The Campaign for Every Laurentian

A Conversation with Campaign Co-Chairs

Trustees Michael “Mike” Ranger ’80 (MR) and Sarah Johnson ’82 (SJ) prepare for the launch of St. Lawrence’s largest campaign to date: The Campaign for Every Laurentian. The launch weekend on Oct. 25 to 28 is an open invitation to Every Laurentian to come back to campus and to be a part of shaping the future of the institution. We sat down with the two campaign co-chairs to talk about what is at the heart of this campaign.

MR: When you think about the prototypical St. Lawrence student experience, basically everyone followed a similar series of experiences. There was something that attracted you to a small liberal arts college, something that attracted you to this location. You made some connection with the beauty of the campus and its surroundings. That is what got you here. 

And then, when you were here, you were put into this giant hopper of experiences which started with orientation and meeting your entire class on the Quad. Then, slowly finding your way through those experiences, whether a sports team, club of interest, or student government, by your first year, you found that group of friends and interests that united you. You started to find that intellectual spark in one or two faculty members who took an interest in you, and who you were inspired by; and before you realized it, you were at the end of your sophomore year. 

You have found a core group of friends, you have selected a major ,and you are beginning to turn that corner thinking about what is going to be next. That is the bridge to being an upperclassman and finding out that there is this entire network of people who have been through this before and who will help you get an internship or fellowship. This St. Lawrence support network is what gets you to graduation and maybe even your first job. 

And finally, you start to realize that the St. Lawrence connections stay with you throughout your career and your friendships; you have a core group of people that seem to never go away. You find yourself 10 years down the road vacationing with their families or attending their weddings. And no matter where you go, or where you find yourself later in life, you are surrounded by St. Lawrence. 

SJ: It is all about Laurentian pride: People everywhere seem to know someone who went to St. Lawrence because Laurentians talk about their experience here. It is not often that I hear others talk about their schools.

From my perspective, I believe it takes a certain type of person who is willing to travel many hours to come to this campus. It can seem like a very isolated community. When we were here, there wasn’t the Internet and there were no cell phones.

MR: (Chuckling) There were phones on the walls in the hall.

SJ: Yes, the phones in the hall, but your campus was your community. What made it so special for me was that I immediately liked everyone I met. By the time the filter that gets people here is applied, and you have this group of people who are very capable academically, but who also like to socialize, the community becomes very strong. And because you don’t have the influence of urban distractions and you are in a small town, you captilize on all of the experiences St. Lawrence can give, that are right in front of you.

MR: You only get out of SLU what you put into it. This is not a place for spectators, so you have to be actively involved and take advantage of what’s here. What I realized a couple of years after I graduated was that the majority of students wanted to do the best they could do, but not at the expense of their classmate. There was never an intense one-on-one competition. There was a sense that we are going to mutually achieve, and we are going to do it in a way that is supportive of each other. That doesn’t exist in the real world in many environments. But it does here.

SJ: The perfect example of that is the riding team, where they do compete for individual scores, but they are also a team. They stand up and cheer for each other. My daughter was on the team and I always admired how nurturing and inclusive they were. 

MR: When we say, “Every Laurentian,” I think people view it as a community and they view it as a lifelong bond. The campaign is just an extension of that spirit, like the riding team, performing as individuals, but also that sense of achieving something together.

If you think about what we are trying to raise capital for, it is all reinvesting in the student experience, so that today’s students can have a similar, yet modern complement to the experience we had at St. Lawrence. Take for example the Sophomore Journeys program, which takes the strength of the first-year program, applies it to sophomore programming, and builds that bridge to being an upperclass student so that you are prepared to take the next couple of steps. I think the focuse on learning for the 21st century is also an important priority of this campaign.

SJ: Endowing our future is critical as well to support the things we do extremely well.

I’ve been motivated to give to St. Lawrence, because, what few people understand is, schools like St. Lawrence stay competitive through combining the tuition revenue, annual giving, and the income generated from the endowment. Without all three pieces, we could not provide the “gap” funding necessary to educate each student. A strong and growing endowment allows us to do this. 

I like value, and I can’t stand seeing money wasted. What I found is that St. Lawrence is able to do more with less. Every dollar is maximized to benefit the institution and, it is what allows us to maintain the best of the liberal arts.

The small liberal arts tradition helps our students learn how to listen, to think, debate, and then react, and come to a conclusion that is very thoughtful. Think about our current situation in Washington, and the vitriol thrown in both directions. It seems that nobody is listening to each other. As Laurentians, how are we helping to solve these problems? Well, we educate young people who can think and listen; we invest in the next generation of critical thinkers and problem-solvers. And I think we do that exceptionally well here. 

MR: The takeaway we have as co-chairs is how refreshing it is that the focus of this campaign is investing in the student experience.

As far as coming back to help us launch this campaign, I would say for those who haven’t been here in awhile, say the late 1990s, what you will notice is that we have constructed modern, state-of-the-art facilities that compete with most, if not all, liberal arts colleges, but in a way that has taken the attributes and characteristics of the St. Lawrence education and built on it for it to thrive in the 21st century.

If the last time you took an undergraduate class was you and other students taking notes while a professor lectured in the front of the room, you will find that is not today’s experience. Things are more collaborative, there is more hands-on, one-on-one opportunities. The campaign identifies the connections between the things that worked and what we valued when we were undergraduates, and how St. Lawrence has built on it and made it fit today’s students without losing the integrity of the St. Lawrence experience.

Student experience support will come from funding for academics, connections, and campus improvements through the endowment and St. Lawrence fund support.

It is very important that we grow the reputation of our college by emphasizing the things that make us who we are.

SJ: And Every Laurentian is a part of that. It’s your legacy. You have chosen what school is on your diploma and you have the power to choose what charities you give money to. By making St. Lawrence stronger, you are strengthening your own legacy. You and I can be instrumental in helping St. Lawrence be recognized for
the gem it truly is.

MR: Providing the bedrock for all of these wonderful experiences is something we have been funding all along. We believe in a St. Lawrence education. The reason this is the Campaign for Every Laurentian is to make a better St. Lawrence.

Sarah E. Johnson ’82, P’15, St. Lawrence trustee and campaign co-chair, is a film producer with numerous films and documentaries to her credit, including the 2015 Oscar winner “Birdman,” Oscar nominee and Emmy winner “The Invisible War,” Oscar nominees “The Square”, “MissRepresention,” and several others. 

Michael W. Ranger ’80, P’17, chair of St. Lawrence Board of Trustees and campaign co-chair, is a senior managing director of Diamond Castle Holdings and formerly a managing director of investment banking for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

Trustees Michael âMikeâ Ranger â80 and Sarah Johnson â82