Chris White epitomizes leadership

Published 12:05 pm Sunday, September 20, 2009

I was reminded Thursday how lucky Chowan University, Murfreesboro and, indeed, this entire area are to have Chowan President Dr. Chris White.

Many who are reading this know that far better than I. They were here to see where Chowan was when Dr. White accepted the position he now holds, and therefore have a “live” picture of how far he has brought it.

At a pep rally Thursday – held in Turner Auditorium rather than in Squirrel Park because of inclement weather – Dr. White recognized the achievement of a longstanding goal, a goal that predated him, the goal of achieving student enrollment of 1,000.

The university’s current enrollment , Dr. White told those at the pep rally, is 1,080.

Dr. White recounted the history of Chowan, established in 1848, but closed during World War II.

“By any imagination,” he said, “that should have been the end of the institution… But it reopened, under the grace of God, but also due to a group of people here, businesspeople in this community that worked and would not let this school die. It reopened in 1949 as a junior college, co-ed, and in those years, helped thousands of underprepared students become successful in this world…”

He went on to remember that, about 1990, “a courageous decision was made to return this school to four year status.” During those transition years, he told those gathered Thursday, enrollment sagged, but “there was a mantra, and that mantra was, ‘A thousand students is our goal.’”

But Dr. White is not content to rest – or to let the university rest – on having achieved that goal.

“Now that we, as an institution, have achieved a goal of longstanding, it’s time to start thinking about a new goal. We need new dreams and higher mountains to climb.”

And then he set the stage for the choosing of those new dreams.

“When you think of the future of Chowan University,” he asked those in the auditorium, “what do you see? What is it you see five years from now, 10, 15, maybe further up the road.”

And then he told that gathering of students, faculty, staff and townspeople what he sees:

“If I look out there,” he continued, “even though it’s hazy, I see enrollment continue to climb, perhaps more slowly than in recent years; I see new programs in the offing; I see graduate school, perhaps even as early as next fall; I see continuing campus relations; I see improvement in academic quality and nationwide recognition of this school; I see new campus facilities, one of my dreams is for a chapel; I see funding for new and improved, larger scholarships for students; I can see the CIAA recognizing Chowan as a powerhouse; I can see Chowan living out its mission as a Christian school, where values are important and every individual is seen as a child of God with importance.

“These are some of the things I see,” Dr. White said. “Like Paul, I see through a glass darkly, but I want you to see, too, and, together, we will develop a new dream, a new mantra.”

Dr. White epitomizes the qualities of a leader – and leaders, true leaders, are few and far between.

What he did Thursday in Turner Auditorium was celebrate the achievement of a goal. But then, more importantly, without in any way lessening the importance of that goal and of its achievement, he set the stage for the birth of a new goal, a new dream. Moreover, he didn’t dictate that dream. He simply set the stage for its birth.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.