By Sarah Colson
Last Saturday, alumni cheered, classic cars cruised and a buffalo stampeded (or at least marched) down the middle of Milligan College’s campus in celebration of the school’s homecoming weekend—and it’s 150th birthday.
Some of the highlights of the parade included President Bill Greer’s procession atop the famous buffalo, Cody; various alumni represented in about 10 different classic cars; and the school’s numerous clubs and teams who made their own floats. Homecoming activities took place all week and included a production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” with cast members from previous school years as well as current students, faculty and staff; a meet-and-greet with Cody the Buffalo; senior nights for volleyball and soccer; an alumni basketball game; harmless senior pranks; and more. In honor of the college’s sesquicentennial and as part of the Buffalo Stampede City Art Project, Milligan College had already commissioned six life-size, artistically-decorated buffaloes that are on display throughout the community in honor of the school’s mascot, Brutus the Buffalo.
At sesquicentennial, Milligan sticking to core values
One would expect plenty of change at Milligan College over the course of its 150-year history, but change has accelerated noticeably in the past several years at the Christian liberal arts school.
A merger with Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an academic reorganization and the pending introduction of new majors in engineering and physician assistant all have come within the past 24 months. But on Friday, as alumni from around the country and the world gathered to help Milligan celebrate a homecoming that coincides with its sesquicentennial, Milligan’s president and one of its trustees said the school’s foundational values are unchanged.
In meetings with trustees and advisors last week, Dr. Bill Greer said, he shared the words of Josephus Hopwood, who helped elevate Milligan, then the Buffalo Male and Female Institute, to collegiate status within a couple of decades of its 1866 founding. Hopwood, who called Christian education “the hope of the world,” spoke of, “preparing students for a life of service and meaning,” Greer said.
“That’s what we still do today, 150 years later. I’m proud of that. I’m most proud of the fact that Milligan has always been committed to its Christian roots and that every program we offer, whether it’s a program in Bible or humanities, nursing or engineering, is rooted in that same faith.”
While for many years Christian liberal arts colleges such as Milligan could rely on a relatively standard liberal arts offering in order to fulfill their mission and stay financially viable, Greer said, that has changed. Colleges that fail to expand their academic offerings often struggle in today’s higher-education marketplace, he said.
“You have to be willing to change and be relevant to the market and the world, but we’re deeply committed to the constancy of our mission to Christian education,” Greer said. “One of our mottos a long time ago was ‘Christian education, the hope of the world.’ And we still believe that and everything we do is based on that as a measure of whether we should do it or not.”
John Wiggins, a 1961 Milligan graduate who serves on the board of trustees, agreed.
“I think we just are united in the effort that we want to see Milligan continue to provide the same things they did when we graduated,” Wiggins said. “As Bill said, the community is so important to us and I think that’s one of the things that we want to see. We have a lot of hurdles out here we want to clear and as we work together it’s just a joy to see what young people can do, what difference they can make in the world today.”
The idea of homecoming is particularly poignant for the sesquicentennial, Greer said. “Homecoming is always a big deal at Milligan. We have hundreds of people come back to campus every fall and I think they do that because they’ve developed a sense of community that we’re really proud of at Milligan when they were here as students, but it’s a sense of community thtat continues with people throughout their entire lives, no matter what age. They feel pulled back to Milligan for lots of reasons, but an occasion like this, when we’re kicking off our sesquicentennial year, it’s just even more important and more exciting and it think people just want to be part of that history and heritage that really not that many institutions get to celebrate. ”
Even amidst the good feelings and hoopla of a particularly significant homecoming, Greer said maintaining an institution that will draw graduates back to homecomings 50 years from now is no cakewalk. The challenges are part of what necessitated the inclusion of Emmanuel into the Millligan fold, due in large part to the financial difficulties many seminaries have faced in recent years.
“150 years is a pretty long run and we’re excited about celebrating that, but moreso we’re excited about preparing for the future,” Greer said. “It’s a future that’s challenging for higher education and for Christian higher education, but we have a deep and abiding faith that we’re in God’s plan and we have a purpose in his plan. We’re going to carry it out to the best of our ability and we do it well because we have such loyalty and commitment among our alumni and friends. That’s what homecoming’s
about to us.”