Montpelier Winter 2000
In the recent holiday season, I once again had the pleasure of watching the classic 1946 movie, It's a Wonderful Life. I suspect that most of you have seen this seasonal favorite. You remember the story: Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a nice young man who tries but never succeeds in making it out of his quiet birthplace of Bedford Falls. While his friends go off to fame and fortune, George marries his high school sweetheart and stays home to run his family's building and loan association. Through no fault of his own, some funds of the building and loan are misplaced and it looks like George will lose the family business and even face fraud charges.
George feels that his life has been a waste. In despair, he stands on a bridge and contemplates suicide. Then an angel named Clarence shows George what life in Bedford Falls would have been like without him. George quickly learns that his life did make a difference. Without George, Bedford Falls would have been dramatically altered for the worse.
The movie prompted me to think about how the actions of one person can so significantly affect the lives of others. Clarence, the Angel, Second Class, summed it up best: "Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
If you are an alumna or alumnus, you know how deeply the thoughts and wisdom of that one very special professor at JMU affected your life. There is no question that historian Henry Brooks Adams was right when he said "a teacher affects eternity." The influence of a good teacher endures forever.
This influence on others is not confined to the faculty alone. Those of us in the university community also have our lives continuously altered in a positive manner through exposure to the bright young men and women who populate our campus. All of us grow stronger and wiser through contact with one another.
Private giving by our alumni and friends can also have a lasting effect on the university. Without endowed professorships and private support, a good number of our finest professors might move on to higher-paying jobs. And, our student body might look very different without private scholarship aid. We could lose many of our extraordinary young men and women -the brightest students, skilled artists, accomplished musicians, talented athletes.
With no private giving, our campus wouldn't look the same. The new Leeolou Alumni Center, now under construction, would never be. Showker Hall would lack much of the quality that has gone into the building. The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, a priceless treasure of nature for the area, would remain as unmanaged woodland.
There would still be a James Madison University without private funding - but it would be a far different JMU. Bedford Falls without George Bailey degenerated into the dark and sinister Pottersville. JMU certainly wouldn't change as dramatically but, without private support, it could become a quite unexceptional place.
State funding and student tuition will enable us to continue operating JMU. And, yes, with money only from the state and students, JMU would still be a very good institution of higher learning. Without the edge of excellence that private money brings, however, JMU's national recognitions could evaporate, the huge number of applications we receive could dwindle and keeping quality faculty members could become exceedingly difficult.
As important as private funding has been to JMU's past, it will become even more important in the future. I urge the alumni and friends of James Madison University to dedicate themselves to helping the university maintain and expand its standing as one of America's finest institutions of higher learning.
It will take a united effort. In a statement that reminds me of JMU's All Together One (TM) concept, George Bailey gave his neighbors -and us -some good advice: "We've got to stick together . ... We've got to have faith in each other."
Linwood H. Rose