Westmont College’s official inauguration of its eighth president, Gayle Beebe, was long on ceremony Friday, but long on substance, too.
The event packed the Christian college’s auditorium with some 1,500 students, faculty and dignitaries, and featured speeches from Beebe, as well as from Steve Forbes, editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine.
In his speech, Beebe sought to convey the virtue of critical thinking, and how a liberal arts education can foster it, confessing that, in high school, while he was a serious student, he was not intellectually curious.
“My motivation for studying was to get good grades, (and) qualify for college scholarships,” he said.
But Beebe said his college experience provided him an “intellectual awakening,” in which he pored over books of history, literature and poetry, traveled to art museums and took art classes.
“Every area of knowledge became vital and real to me, because I had learned how to look at it in a new way,” he said. “For the first time, the world really began to make sense to me. Not that I could understand it all, but the opportunity to explore it all was the most precious thing I had experienced.”
Beebe, who has been the leader of the 1,200-student campus since July, also touched on the political topic of the “Christian identity.”
“One of the great challenges today is the fact that so many religious expressions have become shrill, and absolutely destructive to human civilization,” he said. “We need warm-hearted, keen-minded graduates going into the world to make a redemptive impact on our world in ways that matter and will sustain society.”
Forbes, meanwhile, talked about business, and how doing it well need not be at odds with having a good moral compass.
“In this country and indeed many countries there is a tendency to think you have business on one side and philanthropy on the other side,” he said. “That business is based on greed … and when you succeed in business, you atone for your sins, and give away your money.”
But, he said, good businesses oftentimes make the world a better place simply by providing services people need.
“You could have a terrible personality — a real grouch, the kind of person who makes babies cry,” Forbes said. “If you’re not producing a product of service, you’re not going to get ahead.”
Likewise, he said, if the majority of people in a given setting do not have a strong sense of right and wrong, commerce comes to a halt.
“It’s based on trust,” he said. “You go to a restaurant, the restaurant trusts you to pay at the end of the meal.”