Honoring Dean Elizabeth Vardaman
Poet and essayist Mary Oliver recalls that she once attended a lecture about the fabled Whitney family, with particular focus on Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, whose status in two of America’s wealthiest families gave rise to a particularly charmed life—one she felt compelled to use for good. Delivering the lecture was Mrs. Whitney’s granddaughter, who used a phrase that struck Mary Oliver as particularly fine, prompting the poet to “[slip] the phrase from the air and put it into my own pocket!” That phrase was “inherited responsibility,” interpreted in the Whitney family as a sense of calling to use their received wealth for the larger purposes of an enduring public good. As Oliver describes it, inherited responsibility “is precisely how I feel, who have inherited not measurable wealth but, as we all do who care for it, that immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas."
We in the Office of Engaged Learning are, like the Whitneys, like Mary Oliver, the privileged bearers of an inherited responsibility—one that far surpasses measurable wealth, and even thoughts and ideas.
For 39 years, Dean Elizabeth Vardaman mentored innumerable Baylor students and assisted hundreds of them in obtaining prestigious national scholarships, research and teaching fellowships, internships, and other educational enrichment opportunities. More than that, she spent countless hours pouring into their souls, teaching them to maximize their potential, helping them dream of possibilities out beyond the borders they'd previously imagined for themselves, and motivating them to get down to the hard work of becoming the people whose worthiness she always saw.
Every day, every one of us in the Office of Engaged Learning strives toward the excellence Dean Vardaman radiated. The very existence of this Office, we know, is the product of her life's work. For years, before any formal structures were in place to support the ambitions of our most motivated students, she alone carried the torch on their behalf. Dean Vardaman, in those days, could only dream of an office with as many functions as we enjoy today—and indeed, she did dream! She also worked, with a persistence, a focus, and a steadfastness that surprises none of us who know her. The creation of a fully functioning Office of Engaged Learning was the crowning achievement of her career, a mark she will leave on Baylor and on legions of students, present and future, for generations to come.
So yes, we in the Office of Engaged Learning are the privileged bearers of an inherited responsibility. We owe nothing short of the very best we can give our students and our work, and every day we strive to honor the enduring legacy of our mentor, predecessor, exemplar, and friend, Dean Elizabeth Vardaman.