As I was judging our college's senior speech competition yesterday, I was reminded of a comment one of my colleagues made about the redesign of the college website: "It makes us look like summer camp." He has a point: the website's text talks about academic rigor and intellectual growth and opportunities for in-depth study, but the photos emphasize sports, silliness, and fun in the sun, while the life of the mind is represented by a few photos of professors teaching and exterior shots of academic buildings.
Yesterday's senior speeches presented a similarly skewed picture. I listened to seven speeches given by the best and the brightest of our graduating seniors competing to give an address at commencement, all of them competent and some sparkling, but a listener unfamiliar with our campus might conclude that college life consists of four years of Spring Break occasionally punctuated by floods and service projects. One student spoke movingly about lessons learned outside the classroom and another spoke passionately about specific classes that had left a mark on him, but the rest made only the vaguest references to academics.
I enjoyed the speeches and I love our new website, and apparently students do too because enrollment keeps rising. But I just wish someone would figure out a way to put academics in the spotlight. I realize that it's difficult to catch learning on film, but we ought to at least make an effort.