Homecoming is a special time in the life of any College, and my second Homecoming at Warren Wilson College did not disappoint. I am always excited to see our alumni from many generations converge on the field for our huge picnic and even huger bonfire—and it’s a real joy to watch them interact with our current students and their families. The common ground these visitors find so quickly is a living reminder that even though the College has changed dramatically through the decades, it has remained true to its core values: the essential role of learning, the dignity of work, the value of service to the community, the importance of preserving the environment and the shared commitment to the common good.
It is one thing to recite these values and celebrate them in the abstract. It is altogether different to meet them in the flesh.
On Saturday morning of Homecoming Weekend, I had the honor of presenting our Distinguished Alumni Awards in the beautiful outdoor setting of Morris’ Community Pavilion. All the recipients are shining examples of the difference individuals can make and of the strong values our graduates take into the world. One story, however, seemed to encapsulate the Triad in ways I hadn’t expected or imagined. That story belongs to Brian Teixeira ’96.
Brian is currently a Special Agent with the FBI, specializing in defusing bombs and explosives. At Warren Wilson College he majored in chemistry and worked on the chemistry and locksmith crews—a more fitting work assignment for his future career would be difficult to imagine. But when I asked Brian what was the most important part of the Warren Wilson education for him, he replied that it was learning to work as a team with other students who were very different from him.
That essential skill—a true Triad outcome—served Brian well when he led a forensic team of Christians and Muslims in Bosnia. It informed his approach to testifying in an Afghan court, the first American to do so after the war there. It continues to guide him as a public servant and as a leader who has won military and civilian awards in the United States and overseas.
I confess I was surprised to find a Warren Wilson College graduate leading a team of soldiers in Afghanistan and working for the FBI in the Midwest. Realizing that, however, I have also learned that after more than a year at Warren Wilson, I continue to underestimate the value of a Triad education. Our graduates emerge with the will to make a difference in the work and the confidence to take risks and to trust their skills. Perhaps most important, as Brian reminded me, they know how to work with and lead others—and those are vital skills for any career and essential no matter the professional path they take.
I hope you will all make plans to join us at Homecoming 2014. Sharing these stories and learning about the impact our graduates continue to make in the world brings us closer together and enriches all members of our extended community. I hope that when you come, you’ll enjoy the field, the cookout, the competitions and all of our wonderful activities. And I hope you’ll join me at the Awards & Recognition Ceremony at the Annual Alumni Association Meeting to celebrate those among us who best embody the values of the Triad. The stories you’ll hear will amaze you.
Steven L. Solnick, Ph.D., is the seventh president in the 70-year history of Warren Wilson College. Solnick assumed the presidency in July 2012 after a decade abroad as Ford Foundation Representative in Moscow and then in New Delhi, providing programmatic and administrative leadership. During his years with the foundation, Solnick gave shape and direction to its work across areas such as human rights, higher education, arts and culture, media, livelihood promotion, sustainable agriculture and reproductive health.
Before joining the Ford Foundation, Solnick was associate professor of political science at Columbia University, where he also was coordinator for Russian Studies at the Harriman Institute. He previously was research associate at Harvard University’s Russian Research Center and Center for International Affairs. Since 2001 Solnick has been a full member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
A native of Jersey City, N.J., Solnick holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was Phi Beta Kappa, and a doctorate in political science from Harvard University. He also has a B.A. (First Class) in politics and economics from Oxford University, where he was a Marshall Scholar. He was a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Fulbright-Hays Fellow at Moscow State University.
Solnick lives in Asheville with his wife, Maeve O’Connor, and their children: Elinor, Naomi and Reuben.