There’s a certain symmetry and rhythm to the letters “WMMW.”
It’s an acronym that, around Denison, is most often used for a series of talks held at the Open House called “What Matters to Me, & Why” or, quite sensibly, “WMMW.”
When Mark Orten, director of religious and spiritual life and university chaplain, was involved in religious programming at Princeton University (somewhere east of Denison, we think) some years ago, they had a semi-regular series called “Big Questions.” He shared the outline of what these student and faculty gatherings were like with the Denison Religious Understanding (DRU) group.
The DRU members, an interfaith fellowship, have a vegetarian dinner together each Monday with a discussion topic and leader every week, and their general activities are directed by a student “elder council.” One of the elders for DRU took responsibility for contacting a few of the faculty and staff they wanted to ask “big questions” of, and the series “WMMW” was born.
“I haven’t really had anyone say no,” observes DRU Elder Amanda Bruce ’12, “even though it can sound a little challenging at first. People have been very grateful for being given the opportunity to talk about this.”
Here’s the deal: you are not required to be religious in talking about “what matters” to you, and you are courteously requested not to just talk about your field of study. “Please make it personal,” Orten asks, “and they have. There’s not been any pontificating or posturing, and everyone says it has been a challenge, but also a refreshing opportunity.”
In the inaugural 2010-11 year, they heard from Laurel Kennedy, vice president for student development; Nestor Matthews, assistant professor of psychology and noted NERD (look it up); Gill Wright Miller ’74, professor of dance; Michael Caravana, assistant professor of athletics and men’s lacrosse coach; and Ryan Brechbill, formerly with Denison’s Career Exploration and Development Center and now director of Otterbein University’s Center for Career Services.
This academic year, WMMW has featured David Goodwin, associate professor of geosciences; Ron Santoni, professor emeritus of philosophy; and Paul Pegher, creative director for university communications. The last guest of the year was President Dale Knobel, and the Very Room was filled to capacity with a cross-section of the Denison community, who weren’t just there for the refreshments.
Knobel talked about everything from his great-grandfather as an eight-year-old boy working in a British steel mill, to a recent trip advising on the establishment of a women’s liberal arts college in Saudi Arabia. But everything kept coming back to two values he wanted to affirm: empathy and responsibility. From the deeply personal to the institutional everyday, he spoke of loss and love and continuing to learn more each day about what matters to him.
Asked what it was like for him to take on this challenge–a speaking engagement unlike so many others on his agenda–Knobel’s answer was this: we all would probably benefit from reminders “to hold a conversation with ourselves about our values,” and then have to share that interior monologue with others, and dialogue about those realizations. “The invitation to participate in this series has given me just that opportunity.”
Which leaves all of us who are reading TheDEN to ask ourselves, what matters to me, and why? The audience participation portion is optional.