On the surface what follows is a “small world” story. But I think it is far better categorized as a “Beloit story.” You can judge.
This past winter, my daughter, Emily, asked me if I would join her on a trek along one of the ancient pilgrimage routes to Santiago, Spain (El Camino de Santiago de Compostela). We started in early July in Lisbon, Portugal, and headed due north for about two weeks and 300 miles. It was a hot, hard, rocky path. My bloodied, blistered feet left a pretty disgusting trail behind us, and I will barely mention the paramedics who rescued me from heat exhaustion. No complaints though—quite the opposite. First, pilgrimages should be kind of tough; second, this was unequivocally a uniquely and unspeakably terrific opportunity to spend the most meaningful time possible with my daughter; and third, you get a church pardon for your sins at the end of it (assuming you can prove that you did enough of the walk). Pretty sweet deal, even after accounting for the bloody feet.
So, we get to the end—the cathedral in Santiago—and we wait in line to make our case to church officials for the indulgence. It is a long line, with lots and lots of tired pilgrims. Many of us can barely stand for the duration. I am bleeding pretty generously, well above the pilgrim average. We are all carrying our “pilgrims passports,” unique stamps collected along the way as partial proof you have made sufficient effort to be worthy of your pardon. Emily and I finally make it to the front of the line and are invited to talk to the church official who will momentarily decide our fate (literally). After being quizzed about various places we have visited and showing him my feet, we pass. Within a minute we have in our hands documents freeing us from what would otherwise have been several millennia in purgatory.
Now for the Beloitish part. We turn around to purchase a couple of travel tubes to keep our indulgences safe. A volunteer who is selling these tubes speaks exceptional English. She asks:
“Where are you from?”
“The United States.” (In my experience, Europeans have no idea how to think about anything outside of the two coasts in America.)
“Where in the U.S.?”
“Not too far from Chicago.” (There is a small chance Europeans will recognize Chicago as a city not on either coast.)
“Where near Chicago?”
(At this point, I just suck it up and take my chances.)
“Where in Wisconsin? My son went to college there.”
Now it is my turn!
“A small college in the southern part of the state.”
“A little college in a small city named Beloit.”
“Well, I may not look it right now, but I am the president of Beloit College.”
“I am not sure I heard you correctly.”
“Really, I am the president of Beloit College, bloody feet and all.”
Minutes later I have a chance to hear all the great things her son, Avery Walker ’02, has done since graduating. We talk about how important baseball and Coach DeGeorge was to him, and how Professor Marion Field Fass helped him see a pathway to his future as a surgeon. We talk about her four Caminos! We were taking pictures amidst tears, other people were taking pictures amidst tears, church officials were taking pictures, and there was talk of a miracle. Small world.
Well, sort of. As I have reflected on this story and told it to many other Beloiters, I hear similar sorts of tales in nearly every quarter. It turns out, if you spend a lot of time doing interesting things—which of course you do because you are a Beloiter—you are likely to run into other Beloiters who are also doing interesting things.
It is not really unlikely at all that your interesting life will intersect with other Beloiters’ interesting lives. At the end of the day, the college is really good at “… [engaging] the intelligence, imagination, and curiosity of it students, empowering them to lead fulfilling lives …” At the end of the day, a few expressive blisters and one more terrific notch in Beloit’s well-scored value proposition belt.
President Scott Bierman