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Presidential Perspectives: Developing Leaders of Exceptional Competence and Character

Created: January 13, 2020
Last Updated: September 1, 2020

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What are the qualities that set W&J graduates apart in today’s competitive market for talent? This question was at the center of our recent strategic planning process, for we knew that decisions about our future must begin with a clear understanding about what the College does best.

Our highly personalized approach to education ensures that each of our undergraduates benefits from a unique experience designed to meet individual needs. Yet all share a four-year journey designed to develop maturity, sound values, and leadership potential.

Because of this longstanding commitment to the holistic development of students, Washington & Jefferson College is known around the world for producing respected leaders in every field of endeavor. Our graduates are sought by leading employers and graduate schools for their professional readiness, leadership ability, and uncommon integrity. This combination also ensures that they are often the first among their peers to be promoted.

Developing exceptional leaders has been W&J’s mission from the earliest days. As the American Revolution drew to a close, our founders foresaw the need for an educated citizenry to help lead a newly independent nation. The charters of the two predecessor schools spoke of a mission to “promote the public good” and to ensure the “good government of states, and the peace and welfare of society.”

Consider how this larger sense of purpose contrasts with the rhetoric of today’s politicians and media pundits that tends to reduce a college degree to a ticket to a trade – a private good measured solely in terms of its benefit to the individual graduate. W&J’s founders had no doubt that their students would be well prepared for professional success, but they insisted that they also commit themselves to serving the good of others. This vision was reiterated after the Civil War when Jonathan Edwards, president of the merged colleges, declared that W&J’s highest aim was “to secure and to hold forth the true principles of national liberty, stability and progress.” It would do so by equipping graduates to lead and serve.

Our new strategic plan carries this mission forward with a commitment to ensure every student gains the leadership skills, knowledge, and values necessary to tackle complex problems, build consensus, resolve conflict, and effect positive change for the common good. We believe it is our responsibility to prepare leaders to meet ethical challenges in every sector of 21st century society.

A new Center for Leadership and Ethics is now being designed, and with it the curricular and co-curricular resources to even more intentionally form W&J students as leaders of exceptional competence and character. We welcome your ideas and look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress with this exciting new initiative.

With my gratitude,

John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President and Professor