Feature: Pastries with the President
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In the print version of this article, writer Alex Durant’s name was incorrectly spelled Alex “Durent.”
Joe Kocsis, Alex Durant – Norton High School, Wayne College Post-Secondary
Would he really show up? Would he arrive with an entourage or bodyguards? Would he eat any pastries?
These were some of the thoughts we voiced to each other as we waited to greet University of Akron President Matthew Wilson at Wayne College. Our questions were answered as he arrived alone, stepped unassumingly out of his medium compact car, and paused a moment to take in the view of the rural field and trees bordering the building.
“This must be an important meeting I am being escorted to,” he laughed, surprised to see two young men in suits at 7:30 a.m. “We should all have our black glasses on.” Within seconds, Wilson had broken the ice and eased our nerves. We understand now how this is second nature to him.
On Monday, Nov. 28, President Wilson visited with professor Laura Wolf’s composition and honors English classes at UA’s Wayne College branch in Orrville, OH. The idea to invite him, which turned into a class project called “Pastries with the President,” came several weeks earlier, when students read the novel “Dinner with Edmund: an Unlikely Friendship,” and other students wrote papers about the theme of “Invisible Thread,” a Chinese proverb about the unseen bond that forms when we connect with another person.
“I had seen the interaction of President Wilson with students on the main campus, so I sent an email inviting him to my classes at Wayne,” Wolf said, “but I really didn’t expect any reply – and certainly not an affirmative to visit.”
“At first, I was as surprised as the students, and then I focused on what an opportunity this could be for these young people.”
Anxious to meet a university president, the students beforehand prepared evaluation charts, wrote reflections of their college experience, and discussed ways to connect with a leader.
The atmosphere immediately relaxed when Wolf introduced the group of 20 students from 10 different Wayne County high school districts enrolled in the College Credit Plus program, and Wilson started pulling tables together. “Let’s each get to those pastries,” he said, “then all sit together and talk.”
“It was intimidating and also exciting to know the president of our college was really going to come to our class out of all the thousands of students at the University,” said Ben Farrar from Waynedale High School. “But [he] truly came across as different from a mainstream president.”
The students felt a bond with Wilson, who says he’s not fancy, but just “a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” Around a table filled with donuts and pastries, he and the students gathered and talked. Wilson wanted to know a little about each of the students, and was open to any questions they had, which included those about selecting majors, making the wrong career decisions, dealing with stress, and preparing for the future.
Wilson responded by talking about his own frustrations in life when he lived in Japan, where he first went to do missionary work shortly after high school (read more here goo.gl/RIWMT1). He said that “life is not always a perfect place with a glazed topping,” but that we have to push through and see the best even in the difficult situations, “to make lemonade out of lemons.”
This was the first group of Wayne College students Wilson had sat down with for an informal chat. For Wolf, this was the first University president she had communicated with in her more than 30 years of working as an adjunct at UA.
“When Mrs. Wolf reached out to me and told me a little about her classes, I was very interested to meet her, but especially all of you,” he said to the class. “I would rather be sitting here eating donuts with students than just about anywhere else.”
And yes, he did eat a pecan glazed pastry.