President Daniel W. Johnson's Inauguration Speech: Amazing Place – Amazing Grace

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Good afternoon. To my Wisconsin Lutheran College family – our faculty and staff, our students, Board of Regents and our Board Emeriti … thank you for being here today. To our friends throughout the community—including our governmental officials – and  representatives from other universities and colleges, your presence is so appreciated. To Mark Zarling, John Sebald, and to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod, welcome. And to my friends and family present today – thank you so much for celebrating this most precious gift that is Wisconsin Lutheran College on this special occasion.

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God." These words of Genesis 28 remind me that all this too is none other than the house of God and WLC is an amazing place because of God's amazing grace. For 36 years, this house of God has faithfully prepared servant leaders to go – to change this world one WLC graduate at a time. My own ministry journey has taken me to Nebraska, Florida, Wisconsin, Arizona – and now back to Wisconsin. Everywhere I have served the impact of WLC has been evident … graduates who so faithfully and powerfully serve their communities and churches.

When God presented this opportunity before me last summer—to serve as president of this college – I came across a copy of the 25th Anniversary booklet celebrating the early days of WLC. Our beginning was simple and humble. From our first classes at Wisconsin Lutheran High School to the eventual purchase of this property, one could sense the spirit of volunteerism that prevailed; a sense of community, a passion to create a campus environment where men and women could be prepared to serve Jesus while receiving academic preparation for their life's work. The spirit of WLC was and still remains couched within excellence. This excellence could be seen as academic programs were developed and the campus expanded. Look around today…God has blessed us in incredible ways. I would venture to say that those of you who were here from the very beginning…perhaps never in your wildest dreams could you envision that in a very short 36 years we would have all this. What an amazing place full of amazing grace.

During our history, Wisconsin Lutheran College has been wonderfully blessed with incredible leadership – from our initial part-time president, Pastor Robert Krause, to our first president Dr. Gary Greenfield, and to our former president, Dr. Timothy Kriewall. God also has provided us with dedicated and talented faculty, staff, and students. Generous donors and significant financial support from Christian foundations have created the college’s current status: 750 students, 25 majors, 10 major campus buildings; a total campus of more than 50 acres including the 30 acres of land for our sports complex.

Speaking of all that – that amazing timeline of growth and development – I'd like to pause and recognize the Marvin M. Schwan Foundation – a foundation honoring the life and the servant's heart of the late Marvin Schwan. Larry Burgdorf is representing the Schwan Foundation today. Larry, the Schwan Foundation and so many other faithful WLC donors, have embraced this dream (a vision articulated and shared first and foremost by Gary Greenfield) and your foundation and other major donors financially created this reality and you help to financially sustain this reality today. I thank God for you and our many supporters of this College – to God be all the praise.

Since I arrived on campus in early October, I have to say – I've been seriously impressed.  Stunned, sometimes, at the accomplishments of our faculty, and of the standard of excellence they and our administrative staff have established. And our students – our incredible students --- more than 60% of whom belong to one or more of our 28 recognized organizations and clubs on campus --- involved in service, athletics, spiritual growth, or student body leadership. In fact, if someone were to ask me … why is WLC such an amazing place … my best answers would be found in our people and their stories…

For example, many of our students engage in highly credible undergraduate research as a matter of course on this campus – from morally responsible stem-cell and genetic research, to bioengineering technology, to computational linguistics…I could go on and on…what a truly extraordinary opportunity for these students…in fact … tomorrow our students will be participating in our ninth annual undergraduate research symposium.

Our students serve this community, volunteering nearly 4500 hours each year, whether through blood drives, food drives, mentoring underprivileged children or helping at area mental health counseling centers. They serve the world by volunteering in places like Antigua and Grenada, and by leading service learning projects in Hungary. Our choir travels to Europe next month, serving with their voices and also fitting some ministry outreach into their trip.

More than 30% of our graduates are accepted into the graduate school of their choice, attending some of the most prestigious in the country.

And our alumni … and remember … WLC is only 36-years-old … they own their own successful businesses, they have become notable medical professionals – MDs, nurses, veterinarians, and dentists. Our graduates are university professors, attorneys, and elected officials. Our alumni continue to be our best proof that we are in fact producing what we claim – well educated and prepared Christian leaders for life. Thank you, faculty, for enabling so many of those facts to exist. You have modeled and encouraged this behavior, this servant leadership, and these accomplishments.  And you have consistently displayed excellence in your teaching and in all you do … These are just some of the examples of why I … sometimes in an overwhelmed voice … say "This is an amazing place."

Faith, vision, and boldness all have contributed to the college's successful growth. Above all those factors, though, God has showered countless miracles upon this young institution, all affecting the speed as well as the scope of our growth and development. Due to unprecedented economic conditions, today we find ourselves in financially challenging times – along with other colleges and universities. We have and will continue to embrace these challenges and opportunities – and we will lead boldly, confidently, and courageously while creating a sustainable financial model for generations to come.

The past few months of national economic turmoil and concern have affirmed in my mind this thought: now more than ever we need WLC graduates to be Christian leaders … to be moral, ethical, intellectual servant leaders … to be grounded academically and spiritually … graduates who use their lives and careers to impact our communities and the world all for Jesus – it's now more than ever! And I personally could not be more grateful, excited, and passionate to lead this institution forward during this most interesting time. God's gift to me is this gift of service to Him at this special place.

And as we lead WLC forward, our core mission of educating and preparing servant-leaders will never change. However, this single road that led to this mission will now have several lanes in order to assure long-term sustainability. As I stand before you today, we focus on several critical components as we move this institution forward…

First, we celebrate and thank God for our record number of new students this year and we align ourselves for future growth. Our goal is to enroll more than one thousand students on this campus. We will achieve this goal, God-willing, by being meshed with our community, by aggressively and passionately sharing the WLC experience with others, and by not limiting our reach, but expanding our possibilities.

As we invite and welcome students to our campus family from our own community, state, and country, we are also expanding our international student enrollment. In May I will be signing an agreement with Jiangxi (Jongshee) University in Nanchang, China. This will provide numerous educational opportunities for our students and faculty and will enhance the Mandarin language program already in place within our curriculum. This is a profound, mission-focused strategic action. 

We will also need to evaluate, modify, and adapt our curriculum as times change. I want to thank you – faculty – for your recent curricular work and action. Yesterday our Board of Regents approved six new majors: Environmental Science; Environmental Studies; Media Design; Sport and Exercise Science; Human Social Services, and China Studies … while not adding to our full-time faculty. We believe new students will be attracted to these new areas of study. There is no question that WLC is founded on and grounded in the liberal arts. We will always teach and model the invaluable attributes of a liberal arts education – critical thinking skills, creativity, problem solving capabilities, and clear communication of one's ideas. However, make no mistake, we also are becoming more comprehensive in scope as we increase our major offerings and advance programming in areas of study in which students have expressed interest and expect to find at an institution of higher learning.

Yesterday at our Board of Regents meeting, our board also unanimously approved the creation of the School of Adult and Graduate Studies to enhance our existing School of Arts and Sciences. In the months to come, we will be calling a Vice President of Adult and Graduate Studies to lead us in this endeavor. We will be offering graduate degrees in education as soon as January 2010 with other master’s degrees in additional disciplines soon to follow. We also will be offering degree completion programs for working adults possibly as soon as this upcoming academic year.

Clearly, a School of Adult and Graduate Studies was not part of the original WLC footprint. Understandably, we had a college to get off the ground. Our WLC history included transitioning from a 2-year college to a 4-year college. We now build upon our tradition of undergraduate excellence and enter the world of graduate education … on campus, off-campus, and online.

Our school of Adult and Graduate Studies will synergistically enhance our undergraduate experience. Can we begin a graduate program and avoid any erosion of the academic excellence achieved within our undergraduate program? We absolutely can and will! I could not be more excited about this development. This is our time!

As we expand our majors, focus on enrollment growth, and create a School of Adult and Graduate Studies, we do so under the core banner of Christian Leadership. WLC is setting the standard for servant-leadership…and we’ve just begun. Recognizing that our communities and country desperately needs Christian leaders, we are poised to launch our leadership initiatives forward weaving Christian leadership tenets throughout our undergraduate and graduate programs. Christian leadership can unite every field within a diverse curriculum and institution. We need Christian leaders among physicists and musicians and public school teachers just as much as we need them among business owners and elected officials.

We will carry out our initiatives clearly committed to our most valued partners. To mention a few -----

  • To you, Mark Zarling, the president of my alma mater, Martin Luther College, I treasure this opportunity to further our work together. As you prepare pastors, teachers, and staff ministers in our WELS churches and schools, WLC continues our work of preparing Christian laymen and laywomen who go to the world … who enter the workforce while holding the banner of Christ high … who support our called workers and churches. May God continue to bless our unique partnership.
  • To our partners in other colleges and universities here today and abroad, we embrace our collaborative efforts as together we serve college students within our communities. I personally look forward to getting to know you all better in the years to come.
  • To our community leaders, the representatives from local governments, – we have a fervent passion and commitment to this community like you do. Our students have and will continue to serve in unique ways.
  • For example, our Center for Urban Education thoroughly prepares teachers who excel in serving our inner city schools. Milwaukee is at the national epicenter of the choice/voucher program. We are uniquely poised as a college to impact urban education nationally.  Our faculty have been catalysts for this progress, and several of our graduates already are recognized “urban education” leaders in southeastern Wisconsin and beyond.
  • Also -- our Pathways to College program is dedicated to preparing inner city elementary students for college by offering weekly programs throughout our community and on our campus. This revolutionary program was started under the encouragement of our former president, Dr. Kriewall. Tim – thank you…what an awesome program. 
  • There are so many other examples --  students who volunteer at the Lighthouse Youth Center as they mentor middle/high school students in the inner city, interact with them, and help them with homework; other students who work at the Bruce Guadalupe Center helping Spanish speaking people as they improve their English speaking and reading skills.

I could go on and on … WLC loves this community, and we are fully dedicated to helping partner with you in your efforts to better serve the children, families, and neighborhoods for which you are responsible.

I begin my work here with a strong value placed on family. I thank you all for welcoming my wife Jana, and my children, Connor, Cassidy, and Caitlin so lovingly to the WLC family. Embracing WLC's core mission of servant-leadership has been easy for me – it resonates with me in a very personal way. I am the youngest of six Johnson children … my brother and four sisters are here today. I know they would fully concur that I grew up witnessing first-hand what true servant-leadership really is … by watching how my mother (who today is in heaven with Jesus) and my father, present today, so faithfully served. My father was a businessman who placed his service to God and his family above all. I am eternally grateful for this example.

To my son, Connor and my daughters, Cassidy, and Caitlin … you might be mistaken to think that today is about your dad…but please know it isn't. Today is simply about celebrating this God-given gift of the ministry and mission of Wisconsin Lutheran College. Most importantly today we hold high the gift of our Savior Jesus – the heart of the WLC family and the heart of our family. As I serve as President of this college, I do so with a keen sense of the responsibility, gratitude, and joy…but nothing can compare to the responsibility, gratitude, joy that I have as your father, and your husband, Jana. I honor God by honoring you – my family – as I begin my service as President.

And so we begin our journey together - this is a critical time for this institution. It is a watershed moment for our Wisconsin Lutheran College. We carry out our Christ-centered ministry focused on sustainability. We are mission-driven while being market aware. We carry out the aforementioned initiatives the WLC way – with excellence in all we do.

In my short time as President of this fine institution, I have come to realize that there are many Christian colleges throughout this country, but there are precious few colleges who are CHRISTian to the core. I have come to realize that there are many colleges striving to be the best colleges in the world. We are too. But, I do know that we are one of the best colleges for the world because of the Christ that we proclaim. Wisconsin Lutheran College will always be a college after God’s own heart – a place where we give a clear testament to the grace and peace that we only have in our victorious Lord. Our WLC students serve – fully utilizing their intellectual gifts sharpened by their academic program founded and grounded on the liberal arts.

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God." I humbly, yet confidently, embrace this opportunity. Our past has been nothing short of miraculous. Our today is both exciting, but admittedly challenging. Our future could not be brighter, but we need your prayers and financial support. Board emeriti, I thank you for your past leadership…we continue to value your input and expertise. Current Board of Regents, I treasure our partnership…we need you for the long haul. Friends of the College who so sacrificially give of your financial gifts that ensure our very existence, please know that today, more than ever, this young college praises and thanks God for your support and your belief in our mission of preparing servant-leaders for Jesus. Alumni – your time has come…thank you for your increased presence and impact on the future of your college.

And to our WLC students, this whole place was really built for you. Your professors share knowledge and embrace the gift of learning because they care for you – they love you because Jesus loves you. Our staff labors so faithfully on your behalf because they believe so passionately in the gift of service. We all serve you and invest in you because, while we stay here on this campus year after year, you go. You go with a servants-heart, being the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting and broken world using your intellectual gifts maximized right here at Wisconsin Lutheran College. We are so very proud of you and we thank you for calling WLC your college home.

And thank you all for being a part of this special celebration – a celebration of this gift known as Wisconsin Lutheran College. At WLC, there will always be rigorous academic pursuit, intellectual debate, scientific research, and philosophical discourse….but first and foremost, we are a house that exists to proclaim Christ; and whose family members serve as His ambassadors and Warriors.

How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God!

God bless you all. Thank you!