The Student Experience in the Nineteenth Century
From Indiana University’s founding in 1820, its leaders have influenced students, and these influences established the type of education students received and the ways students benefitted the world through their education. Current administrations continue to influence education, and each administration has had its unique emphasis; the first 80 years of the institution were no different. Andrew and Theophilus Wylie impacted students’ view of their education in multiple speeches given before both students and government officials. This collection of speeches helps to understand how Andrew and Theophilus Wylie’s ideas of the world and education’s impact within it continues into the 21st century.
Andrew Wylie’s message to the students of Indiana University is positive and reaffirming in nature. He emphasized before the Convention on Education in 1837 the impact that one educated individual can have upon a community. “In this way improvement beginning with individuals is diffused through families, and extending from families to neighbors, pervades, at length, the entire community.” This same theme is found in his 1848 Baccalaureate Address. He urged the graduates to continue to advance themselves saying, “Improve yourselves. So shall you to be better prepared to act for the general good, in whatever sphere it may please Providence.”
Theophilus’ approach to the students and graduates is much different. He delivered his speech with one major difference not seen from Andrew: Scripture. Quoting Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians in his 1859 Baccalaureate, he exposed the graduates to life in “an evil world.” He went on to express how one’s role “must always be a hard undertaking in a world that lieth in a wickedness.” In his Chapel preaching on truth in 1878 he again provided the image that “we live in a world of mystery” and are “never able to come to full knowledge.” This view of the world as a dark, hard place unwelcoming to the progresses of education reflect a view darker than Andrew’s of an educated, improved community.
Students in the nineteenth century would likely have been impacted by the required chapel sermons and baccalaureate services. These two views of education and its role within the world set the tone in many ways for the education students received and how they would use it. These speeches help the Indiana University community to observe the different influences that played a role in the foundational years of the institution, to reflect on the modern mission of an Indiana University education, and to understand its evolution from the frontier university of nearly two hundred years ago.