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The Statesman
George Wythe University The Statesman
July 2013

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Why Monticello?

By Laney Cheney

My two young kids and I recently made the long drive from Mesa, Arizona to Monticello, Utah.  As we made our way through the vast, open land, my eight-year-old son exclaimed, “We are in the middle of nowhere!” and then, with a touch of incredulity, he asked, “Why are you building a campus out here?”

I had to laugh at his innocence and sincerity.  Although Monticello is far more populated then the Canyonlands, he just couldn’t understand why we would select such a remote location.  And he isn’t alone; I’ve heard the same question more than once: Why Monticello? 

Some speculate that it is the name, which, although pronounced differently, is the same as Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia.  But let me remind us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and set the record straight that the similarity is due only to coincidence or providence, however you prefer to see it.  My understanding of why GWC selected Monticello has been that much of the land was donated.  While that is true, it is not fully accurate that we selected the location for our campus because of it.  In actuality, the answer to “Why Monticello?” is even simpler than that.   And after spending time in the town and hiking through the future site of our campus, I finally understand. 

The GWC 2006-2030 Strategic Plan states “To create a university with the greatest potential outcome, that is, the building of statesmen, we must not scrimp on one of the most overlooked and least understood aspects of developing the human spirit—the natural and enhanced environmental surroundings, the physical campus itself.”  Some believe that education can take place anywhere, and in certain cases perhaps that is true.  But just as the proper development of our infants requires a certain environment, so does the proper development of statesmen.  If the surroundings are conducive to “developing the human spirit”, the teaching and learning experience can be significantly, even drastically, enhanced. 

Take a moment to think about times in your life when you experienced a momentous epiphany or an increased understanding of an important lesson or principle.  I imagine that nine times out of ten, those experiences took place when you were alone and, likely, when you were surrounded by nature.  Education, particularly liberal education, is enhanced by solitude and beauty. 

Solitude and beauty perfectly describe the location of our future campus.  Our land is situated at the base of the Blue Mountains and is surrounded by national forest on the south and the west.  It is covered with pines, small oaks, aspens, wildflowers, and a large variety of other plants and shrubs.  Deer, elk, raccoon, porcupine, turkey, hawk, and even bald eagles are not uncommon to the area.  A well-trained eye can even find ancient artifacts like arrowheads and broken pottery pieces.

The 42-acre campus is situated next to a small canyon, opposite the campus reserve (over 200 acres held in reserve for future generations).  After class, students can hike to the other side of the canyon to read Dante or Aristophanes while sitting on a boulder jutting out of the side of the canyon, occasionally stopping to contemplate a viewpoint while looking at the La Sal mountains in the distant north or the Sleeping Ute mountain in the southeast.  Mentors can easily hold class in groves of trees or near the small pond encircled by a variety of plants and reeds.  Students and residents alike can also enjoy a number of manmade and natural trails that wind through our land and connect to the national forest to the south and the west. 

From certain parts of the campus, and eventually from second story windows, students can see landmarks in Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.  Imagine discussing political issues in the United States while overlooking the Four-Corners Area; or discussing the world while looking out the window into a 120-150 miles view of some of the most beautiful terrain on earth.  Certainly such surroundings would be an ideal environment for “developing the human spirit.”

A resident of Blanding, just 30 minutes south of Monticello, exclaimed that if she heard another person say there was nothing to do in San Juan County she would pull out her hair!  Indeed there aren’t malls or large warehouse stores, but the area is encircled by any number of exciting vacation spots that most people have to drive hours and hours to visit; such as Moab, Canyonlands, Lake Powell, Telluride, Lake McPhee, Durango, and the Blue Mountians.

The benefit of being in a more secluded area, surrounded by such places, is that there are minimal distractions readily available to students.  In the 1750’s, Boston was the largest city on the east coast with 15,000 inhabitants.  To effectively model our educational system from that of the founders’, we will need to situate a permanent campus where growth is prone to be slow, where modern distractions are limited, and where being in nature and near beauty is a daily part of learning.   

So, why Monticello?  Stated simply the answer is beauty, seclusion, and an enhanced learning environment.  But to fully comprehend the reasons, I suggest you see the land yourself. Come walk the trails and roads.  Come see the distant views.  Come experience the beauty.  Of course, tours are always available; but the best time to experience the land is during the Groundbreaking coming up on August 29-30.  What better way to understand our vision of the campus than to stand in the future location of the campus entrance while looking at a rendering of it!  Or to stand on a platform near the location of the library overlooking the four flagged corners of the 42-acre lot of the campus!  Or see the clearing for the plaza and another for the first administrative building, which will house your inscribed brick and have the honor of being the first building on the campus! 

If you really want to know “Why Monticello?” I hope you’ll join us at the Groundbreaking this month.  I’m certain you’ll leave understanding why we want to build statesmen “in the middle of nowhere!” 


Laney Cheney is the Vice President of Development of George Wythe University.