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Ambrosian Excellence

This is the third issue of Scene in which we continue to "unpack" our university's vision statement to explore the meaning and significance of each of its elements, so that we may understand this vision more wholly, and thus use it more purposefully to guide us in planning for the future.

December 2011 | by Ted Stephens III ’01, ’04

St. Ambrose University, like every college in the country, talks a lot about the importance of "academic excellence." You might have seen that phrase on billboards around the Quad Cities, in Peoria and in Dubuque. You may have heard it on the radio. It's in our viewbooks and search pieces, emails and alumni newsletters. Our faculty and staff utter the phrase often. Absolutely, building a culture of excellence-and touting it in any way we can-is one way we will be recognized as a leading Catholic university in the Midwest.

But there is another way. Dare we say, a better way.

It's called living your life as an Ambrosian.

Think about this just for a moment: Can you spot an Ambrosian walking down the street? And no, it doesn't count if you are picturing a college coed heading toward Brady Street Stadium on a fall Saturday afternoon wearing a Fighting Bee logo screen-printed on her sweatshirt coupled with a face that's been painted blue and white.

We're asking about the young artist in downtown Chicago, the retired bank executive in New York City, the Peace Corps volunteer in Africa. We mean the 40-year-old single mother of three who is not only holding down a full-time job, but is also taking two classes a semester and making sure dinner is on the table every night. We are talking about people who once walked the same grounds as Bishop John McMullen and Rev. Edward Catich '37-people who have since left the red brick buildings of our great campus and are living their lives to the fullest every moment of every day.

Can you spot them on the street in Bettendorf and Kansas City, San Diego and Miami, Paris and London? Can you?

It should be easy. They're the inspired workers who commit. They are the ones who live their lives in pursuit of justice. They see the whole picture-with an emphasis on "whole."

They are the young men and women, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, with curious minds. Always asking new questions. And never settling for a simple answer.

You see, academic excellence is not an outstanding psychology course or a perfect score on an ACT exam. It is measured not by where one begins, but by the path one chooses.

What is more excellent? Taking the high school valedictorian with a 36 ACT score and preparing him for a job at Google? Or taking a so-called "average" student and inspiring her with a passion for learning, developing her critical thinking and creativity skills, and equipping her to change the world in whichever way she decides? (Extra credit if you answered "All of the above.")

The next time you're in front of Ambrose Hall or perhaps even walking around some of the most ornate basilicas in Europe, take a moment to seek out a statue of St. Ambrose of Milan, our namesake. You'll find him everywhere, perhaps when you least expect. Look really hard at him. What do you notice?

His signature scroll and whip? His stern expression? His strength? Perhaps his imposing stature?

Or do you see a human?

A theologian? A poet? An author? Historian? Scientist? Architect? Orator?

Can you spot his brilliance? His curiosity? His courage, virtue and generosity?

As a university rooted in our Catholic intellectual tradition, each of us-student and faculty and alum alike-have been called to build a culture of academic excellence. But we do not have to be rocket scientists to achieve that. We just have to honestly commit ourselves to taking learning seriously, and then setting forth on our own path to make that happen.

Excellence as we define it started with Ambrose the man.

And today, it lives in you.


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