President's Letter – Winter/Spring 2018

Created: March 19, 2018  |  Last Updated: September 1, 2020  |  Category: ,   |  Tagged:

Dear W&J Alumni and Friends,

The three men on the cover of this issue are known by many for their achievements on the football gridiron. But do you recognize the woman standing alongside them? The occasion for this photo was the 2018 Rose Bowl, where the four honorees inducted into the Hall of Fame included the late Dr. Charles “Pruner” West, a W&J alumnus who was represented at the ceremony by his daughter, Linda West Nickens.

Charlie West quarterbacked the W&J team in the 1922 Rose Bowl game against the University of California Golden Bears. The game ended in a scoreless tie, and Dr. West made history as the first African-American quarterback to play in a major college bowl game. Though he was a two-sport athlete who qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in track and field, his daughter emphasized that he was most proud of his service to his community throughout a long career as a physician in Alexandria, Va.

Dr. West’s remarkable story, which captured the attention of the nation’s news media in January, is emblematic of the time-honored values of our College as a place where students not only excel in preparation for successful careers, but also learn to serve others as responsible citizens. This was the mission given to us by our founders in the closing days of the American Revolutionary War, for they understood that a new, self-governing nation required an educated citizenry capable of nurturing and sustaining the vision set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

On a related note, these pages also include highlights of the inaugural Washington & Jefferson College Symposium on Democracy. This event, which will be held every Presidents Day, is an opportunity for W&J to lead an annual exploration of issues critical to the success of democracy in the United States and abroad. This year’s symposium featured internationally known speakers and sessions addressing the effects of technology on elections, the political implications of a declining middle class, and the legacies of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among other topics.

We believe W&J’s heritage and founding mission give us a special responsibility to convene these timely conversations, and want to bring these and other important topics to our engagements with alumni. In the months since homecoming, which was attended by a record number of alumni, Kelly and I have been privileged to meet countless W&J grads and parents at gatherings across the country – from Massachusetts to Texas, and from California to Florida. We are inspired by the commitment to high achievement and selfless service that spans generations of loyal Presidents, and are especially thankful that so many continue to support their alma mater.

As we look ahead, we will seek the input of all of the College’s constituents – alumni, employees, students (and their families), prospective students, and others – to create a comprehensive strategic plan to set our course for the future. The W&J community has embarked on this planning process at a time when private liberal arts colleges face the challenges of heightened competition, a shrinking pool of traditional college-age students, shifting demographics, and changing societal expectations of higher education. This strategic plan will help us navigate through these times and ensure that W&J remains a superb college that will only grow stronger in the years to come.

With my gratitude,

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

Dr. Knapp considers community building one of the most important parts of running the College and actively seeks ways to encourage and interact with students, staff, and faculty. He has embraced the social media platform Twitter as a way to stay connected. Check out some of his recent tweets and follow Dr. Knapp at

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