From the President

Going Out to Create the Future

Former UW President Frank Pierrepoint GravesOne hundred years ago, when the world and the UW were on the brink of the 20th century, my counterpart here was President Frank Pierrepoint Graves, age 30. President Graves served the UW only until 1902, but his long and varied life lasted through more than half of the new century.

The UW President in 1899, Frank Pierrepoint Graves. Photo from UW Libraries Pacific Northwest Collection

Current UW President Richard L. McCormick

The UW President in 1999, Richard L. McCormick. Photo by Mary Levin
As I look over this issue's fascinating list of 20th-century UW alumni, I think of President Graves. How much of all this could he have foreseen in December 1899? He might have expected the UW to produce political leaders like Senators Magnuson and Jackson; civic leaders like Eddie Carlson, Mary Gates and Jim Ellis; war heroes (though not aviators) like “Pappy” Boyington; athletic champions like the 1936 Olympic-gold men's crew. He probably hoped for distinguished writers, artists and musicians, and this list would not disappoint him-though the works of Dale Chihuly and Chuck Close might not quite fit his turn-of-the-century categories. College presidents being what they are, he no doubt hoped also for a few college presidents, and our list includes four.

But consider all the things he could not have foreseen. No Nobel or Pulitzer prizes had yet been awarded in 1899—yet they are among the proudest claims of our alumni, with three Nobels and four Pulitzers on our list. The medical and scientific achievements of UW alumni involve, in several cases, fields that did not even exist in 1899. In fact, the UW medical school did not exist in 1899. Despite Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, I doubt that President Graves would have seen astronauts or the inventor of color television in the UW's future. I'm quite sure he would not have predicted the disposable diaper, that humbly revolutionary boon to late-20th-century families, which was also invented by a Husky.

What are the lessons here? First, that universities are always educating students for a world nobody can see clearly ahead of time. Second, that this is not a disadvantage but in fact the great appeal of our job. We provide solid tools and a broad view of the world, past and present. Our graduates go out and create the future.

From the President pull quoteThis is not to say that just any old education will do. The range and quality of alumni achievements listed in these pages—and many more that might have made the list—reflect the range and quality of UW faculty and programs over the years. And those faculty and programs represent a lot of informed gambles on where the world was likely to be going and how the UW could best prepare its students. President Graves may not have foreseen astronauts, but he and his faculty, like all the stewards of this University over the years, looked ahead and chose directions that ultimately served the UW well.

Now, in December 1999, we are trying once more to imagine a new century. As I told you in this space last issue, the UW is engaged in a year of vision-building. We don't have any crystal balls. The only thing we know for sure is that our graduates will do wonderfully surprising things and go in totally unexpected directions over the next hundred years, as they have in the last. But we want to give them the best possible springboard—the one with the greatest forward slant. And we want especially to send them off equipped to tackle the big human problems that go with us into the 21st century. Creating a shared institutional vision for the next 20 or 30 years will, we hope, help us to accomplish these goals.

I wish President Graves could see this issue of Columns. Even more, I wish I could see the Columns of December 2099. What will be the equivalent, then, of eliminating smallpox or writing the first PC operating software or rendering landmark judicial decisions in environmental protection-and all the other accomplishments of 20th-century UW alumni? Impossible to predict, but fascinating to contemplate.

Richard L. McCormick signature

Richard L. McCormick, President

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