A New Beginning: An Announcement from Templeton Dean Jonathan Yonan

Recently I met with the current students, staff, and faculty of the Templeton Honors College to announce that after ten years at Eastern—five as a professor and another five as the Dean of the Templeton Honors College—I will be concluding my time here in May 2017.  In July, I will begin a new chapter as headmaster of The St. David’s School, in Raleigh, NC. Below you can read a portion of the remarks I shared with the College last Thursday when I made this announcement.   

Good afternoon, my friends. Ten years ago this coming August, I sat with a perfect stranger reviewing a document he’d written. The person was Dr. Phillip Cary. The document was his syllabus for a course he had designed, the honors Western Civ. 1 (Ancient) course. What qualification did I have to teach Plato or Aristotle? Although I’ve always loved philosophy, I have next to no formal education in philosophy. In college I was a literature major, and so I’d read Dante and Sophocles before, but only (and forgive me for putting it this way), as a college student, in the distracted rush of a busy semester. Augustine I had read several times being a student of theology, but then again, I was speaking to an Augustine specialist, which made me feel sorry for the students who took my section of the course instead of Dr. Cary’s. In any case, I sat with Phil (who would become a dear friend) and was coached up on why he wrote the syllabus the way he did, why he’d selected the books he had, and what he was trying to accomplish with the papers he’d assigned.

Over the last ten years I have taught the honors sections of Justice, Western Civ. 1 (Ancient) and 3 (Modern), Introduction to Theology, and Capstone. I
also took on a course which would become my own, so to speak, for a few years, The Good Life (HON 101). In teaching these courses I’ve taught upwards of 50-60 major works of philosophy, theology, history, literature, and politics. I read Shakespeare’s
Richard III and Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter for the first time. I read Aristotle’s Ethics close to fourteen times (for the first few years I needed to read that one twice before I could enter the classroom). And that’s not all. Over the last ten years I’ve sat on the floor and stared in amazement at the ceiling in the planetarium: half amazed at God’s creation and half amazed at my own ignorance. I’ve discussed French colonial history with Dr. Kristen Childers, concepts of infinity with Dr. Walter Huddell, and the social construction of reality with Dr. Jeff Dill. I have learned so much from these books and from my colleagues. This is because questions are welcome here. I can ask a question, admit my own ignorance, and then learn from someone else.

During this time I’ve had 336 Templeton students. Yes, I counted. I counted them—you. In reviewing my students over the last week, I remembered one student who transferred back to his state university after just a year at Templeton, but he fell on hard times. We have kept in touch periodically since. There was another student, not a native English speaker, who accidentally swore in his interview not realizing that the S-word is off limits in formal, polite English. I watched a younger version of Evan Hewitt eat chipmunk and take swan dives off the rocks at Buttermilk Falls in the ADK (now officially prohibited behavior under my deanship). As a College we prayed for one student, whose family lived in Haiti and had been seriously affected during the 2010 earthquake. We prayed for another student who during college was recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And another student from Iraq whose family lives under frequent threat. There was the student who couldn’t afford to have his wisdom teeth out and needed some kindness from a nearby dentist. I think of students who have been homeless, hospitalized, or found their way into the dean’s office because they made a boneheaded decision. And of course there are all of the triumphant successes—marriages, graduate school acceptances, children, jobs, awards—far too many successes to enumerate! So many talented, precocious students who talked, and disagreed, and learned together. I think of my students and I am very grateful.

But why all this sentimentalism? I asked you all to attend this meeting so that I could announce that I’ll be concluding my time as dean of the Templeton Honors College this May. I wanted to share this face-to-face rather than by email. I want you to know that I love this College and believe in it right down to my core. I know of few other Colleges that strike the balance that we strike here. Serving here has been a joy, a blessing, and a wonderful chance to grow as a learner and a Christian.

Our family will be moving to North Carolina this June. When we told our four-year-old this news a week ago he first said, “will I ever see my friends again?” And we said, of course, just less frequently. Content with that answer, he then asked with much greater seriousness, “May I have chocolate ice cream tonight, not vanilla?” While I won’t pretend that our departure from this place and community will be so easy for me or Rachel—it won’t be—I do want to express our confidence in the people who are on the staff and faculty in this wonderful little college. These are fine people. Dr. Walter Huddell, Associate Professor of Mathematics, will be the Interim Dean until a new permanent Dean joins Templeton. Dr. Huddell has already been a tremendous resource for the College and I am confident that he will do a great job in his new role. 

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