Students and faculty were officially welcomed back Aug. 31 as President Wolk and a handful of guest speakers addressed a capacity crowd in the newly renovated Fine Arts Center for the annual convocation address. “This is our first full house at our first community gathering in this beautifully renovated theater,” Wolk said to acknowledge the hard work done in the theater over the summer.
Moments later the tone shifted as the nearly 500 people in attendance observed a moment of silence for Kurt Dechen, the former Castleton student who died last month while serving on active duty in Iraq.
After the momentary silence, Steven Vail, the newly elected Student Association president, laid out some of his goals this year. Topping Vail’s priority list is reducing the current S.A. budget surplus, which as of the end of last year stood at just over $60,000. Vail said he believes decreasing the surplus by spending more on events around campus will create a better experience for all Castleton students.
After the new hire introductions Wolk presented the awards of commuter and employee of the semester to Tasha Turner and Jane Foley respectively. President Wolk then gave his annual commencement address.
“There certainly weren’t any bombshells dropped this year,” Professor Andy Alexander said referring to last year’s news of a $500,000 donation from Alumni John and Susan Casella to improve the Fine Arts Center, among other things.
Instead, this year’s focus was how that money, along with a $2 million federal grant, will be spent to improve Castleton.
Along with the money already generated, the college has taken on an aggressive campaign drive to help finance the ongoing improvements around campus. Most notable is the “Take a Seat” campaign which enables individuals to have their name or name of a loved one engraved on a plaque to be permanently placed on an armrest of one of the new seats in the theater.
Wolk also addressed one of this year’s hot topics, the growing interest in Castleton as a school of choice.
“The fall semester of 2005 opened with record enrollment in all categories,” Wolk said as he praised the efforts of the Admissions office and the students. “Due to your efforts Castleton has become a very hot college, but we needed to control our enrollment growth.”
Wolk then stated that last spring for the first time in the historic college’s history, officials stopped accepting applications from first-year students. Only a small number of transfer applications in high academic standing were considered and only on the understanding that there would not be on-campus housing available.
Senior Anthony Marc Scott notices the difference in the size of enrollment from just a few years ago, but doesn’t think it has been too drastic.
“A little bigger is not bad, as long as it doesn’t grow too big,” Scott said. “It’s good for the local businesses, but the college is in the business to make money as well, so you never know.”
Also addressed in the commencement was Castleton’s “Green campus initiative” and the announcement that with three hybrid vehicles already purchased last year the college plans on adding more hybrid vehicles until the entire fleet is complete.
“This year we will research and begin composting from our dining hall, continue our community vegetable garden, and experiment further with biodiesel,” Wolk said.
“The college recycled over twenty tons of materials, saved over $10,000 in disposal costs, experienced a discernible reduction in litter on campus and enhanced our collective consciousness about taking care of the planet,” he said.
In the last portion of the commencement address, Wolk outlined the upcoming renovations to campus including the 127-seat lecture hall in Jeffords Center for Science and Mathematics, four research laboratories, an instructional lab and a new greenhouse. Also planned are major renovations in the south wing of the science center, paving the South Street lot and new lighting and sidewalks leading to the Jeffords Center.
More possible renovations may include air-conditioning in Leavenworth Hall and Stafford Academic Center, a new television studio, an enlargement and renovation of the Campus Center and improvement to the many athletic fields and equipment.
“This is indeed an exciting time to be at Castleton .,” Wolk said. “We intend to continue, expand, improve, and build on the successes of recent years.