Hall on a hot August day, you look out and some of them seem so cocky, but you know they’re scared to death, wondering what will happen over the next four years,” he said.

But gradually, the cockiness and insecurity give way to maturity, as students find their voice – perhaps even literally – and draw closer to their vocation.

“Pick any activity on campus, and you see that growth happen,” said Wyatt. “It could be a first-year student in the back row of Chorale. Now they’re a senior, and they’re the one performing the solo at the concert. They’ve got a voice and a presence, and they could make it their career if they wanted to.”

And that growth continues beyond Monmouth.

“I go to a lot of alumni events, and I see former students from my time here who are now the rising star in whatever setting they’re in,” said Wyatt.

A presidential partnership

Throughout his presidency, Wyatt was supported by Stone. To her service at the College, Stone brought her diverse professional experiences as a senior vice president of Torco Oil Co., a stockbroker in Houston at Lehman Brothers, a vice president at Merrill Lynch, and an owner of a successful design practice.

She worked on several initiatives that enhanced the College’s bucolic campus, supported the students in the visual arts program, championed the empowerment of women, oversaw a top-to-bottom renovation and upgrade of historic Grier Hall, and spearheaded the development of Trubeck Amphitheater.

“Just as we have in every aspect of our lives, Lobie and I approached our time at Monmouth as a team,” said Wyatt. “She touched the campus in so many ways. Her engagement with women students in her ‘Lemonades with Lobie’ gatherings, her support of the arts, and her beautification of the campus – the Trubeck Amphitheater, the renovation of Grier Hall, and the tree plantings, among other things – will live on the campus and in the lives of our students for a long, long time. I am blessed to have her in my life.”

$80,138,129.78

In addition to serving students, Wyatt said another highlight of his presidency was “the satisfaction you get from making things happen. Coming into the position, I knew that on an intellectual basis, but to experience it was even better than I thought it would be.”

Perhaps none of the things that Wyatt helped make happen was as satisfying as the successful completion of the College’s Light This Candle Campaign. Originally intended to raise $75 million, Wyatt knew off the top of his head that it raised $80,138,129.78. He credited the College’s development team, headed by Vice President of Development and College Relations Hannah Maher, for the high efficiency of the campaign, calling it the best he’s seen “by far” of the eight major fundraising efforts in which he’s participated in his career.

The campaign’s success has set up Monmouth well not only in the present, but in the future. It helped grow the endowment to $142 million while also doubling the deferred gift registry to more than $40 million.

“We’ve doubled the endowment, and there’s no downside to a bigger endowment,” said Wyatt. “Having those resources separates us from other small colleges. We’ve got the ability to work through challenges in higher education, which a lot of places don’t have.”

His final goodbyes

As he prepares to leave Monmouth behind, Wyatt said he’ll miss Monmouth’s beautiful campus, so much so that he’s been taking extra time on his walks around the grounds to soak in the architecture of the buildings and relive the memories held within. And he said he’ll always feel “an emotional tug” at the sound of bagpipes.

Leaving Monmouth itself is also hard.

“I’ve met a lot of good people in the community, and there are a lot of good things starting to happen now,” he said. “Some things are really starting to click, and I’ll miss being a part of that.”

But most of all, Wyatt said he’ll also miss interacting with Monmouth students and seeing them in action at Fighting Scot athletic events, music performances and theatre productions.

“What I’ll miss the most is being around the students and that energy,” he said. “This kind of place truly is a fountain of youth. Godspeed to Monmouth College.”

***Courtesy of Barry McNamara, Monmouth College***

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