By Meara Hall
Randy Michaelis, '74, stood on the stage, a thousand eyes fixed on him as he read a long list of student names. As the chair of the education department, Michaelis was accustomed to the rituals of Whitworth University's commencement ceremony. However, this year was different.
Earlier that day, he had hidden a rose underneath the podium. Finally, he reached the name more special to him than any other: Caitlin Michaelis.
She walked across the stage and he produced the rose, hugging her tightly. As a father, professor and now fellow alumnus, Michaelis beamed.
Many parents can relate to the joy Michaelis felt as he watched two of his daughters, Caitlin Michaelis, '06, and Jaime (Hughes) Pilkington, '00, graduate from Whitworth University. Every year, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of Whitworth students have parents who are alumni, according to Tad Wisenor, director of Alumni Relations. Though the scholarship offerings for legacy students (those students whose parents graduated from Whitworth) are limited, the number enrolled has continued to increase, reaching 18.5 percent this year, Wisenor said. Enthusiastic parents play a large part in the growth of this student demographic.
As a former board member and Whitworth alumnus, Kim Storm, '74, wanted his son, Taylor, '09, to enjoy the same academic challenges and close-knit community that he had experienced as a Whitworth student in the early 1970s. When it came time for his son to investigate colleges, "I absolutely encouraged Taylor to consider Whitworth," said Storm. "Whitworth was the perfect convergence of an educational opportunity away from home yet with a connection to family and friends."
Later, Storm was delighted to watch his son participate in Whitworth's orientation activities. "I realized that this was the beginning of his journey and new path in life," he explained, recalling the significance and emotion of that transition.
Like Storm, many alumni parents derive a strong sense of pride from watching their children attend Whitworth. Having lived through the Whitworth experience themselves, these parents have a deeper understanding of the school. Even as the institution grows and changes, these parents' familiarity with dorm rituals and campus traditions helps them feel connected with their children and the campus community.
As the parent of two Whitworth students, Kyle Storm, '74, who is Kim's twin brother, has felt a unique sense of connection with both his son and daughter through their shared Whitworth experience. "I think my children and I have more common ground to share and can compare our impressions because of Whitworth," said Storm. "It is one thing to describe Leonard Oakland; it is quite another to imitate him and have your child say, 'that's it, you've got him perfectly.' Without Whitworth as a point of convergence, I doubt I would understand as fully what my child is learning."
In addition to sharing insight into Whitworth's academic mission, alumni parents take a special pride in being able to understand their children's experiences.
Sandy (Smith) Scamehorn, '80, an alumna and former theatre major at Whitworth, can relate to the challenges and triumphs facing her daughter Lexi, '09.
"She is a theatre major and I was a theatre major," said Scamehorn. "It has been great for me because I feel like I can really relate to some of the things that she has done and gone through."
Scamehorn has felt especially proud while watching her daughter perform on Whitworth's main stage, where she herself performed as a student almost three decades ago. This spring, Scamehorn watched as Lexi played the daughter in Whitworth's production of "Tartuffe." During her years as a college student, the theatre department produced this same work, and Scamehorn played the part of the mother.
"What are the odds of that?" she asks.
Like Scamehorn, current Whitworth trustee Bill Curry, '73, had the opportunity to share his field of study (business) with his son, Michael, '07. Though he notes that the program has undergone significant change since his days as a student, he enjoyed watching his son learn the same core values and ethics at Whitworth.
"The mission, what's behind business and the ethics, those have stayed the same," said Curry.
Even though time spent as a Whitworth parent can be rewarding, it also carries its share of challenges.
Kim Storm said that his familiarity with the academic side of Whitworth has proved both a blessing and a challenge. "I often struggle with the tendency to be too available as an academic consultant to my son… I should allow my son to struggle more academically."
For Michaelis, a difficulty arose as he was forced to juggle the roles of both dad and head of the Education department. He had to step aside and let other professors advise his daughters as they progressed through the education program.
"I had to manage my role as 'dad' and the department chair," said Michaelis. "Because I'm 'dad,' I couldn't provide them with the strong mentor relationship they needed. Fortunately, others stepped up and did that for them."
Despite the special challenges of being a Whitworth parent, most of them cannot imagine trading the experience in favor of another.
Curry would not sacrifice the satisfaction of knowing that his son, Michael, '07, received a great education. "What Mike learned and experienced at Whitworth was the real deal," said Curry. "He learned how to think and be a good citizen and what it means to follow the Lord's view. Mike learned about life."
Similarly, Kim Storm would not sacrifice the sense of connection gained from sharing Whitworth experiences with his son. "To share an academic heritage with my son affords me a sense of pride and celebration," said Storm. "If my son had not attended Whitworth, I'm sure I would have had greater feelings of disconnectedness."
For Michaelis, the memory of calling his daughters' names at commencement can still make a smile slip across his face. "Now, that was cool," he laughed. "I wouldn't trade that for anything."