Some things are pure Kenyon. Any Kenyon student or graduate will recognize them as Kenyon through and through. What's quintessentially Kenyon? First of all, there's the character of the place, which is rooted partly in natural beauty and village intimacy, partly in the way people relate—friendly, casual, creative, tolerant, serious but not severe.
But there are also distinctive programs, places, and traditions: things that have made us famous, things that make us proud. Our unique literary heritage. The remarkable opportunities for collaboration with professors in science research. Our swimming dynasty. Our track record of turning out talent in the world of theater and film.
We can't give an all-encompassing definition of quintessential Kenyon. But here are some items that definitely belong on the list.
A footpath that runs the length of campus, Middle Path connects everything, literally and figuratively. It's a village green, traversed daily by students, professors, administrators, and village residents. Everybody meets on Middle Path, chats, lingers, and catches up. Here, organic farmers and Amish families sell their wares. Here, Kenyon holds its great rituals, from first-year Opening Convocation to Commencement. Middle Path is a metaphor and defining presence, embodying the ideal of community.
Food for Thought
Kenyon has won national recognition for bringing local foods into the dining hall. But students love the Food for Thought program because it feeds their desire to make a difference in the world. This intellectual menu includes farm internships, field research in rural sociology, documentary photography, oral-history, student-created museum exhibits, and activism aimed at preserving farmland and strengthening rural communities.
A Literary Culture
Literature all but permeates the air here, and it's not just because the campus is home to the Kenyon Review, one of the nation's most revered literary magazines. Yes, students have the opportunity to work with the Review staff. But they also forge their own rich literary life, embracing everything from magazines to poetry slams. Visiting authors regularly come to Kenyon to read and teach. The world of letters includes a good many Kenyon graduates —poets Robert Lowell and James Wright, fiction writers Peter Taylor and E.L Doctorow, nonfiction writer Laura Hillenbrand, and screenwriter Jay Cocks, to name just a few.
Kenyon science students feel a special camaraderie that reflects a guiding spirit of collaboration. Close contact with professors is the rule. And in every scientific field, professors welcome students as research partners, both during the academic year and as part of the Summer Science Scholars Program (where barbecues and softball games break up long hours in the lab). The science quadrangle houses not only labs with state-of-the-art equipment but also study lounges and comfortable nooks.
When the stunning new Kenyon Athletic Center first opened, students gaped—at the size, the workout equipment, the soaring glass architecture. Then they promptly made the place their own, hitting the courts and hanging out in the lounges. Casual joggers and varsity athletes alike find the facilities superb. More important, they value it as they do the historic stone halls up the Hill: splendid in its own way, and a vital, comfortable part of the Kenyon scene.
The success of Kenyon swimming dwarfs all other NCAA streaks and records. Since 1980, the Kenyon men have won the Division III national championship every single year. Since 1984, the women have taken the title all but three times. Inspired by legendary coach Jim Steen, the Lords and Ladies continually reinvent triumph by focusing not on winning but on individual potential. Their dedication carries over to the classroom: Kenyon swimmers consistently win Academic All-American honors and NCAA postgraduate scholarships.
Stage and Screen
On many liberal arts campuses, theater people form a subculture. At Kenyon, they're very much part of the main scene. How to account for the vibrancy of theatrical life on campus and the extraordinary success that Kenyon graduates enjoy in the entertainment industry? Part of it is the drama department's resolute focus on fundamentals. Part of it is the literary and liberal-arts bent. And then there's sheer enthusiasm. Kenyon students revel in can-do creativity, and each new generation picks up the spirit.