APPLETON, WIS. — It’s not that Ryan Kessler has anything against English. For the past three years, however, the incoming Lawrence University freshman has been developing a completely new language of his own.
Chris Schmidt, a four-year Army veteran, is beginning his college career after completing a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq earlier this year.
Emily Bablitch has made the most of her love of the outdoors, logging more than 1,000 miles across North America by canoe, kayak and hiking boot.
And Megan Stark earned the privilege of helping name a cliff face in Switzerland after scaling it.
Kessler, Schmidt, Bablitch and Stark are among the 392 eclectic new students — 356 freshmen and 36 transfers — Lawrence officials will welcome Tuesday, Sept. 8 for the start of orientation activities prior to the start of the college’s 161st year of classes on Monday (9/14).
Kessler, of Palo Alto, Calif., began developing Tha’zhôt’kril (“second language”) in the 10th grade as an antidote to boredom. He since has invented more than 2,000 words and is constructing grammar for his language. In creating Tha’zhôt’kril, Kessler borrowed from other world languages.
“It uses clicks from the Zulu and Xhosa languages and retroflexes from Indian and aboriginal languages,” said Kessler. “It has a lot of interesting features that English doesn’t have.”
Calling his new language a “work in progress,” Kessler isn’t expecting it to enjoy widespread use anytime soon, but he is hoping to find some Lawrence classmates who would be interested in learning to speak it.
“There are languages that die every year, so it’s nice to know I put one more new one out there, at least for now,” said Kessler, who plans to pursue degrees in both bassoon performance and biology.
Although he knew he was going to enlist in the Army when he graduated from Menomonee Falls High School, Schmidt never forgot about a letter he received as a senior from one of Lawrence’s athletic coaches. Four years later he’s enrolled as Lawrence’s first “Yellow Ribbon” student.
Passed by Congress this summer, the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program, through the Veterans Administration, funds tuition expenses that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate. As a participant in the program, Lawrence will contribute up to 50 percent of the remaining expenses — approximately $7,300 per veteran — and the VA will match the same amount. The program helps qualifying students avoid all out-of-pocket tuition and fees associated with education programs that may exceed the Post 9/11 GI Bill tuition benefit.
Schmidt served 15 months at Camp Liberty outside Bagdad, where he participated in sector patrols, assisted Iraqi police and supported explosive ordinance disposal teams. Discharged earlier this year at the rank of specialist, Schmidt remains a member of the U.S. Army Reserve.
When he began his college search, Schmidt remembered the letter he had received years earlier from Lawrence. He found Lawrence the ideal distance from his north suburban Milwaukee home, far enough away from his parents, but close enough to return when he wanted to.
“And the Yellow Ribbon program helped even the playing field,” said Schmidt, who is a member of the Lawrence football team this fall.
Over the course of the past several summers, Bablitch, who is from Whitefish Bay, has explored nearly enough of the continent to qualify for her own National Geographic special. Her travels include a 150-mile kayak trip on Lake Huron, a 33-day, 510-mile canoeing adventure through Saskatchewan, a 45-day backpacking excursion in Alaska that nearly ended prematurely when she suffered a concussion in a 20-foot tumble and a 30-day mountaineering trip in Oregon’s Cascade range that included a trip to the 10,778-foot summit of Mount Baker.
“I love being in the wilderness,” said Bablitch, who plans to be active in Lawrence’s Outdoor Recreation Club when she’s not pursuing a degree in environmental science and anthropology. “I hope to do a lot more climbing.”
Climbing is what led to Stark’s brush with notoriety. While living in Switzerland — her home the past seven years before moving to Richland, Mich. — Stark scaled a near-300-foot rock face with members of a rock-climbing club. When it was discovered the cliff was “unregistered” with the local climbing authority, Stark and her fellow climbers were allowed to designate it “Mrs. Zünd,” in honor of her school principal.
The 392 projected new students, with their typically strong academic profile, arrive with increased ethnic and geographic diversity. Fifteen percent of this year’s freshmen class are domestic students of color, up from 11 percent last year and the highest level since Lawrence has tracked such numbers, going back several decades.
“As our student body becomes more diverse, Lawrence becomes more attractive to students from diverse backgrounds,” said Ken Anselment, director of admissions.
The freshmen are drawn from 36 states — up from 31 last year — and 15 foreign countries.
“We were able to stick a few more pins in our map this year,” said Anselment.
About 30 percent of the incoming freshmen are home-grown (Wisconsin), with Illinois (61), Minnesota (30), New York (18) and California (16) collectively accounting for slightly more than another third of the freshmen. China, with 10 students, provided the most of any foreign country, matching Iowa’s total.
Academically, slightly more than 21 percent of the freshmen ranked in the top five percent of their high school graduating class, while nearly 40 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their class. This year’s freshmen carry an average high school grade point average of 3.61 with ACT and SAT score averages of 28.7 and 1291, respectively.
And while small liberal arts colleges nationally have skewed heavily female in recent years, Lawrence’s new students are bucking that trend with a nearly balanced 49:51 male-to-female ratio.
“It’s a testament to the quality of Lawrence University that, even in the midst of a lousy economy, we have increased our ethnic and geographic diversity while maintaining our strong academic core,” Anselment said.
More than 92 percent of this year’s freshmen class received financial assistance from Lawrence. The average need-based financial aid package exceeded $27,500.