The Island of Hopes and Dreams

I.    April Showers

Knowledge is a river, powerful, ageless, and new.  We’re a community of learners and, like a great river, we improve our world.  

This spring really made that river burgeon!  In a literal sense, we’ve had endless rain, endless snow, and many a flood warning.  The latest level at the Winona Dam is 650 feet, just 5 feet below flood stage.  But in a figurative sense the river of knowledge is rising too.  Students are studying, professors are professing, and knowledge rains down like time is running out … and in a way it is.  

April, come she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain …

It’s funny how things once learned stay with you.  Back in high school many of us had the opportunity to memorize the preamble to The Canterbury Tales.
“Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote …”

Actually, hands up all of you out there who learned this?  How many of you still remember it?  Okay, you can say it along with me …

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour …

That’s English by the way, but we don’t speak English that way anymore, so for you modern English speakers it might sound like this:

When the gentle rains of April
quenched the drought of March down to the roots
and bathed each vine with the powerful juice
that brings forth flowers …

And so Chaucer begins a story about a pilgrimage of souls looking for meaning, looking for salvation, looking for healing, looking for purpose.

Spring summons Chaucer’s voyagers to life.  Even in T. S. Eliot’s grim evocation of The Canterbury Tales in his poem “The Wasteland” there resides hope, possibility, new birth:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow …

And then Eliot seems to be talking about the history of Winona:

The river sweats …
The barges drift
With the turning tide …
To leeward, swing on the heavy spar.
The barges wash
Drifting logs …

On a university campus, April is a time of new life and renewal.  Tours of high school students criss-cross the campus like pilgrims, souls on a journey, deciding whether Winona State is in their future.   You might see some of these tours today.  Meanwhile, Winona State seniors are polishing their resumes and imaging life in their profession or in graduate school.  Everyone at this time of year is reflecting on what she or he has learned.  

It’s not just the snow that melts, but the coldness in our hearts and the rigidity in our minds, and possibilities bloom anew amidst the thaw.  This is how Northrop Frye talks about all stories of spring in his book The Anatomy of Criticism.iv  He thinks of spring as a whole genre of storytelling characterized by stories that end happily, stories about building something new, stories about bringing order out of chaos, stories about a new birth of freedom.

And that’s Winona in April!  Happy, new, negentropic v, free … well, our students know these days a college education not quite free.  April means Hope, New Birth, Growth, Change, Life, Rising, The Future … and figuratively with these emblems stride all pilgrims on journeys to new lands.

So, welcome to Winona Minnesota, a destination for the pilgrim’s quest, the Island of Hope and Dreams.

II.    This Island

Winona is the island of hopes and dreams!  Geologically, it’s an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, and our life as a university is utterly intertwined with this beautiful river and valley.  What a place for a journey.

My muse Bruce Springsteen sings about America as the land of hope and dreams, and I believe that’s still true, but I believe even more strongly that Winona is the Island of Hopes and Dreams.  He tells us in his song “The Land of Hope and Dreams”:

Dreams will not be thwarted.
Faith will be rewarded.
Big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams.
Meet me in the land of hopes and dreams!

Higher education is the destination for those on a quest, seeking purpose, seeking the future, seeking the American dream, seeking the meaning of their life, and for many Winona is their island.  They arrive on this island as pilgrims, perhaps not thoroughly knowing where their lives will lead, perhaps not fully knowing why they are here, but while they arrive as pilgrims, they leave here as warriors.  That is quite a transformation!

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, pilgrims make their way from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City with Shining Ones like all of you assembled here today helping lead them on their way, and their commitment would make a nice pledge for our first year students to take:

The hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way of life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.

Like any quest there are hardships.  Like the top of that hill in Bunyan, our island can be hard to reach.  There are barriers like rising student debt, economic malaise, and Minnesota’s achievement gap that make it increasingly difficult for some to arrive.  Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five might just give in, resign himself to this fate, and say “So it goes …”viii but we will not allow these hardships to deter us.
Those who can arrive, and should arrive, must arrive.  

Minnesota needs them.  So if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise too high,ix these obstacles can be overcome.

Those of you who heard my Welcome Week speech in August know that I believe that Princess We-No-Nah figuratively lives on, within the archetype of the Lady of the Lake, just a few blocks off campus.  For those of you from out of town, she’s actually standing in a park between here and the Mississippi.  The Lady of the Lake’s sword is called “Excalibur,” a name of uncertain etymology that may be derived from the Celtic word Caladbolg, which means “Hard Lightning,” or it may be derived from the Greek phrase Ex-Kylie-Pyr or "out of a cup—fire," which describes a torch.  The lightning or fire is a beacon, as if to say – come here, pilgrims, because your hopes and dreams will be realized.  The flame will lead you through the darkness to the water of wisdom that will slake your thirst and sustain your mission.  That same flame burns atop our university logo – the invitation from a light house that says: “here is where you will become what you were meant to be.”

III.    The Winona Way and the Warrior Way

We-No-Nah summons them.  They arrive here as pilgrims and leave as warriors.  While they are here, their drought will be drenched to the roots in the Winona way, and in the Warrior way.  This is what the “Winona Way” looks like to me:

•    Winona cherishes Independence – we don’t follow fads, and we prefer to be the leader;
•    Winona cherishes Excellence – we expect the highest quality;
•    Winona cherishes this Place – we believe community partnerships are a way of life;
•    Winona cherishes Beauty – we believe our town, our bluffs, and our river are unrivalled;
•    Winona cherishes Innovation – we believe that everyone can be an entrepreneur like those who built and sustain this community.  Indeed, in Dakota, the word “Winona” means first-born, like any innovation; and
•    Winona cherishes Value – we believe every public dollar invested should return the maximum benefit.

When you establish a state university the Winona Way, then you get something like a private college experience, personal and transformational, with a strong sense of place, but transformed at its core by relevance and responsiveness to our community and to the needs of our state, and all delivered at tremendous value.

But we don’t stop there.  Within the Winona Way, there is the Warrior way, and our pilgrims follow this beacon, too:

•    Warriors are brave.
•    Warriors are proud.
•    Warriors fight for our beliefs.
•    Warriors stand for what we know to be right and true.
•    Warriors lead no matter our role or circumstance.
•    Warriors care for fellow warriors, and for all the warriors who have come before and those warriors yet to come.
•    Warriors form a community.
•    Warriors learn.
•    Warriors innovate.
•    Warriors adapt.
•    Warriors leave the world better than they found it.
•    And of course, once a Warrior, always a Warrior.  Winona Warriors are “Warriors for Life”!

Frankly, the world needs more Winona Warriors.  Those of us who work at Winona State and those who support Winona State have a solemn duty to help our pilgrims realize this transformation and become Winona Warriors.

IV.    Hopes and Dreams

How will we do this?  As many of you know, we’ve been in a process of gathering the hopes and dreams of our faculty and staff, our students, alumni and alumnae, and community members.  We’ve received well over two thousand different hopes and different dreams.  

We’re in the process of sorting them and evaluating them, sharing preliminary data with the campus, forming the necessary structures, and in the fall we will dedicate ourselves to illuminating a direction that is simultaneously truest to what we have always been but also transformational in where we will go next.

Some have asked me: Do such things matter?  Why hope and dream?  What’s the point?  Where does it lead?

Well, without hopes and dreams, our lives lead nowhere, and together we go nowhere.  About 20 years ago, President Krueger led the university in a “Hopes and Dreams” exercise.  Here’s the very paper on which they were distilled.  It’s dated 1995 and it envisions the year 2000.  Here are the hopes and dreams of Winona State then:

1.    Build a new library
2.    Solve the parking problem
3.    Improve communication with employees
4.    Focus on students
5.    Lead in the implementation of new technology
6.    Spread the use of computers campus-wide
7.    Continue to focus on academics
8.    Beautify the campus

Those of you who are already a part of the Winona State community will recognize that these hopes and these dreams did in large measure come true.  Okay, maybe we didn’t solve the parking problem!  I’m not sure that one is really solvable!  But it got better!  And we can always communicate better, and we will, and we’re already working on that.  But look at the rest of the list: the library, the leadership in technology, the beautiful campus, the rich and caring learning environment for students – all these hopes and dreams absolutely came true.  So, ask yourself two questions:  Did these transformations make a difference?  And would they ever have been realized had they not been envisioned?  And if you answer those questions as I do, then ask yourself this: can we afford not to hope and dream?

We don’t know yet where our thousands of hopes and dreams might lead us.  We’re still immersed in those conversations.  But based on what I have heard you all saying, reading thousands of the cards you wrote and online suggestions you made, I see certain watermarks emerging.  So, based on those conversations, here are some of my hopes and dreams.

1.    Together.  First, as to how our future shall be envisioned.  We will do this, in a word, together.  Bruce, Tracy, Sheila, Kay, Alexandra, Steven, Mark, Larry, everyone here … my pledge to you is that we will do this together.  Shared governance will lead the way for how we collaborate on and off campus.  There are so many more ideas out there than up here.  I’ve really only ever had a few great ideas, and I can summarize many of them quickly for you: My best idea ever was to marry Kelley Marie Hughes, and right up there was my idea to choose Elizabeth as my mother and Bob as my father, Liz and Jeff and Jenny as my siblings, and then Kelley participated significantly in the idea of having Katie and Lucie as our children – actually she gets most of the credit for that.  And then there was my brilliant idea to move at last to Winona after 53 years and get to work with all of you.  There may have been a few other good ideas along the way but those are the really consequential ones.  So you can see I really need your help … there are SO many brilliant persons out there with so many great ideas, that it’s evident that we are far, far smarter than me!  Winona State needs all of you to see the manifold possibilities all around us and help us become the university we are meant to be.  I believe in the Hegelian dialectic, so dissent and debate won’t merely be tolerated, they will be expected and required.  We’re educators, right?  So we agree with Plato that truth is revealed through dialogue.  But amidst our debate, civility and respect will be given by and to every member of our community.

2.    Affordability.  A founding principle for us dating back to our days as a normal school 154 years ago is that we would provide access and opportunity.  So, we must do everything in our power to keep higher education affordable so that everyone has a chance for her hope or his dream.  Our priority for investment will be student success.  We will invest in instruction and in things that support a dynamic classroom, we will invest in services that help our students succeed, and we will invest in projects of demonstrable value to Minnesota’s health and prosperity, but on everything else we must ask ourselves:  What is the Return on Investment?  Can this be done differently, more efficiently, more effectively?  Can a dollar be invested better elsewhere?  I’m proud that Winona State held the line on tuition this year, and that over the past decade we have reduced the inflation-adjusted cost per student overall by 9%, reduced the adjusted cost per student of the administration, and reduced costs in other areas, but we need to do better still, and we must strive to remove affordability as a barrier.

3.    Foundations.  Professional programs will be a large part of our future, but the liberal arts and sciences will be the foundation for all of our excellent professional programs and we will never lose sight that we are preparing our students so that their lives will be well-lived.  It’s not enough to know how to make a living … we must also know how to live.   Our academic standards must remain high.

4.    Innovation.  Working with partners in the community, and with our dear friends at Minnesota Southeast Technical College and Saint Mary’s University, I believe Winona will become known as “Innovation Valley.”  We already teem with entrepreneurs and leaders – so let’s call it what it is and build the future right here.   We will introduce new graduate and undergraduate programs when they are responsive and innovative, like our new Professional Science Masters degree, the first in Minnesota.

5.    Education Village.  As one example of that type of high-value, high ROI innovative partnerships, we will build an Education Village that becomes a model for teacher education programs and for partnering with local schools.  This touches almost every college and most programs at the university and is of vital importance to our community and state.  We will celebrate teachers and all those who prepare teachers as the heroes they are.  A new Winona Model of teacher education will have influence far and wide.

6.    Sustainability.  Our beautiful campus will become ever greener, ever more beautiful, ever more sustainable, and Winona and Winona State will be destinations for lovers of beauty.

7.    The Arts.  Winona is already a destination for lovers of the arts and culture, and we will continue and enhance our role in supporting a vibrant arts and cultural community here.  When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, if you asked most Minnesotans what defined our state they would say three things: its natural beauty, its arts and culture, and the quality of its K12 and higher education.  I think you can see that through our Education Village, our campus arboretum, and our support of the local art, theater, and music scene, Winona State University will help Winona be Minnesota as Minnesota is meant to be, and establish Winona as a destination for all lovers of the fine and performing arts, of beauty, of nature, and of learning.

8.    Achievement Gap.  We will not rest until we discover how to close the achievement gap.  It should no longer matter what gender or race or class or financial circumstance define our students when it comes to their success, because we will find a way so that all are welcome and all can succeed.    Our campus will be alive with diversity in all its forms and we will revel in the bountiful benefits it brings.

9.    WSU Rochester.  Rochester will be a laboratory for new and innovative ways of partnering with RCTC and coordinating with UMR, providing pathways for every student who wants one, delivering superb Baccalaureate and graduate programs that are relevant and responsive to the Rochester and Minnesota economies, and we will play our part in helping Rochester achieves its dreams as a community.

10.    Student Care.  Speaking of Rochester, that town is known for its approach to “Integrated Patient Care.”  Health professionals swarm around patients and work on all facets of their health until a solution is found.  Winona State can learn from this.  What if we could swarm around students encountering challenges to their success and keep swarming until a solution is found?  What would Integrated Student Care look like?  

Those ten dreams seem to be emerging from our conversations so far.  Together we know lots of great potential future directions, and I look forward to working together to define what we do.  

V.    A Community of Learners Improving our World

If you consider these, then I hope you will see that my dream is that we be an even truer version of what we have always been: a community of learners improving our world.  Visitors to campus today may have noticed our simple, beautiful, powerful motto derived from our mission statement: “A Community of Learners Improving our World.”  It appears on banners everywhere.  Most Winona State employees know it by heart.  I believe President Krueger helped write this, and President Ramaley certainly nurtured it to full flower, but it was true even earlier, when Dr. DuFresne was president, and really goes back to our founding day 154 years ago.  So I have to pause here to thank the three of you and all the emeriti employees for the amazing institution that we all have inherited!  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Would the presidents and emeriti please rise?

This motto is powerful because it’s true both backwards and forwards, it’s who we are, and who we’ve been, but it’s also simultaneously who we wish to be … so where does it point us for the future?  Community … learning … improving … world.

How do we lay the foundation for our Community for the next 150 years?  I believe we should strive to be the epitome of a civil and civically engaged campus, energized by abundant diversity in all its forms, seamlessly one with this beautiful community and with Rochester, helping business and industry and non-profit organizations and the schools prosper because we are their partner of choice.

How do we lay the foundation for Learning for the next 150 years?  To me it means that every student succeeds because we serve each student in the best way possible for him or her, leading in the use of technology in and out of the classroom, innovating with pedagogy and andragogy, and providing student services that model and lead the best practices.  
How do we lay the foundation for Improving that will nurture the next 150 years?  For Winona State, improving does not mean fixing things that are fundamentally wrong.  Very little here needs that fixer-upper kind of improvement.  No, for us “improving” means taking areas where we excel and finding ways to excel even further, to be better still.  It means having the courage to ask the question: can we do even better?  It means finding every laurel and refusing to rest on it.  

And how do we perceive our World as we embark on the next 150 years?  Our world is not just Winona and Rochester, although we owe these communities our livelihood and will continue to be dedicated to serving them.  Our world is the seven rivers region.  Our world is Minnesota.  Our world is our country.  Our world is our world.  And “improving our world” means finding ways to make the world smarter, healthier, greener, stronger, more prosperous, and more meaningful.   So it’s not enough to go from good to great.  The great also need to be good.  We need to do good. This is our solemn duty to those who have given us so much.  

Community, learning, improving, world – who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be.

VI.    Colossus 2.0

America is the land of hope and dreams, and Winona State University is the Island of Hopes and Dreams.  We have our Lady of the Lake, Princess We-No-Nah, and America has its Lady of the Sea, Liberty.  She holds the same torch, the same beacon of hopes and dreams.  April, come she will, emerging from the water, from Lake Winona or the New York Harbor, and lighting the way.

The poem we all associate with the Statue of Liberty is “the New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus.  Many of you know the beginning of this poem well, because it’s etched on the base of the statue and etched in our hearts: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”xii  Lazarus calls Liberty “a mighty woman with a torch whose flame is the imprisoned lightning …” so please recall that Excalibur’s name means “hard lightning” or “fire from the bowl,” a torch.

Long before Liberty stood in the harbor, pilgrims came to this land.  Some walked across a land bridge to Alaska, and their Dakota, Lakota, and Ojibwe descendants eventually found their way here.   And then folks actually calling themselves Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock and decided to stay.  Asians and Africans and Europeans followed, some because they were starving, some against their will, but still full of hopes and dreams, and they found their way here to Minnesota.   Everyone here is descended from a brave pilgrim of one type or another.  They still come today from every point of the compass – just look at these flags!

Why did they do this?  Why journey so?  Why take the risk?

April, come she will.   Princess We-No-Nah stands just a few blocks from here, her hand sheltering her eyes as she scans Winona for new pilgrims, her tinder sigil in her other hand ready to be lit into a torch.  So whether the flame is being wielded by Liberty or the Lady of the Lake or Princess We-No-Nah, here’s a reworking of “The New Colossus” for Winona State’s colossal enterprise, “Colossus 2.0”:

Give us your tired to inspire with hope.
Give us your poor to unmoor their dreams.    
We lift our lamp beside this purple door,
For in Winona, a bright future gleams.

Perched atop our very logo the same flame still burns: Excalibur’s flame, Liberty’s flame, our flame.  From afar, pilgrims still see that beacon and still they come.  And Chaucer tells us why:

And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

They have hopes.  They have dreams.  They seek the one who can help them.

Students, community friends and partners, employers, and others come to Winona State with a belief that we will help them in the way we have helped so many others before, as a place where their hopes and dreams become realities.  We will not disappoint them.  All America sings of this, our purpose, our meaning.

So, I am convinced that neither height, nor depth, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come,xiii nor floods, nor droughts, nor accreditations, nor legislations, nor de-glaciations, nor emerald ash borer infestations, nor angry neighbor placations, nor program assessment protestations … I believe that nothing can separate us from our sacred mission.

Because here is the simple, beautiful perfection of our vision:

Enabling their hopes is our hope.
Realizing their dreams is our dream.

VII.    May Flowers

April is not cruel.  Stravinsky understood that “Le Sacre du Printemps,” the rites of spring, entail some chaos and discord before we arrive to beauty and bounty.xiv  So, in truth, April is not cruel.  April is kind.  April is life.  

Let April rain.  Let the river rise.  Floods can't quench the flame.  After all, April showers bring May flowers, and you know what a May flower brings, don’t you?  The Mayflower brings pilgrims.xv

It’s a long rainy journey, so let’s let them warm themselves by our fire.

Long live this beacon called Winona State University!

Long may it shine!

The flame has burned for 154 years, and the flame burns still.   

Scott R. Olson
Winona, Minnesota
April 19, 2013


i Simon, P. and Garfunkel, A.  (1966).  “April come she will.”  Sounds of Silence.  LP record album.  

ii Chaucer, G. (1478).  The Canterbury tales.  William Caxton edition.  

iii Eliot, T.S.  (1922).  The waste land.  Horace Liveright publishers.

iv Frye, N.  (1971).  The anatomy of criticism: Four essays.  Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

v Georgescu-Roegen, N.  (1971).  The entropy law and the economic process.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

vi Springsteen, B. (2012).  “Land of hope and dreams.”  Wrecking Ball.  CD record album.    
vii Bunyan, J.  (1678).  The pilgrim’s progress from this world to that which is to come.  London: Nathaniel Ponder.

viii Vonnegut, K.  (1969).  Slaughterhouse-Five.  New York: Delacorte Press.

ix A southern African-American phrase of unknown but contentious origin, also used as the title of a 2010 Spike Lee documentary film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

x Annotation: yes, this author realizes that there is little evidence that there ever was a historical “Princess We-No-Nah.”  We are speaking figuratively and archetypally.

xi Collins, J. (2001).  Good to great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t.  New York: HarperBusiness Press.

xii Lazarus, E.  (1883).  “The new Colossus.” Widely anthologized, with the full text available at:

xiii From the Christian Bible, Romans 8:38 ff.

xiv Stravinsky, I.  (1913).   “Le sacre du Printemps” (“The rites of Spring”).  Ballet first performed at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.  Score published by Dover Publication, (1989).

xv This is an old joke and a play-on-words of an even older phrase dating back at least to 1886 when it was first recorded.  The origins of the joke are unknown to this author, but hopefully it is now in the public domain.