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The First Word: Dr. Peter Browning

When Drury Magazine asked me to give the “first word” this issue on the theme of “new,” I laughed. Of all people, I’m one of the least aware of new trends. Computers baffle me. Facebook is a challenge, and I barely know how to project a PowerPoint presentation. But then I realized something. Having arrived at Drury in 1985, I’ve been blessed to see many new moments on our campus.

When I started my teaching and ministry, half of the buildings we enjoy today were not here. No Trustee Science Center, Hammons School of Architecture, Shewmaker Communication Center, Pool Art Center, College Park, or O’Reilly Family Event Center. The student body was around 1,000. The faculty could have its monthly meetings in FSC 204, and our “computer system” was a mainframe on the third floor of Burnham Hall. It was very much different from the “new” Drury of today.

However, the “new” I most remember wasn’t about physical things. It was about the mind. A change in the university’s priorities and goals led to the adoption of the “global perspectives” curriculum in 1995. The number of international students and faculty climbed. Classroom conversations became less insulated and more cross-cultural. The opportunities for international study skyrocketed, and the mission to contribute to global community became real with dramatic growth in community service.

Today, we express gratitude to President Todd Parnell and his wife, Betty. They have steered this ship ably through the rough waters of the economic downturn. We also prepare to welcome Dr. David Manuel and his wife, Betty Coe, to move us in new directions. The Manuels are arriving at a time of real energy and celebration. Indeed, recently we had a parade down Drury Lane for our three national championship teams (women’s and men’s swimming and diving and men’s basketball). However, the Manuels also join us to face real challenges requiring a creative response. Higher education is being asked to do more with less. The shift to online education is opening new doors but putting pressure on traditional “seated” classrooms. The demographics of potential college-age applications have moved downward, and the economic recovery is still uneasy.

At times, those challenges can make us feel anxious. But they shouldn’t. Our founders could tell us something about perseverance, courage and optimism in the face of challenges. They started Drury eight years after the end of the Civil War. They faced a fire that wiped out the first Stone Chapel and financial woes. But they also embraced the new with a spirit I revere. Drury’s first president, Nathan Morrison, gave a speech in 1875 supporting higher education for women. The first class of students included women as well as Native Americans. And, the college offered an education for excellent students of “slender purse.”

To embrace the new is to embody a virtue. When St. Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa Theologica in the 1200s, he drew from Aristotle to craft his Christian ethic. Aristotle affirmed four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Aquinas added three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. Those virtues were gifts from above – virtues grounded in grace. As we embrace the new, I pray for faith to trust in God and one another, hope to embrace the future more as opportunity than threat, and most of all charity or love. I am convinced our successful future is guaranteed more by the loving relationships we have with one another than by our brilliance. The more we are “the Drury family,” the more we will thrive. The future can be trusted, the new can be good and change can open up opportunities.

We hope you enjoy this issue of Drury Magazine.


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