President Teresa Amott
Photo by Kent Kriegshauser

From my first encounter with a group of Knox alumni at a Fifty Year Club event in 2011 to this day, seldom a week goes by without a powerful demonstration of how remarkable Knox alumni are: passionate about ideas and deeply engaged with the world around them. As a group, they exhibit a zest for learning unconstrained by disciplinary boundaries or by age, along with a deep admiration for the faculty and staff who instilled and nurtured their enthusiasm.

Two recent experiences strengthened my belief that Knox alumni are truly special. Last month, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Knox's creative writing program, my husband, Ray, and I accompanied Professors Robin Metz, Liz Carlin Metz, and Sherwood Kiraly '72 to a Knox alumni event at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in Ashland, Oregon. Over the course of OSF's 82-year history, 20 million people have seen a production. The scale of the festival's operations is stunning: 11 plays in rotating repertory in three venues during a season of nearly nine months, along with an astounding array of educational programs for the local and regional community. And the quality is extraordinary: vibrant theatre works spanning centuries, brought to life in a beautiful setting in the Pacific Northwest. All this accomplished by a staff—artistic, administrative, educational, and production—of nearly 500 individuals.

Here's the remarkable thing: among those 500 people at OSF are four Knox grads, including Ted DeLong '00, general manager; Sarah Zimmerman DeLong '00, costume design assistant; Mikah Berky '09, assistant charge scenic artist; and Franzesca Mayer '13, wardrobe technician. All four of them are operating at the highest level of American theatre, loving their work and contributing to extraordinary performances every day.

Seeing this quartet of Knox alums reminded me of another alumni event at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois, this summer. The laboratory grew out of the University of Chicago’s work on the WWII Manhattan Project, and today describes itself as “a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center, where talented scientists and engineers work together to answer the biggest questions facing humanity, from how to obtain affordable clean energy to protecting ourselves and our environment.” Like OSF, four Knox alumni work at Argonne: Donna Mielke ’81, research scientist; Deborah Maurer Myers ’84, chemist; Ira Goldberg ’76, strategic finance and economics; and Patricia Bereck Weikersheimer ’86, coordinating writer/editor. Notice that all three divisions of the Knox curriculum are represented: science, of course, but also social science (economics) and the humanities (writing and editing). What a testament to the power of a broad liberal arts education!

The same over-representation of Knox alumni at extraordinary places can be found at entities as diverse as the Peace Corps, the Mayo Clinic, the NCAA, the international healthcare company Abbott, and the global law firm Kirkland & Ellis (where Roger Taylor '63, my predecessor, had an illustrious career prior to his presidency).

I have come to the conclusion that wherever people come together in an interdisciplinary effort demanding creativity, excellence, dedication, and passion, Knox alums are likely to be there in far greater than any expected numbers. Such is the power of the Knox experience: that mysterious alchemy by which individuals are gathered from far and wide to a small campus in rural Illinois, where they are transformed and energized through their interaction with each other and with the faculty and staff who are dedicated to their learning, and then fan out across the globe to do great work.

I have come to the conclusion that wherever people come together in an interdisciplinary effort demanding creativity, excellence, dedication, and passion, Knox alums are likely to be there in far greater than any expected numbers.

Please write and tell me if you are at one of those places where more than an expected number of high-powered Knox alumni are producing acclaimed fine and performance art, operating cutting-edge entrepreneurial businesses, producing innovative science and technology, and building a better world as physicians, lawyers, educators, counselors, and social activists. I'd love to hear your individual stories, which together, comprise our Knox story.

—Teresa L. Amott