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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015

June 29, 2009 - Community Letter

Dear Dartmouth Friends,

Susan and I have finished a period of several weeks marked by generous farewells and "last time" occasions. I have been engaged in the work of our spring academic calendar even as I prepare for a time of transition in the history of Dartmouth as well as a major change in our personal lives. Commencement and Class Reunions beautifully completed a very full year. As I suggested to the graduates two weeks ago it is a bittersweet time. It is also a time that we will always treasure. Susan and I would like to thank all of you who have made our time at Dartmouth so special.

We have now moved into our home overlooking Lake Sunapee and the mountains. I will have an office in one of the College buildings in downtown Hanover, where I will work on sorting some of my papers, participating in the Dartmouth oral history project, pulling together some of my addresses and papers for publication, and serving the College in any way that I can. I have taken on a few non-Dartmouth speaking and conference engagements, and I will also continue my work on behalf of veterans. I am excited by these prospects.

Even as we move on, I am also excited about the future of Dartmouth. President Jim Yong Kim was an inspired choice, and he has demonstrated that he will be an inspiring president. He already understands so well Dartmouth's mission, values, and legacy even as he seeks to expand our ambitions. We enthusiastically join in welcoming him and his family, Dr. Younsook Lim, Thomas, and Nicolas. How lucky we are to have this family in residence in Hanover. How lucky Dartmouth is to have this first family!

I do take satisfaction in all of the things that the College accomplished during my administration. I know full well that any accomplishments are due to the generosity of the many friends of the College, to the commitment and strength of the faculty, to the tremendous hard work of my colleagues in the administration, and to the incredible talents of our students. Anytime I needed to be reminded of the importance of our work, I simply joined students for lunch, went to hear their academic presentations, watched them compete in athletic contests representing their College so well, or joined in applauding their performances and exhibitions. They energize us all, and they affirm our purpose.

Surely there are things that I wish we could have completed. I say this knowing the good task we are engaged in is always unfinished. I told graduating seniors and some alumni/ae this spring that the task of administering Dartmouth is really quite simple and that there are two fundamental goals: First, to provide an educational experience for each class, for each generation of Dartmouth students, that is so special, that meets their needs so fully, that they graduate from Dartmouth convinced it surely could not be improved upon-and so no one better change it! And then even as they graduate we need to begin the work to make certain that we initiate whatever changes are required to meet the needs of the incoming class and to respond to the changing expectations of our world. Doing these two things well is what assures the finest educational experience and what makes for an enduring institution-and one that deserves to endure!

The downturn in the economy derailed a number of final projects and of course caused some difficult reductions in our budget. Dartmouth handled these well. Early on we worked with the Board on setting our goals, we sought significant community input into ways in which we might proceed, we made clear that financial aid and faculty positions would not be reduced, and we consulted on the details. We worked through it early and did all reductions at once, except for the Medical School. It was difficult. We had hoped to avoid layoffs but finally some were inevitable. This was the hardest part; we lost some very good people.

I visited with the 12 classes who returned for their reunions this year; I was pleased to see so many women and men whom Susan and I knew as students. And I was humbled by their fundraising accomplishments on behalf of the College despite the state of the economy. I am reminded that at times like this, Dartmouth graduates have always stepped up to make certain that the current generation of students continues to have the finest educational experience available anywhere. Thanks to all of you who have remembered and have personally affirmed your support of this wonderful story.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Susan joined me in doing something I wanted to accomplish before I stepped down. We asked several students to join us in a climb of Mt. Moosilauke to honor the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Dartmouth Outing Club. Although I thought I was in pretty good physical condition, I realized early on that I had taken on a more difficult assignment than anticipated. The students allowed me to set the pace-a steady one, but very slow!-and they were incredibly supportive and helpful. Anytime I would stumble a bit I felt a hand steady my arm.

Two of the students whom I had invited to be part of our small group were Marines who are now enrolled at Dartmouth. I reminded them that Marines don't leave Marines along the trail! They didn't-in fact they kept asking if they could carry my backpack. My pride overruled my instinct only for a time and then I happily handed it over. At the end of the trip, down at the Ravine Lodge, I said to the Dartmouth Marine who handed me back my pack, "Did you ever think when we first met, you recovering from serious wounds at Bethesda hospital, that we would climb a mountain together, and that you would carry my backpack along with your own?" He said, "No, sir, I didn't!"

Nor did I. But life takes some remarkable turns. I have now completed 40 years serving Dartmouth, the last eleven as president, and I am filled with gratitude for all of the members of this community, literally 'round the girdled earth, who have reached to steady me and who have carried my backpack. We have climbed quite a mountain together. Susan and I will not forget you.

So long,

Jim Wright

Last Updated: 7/24/18