John F. Schwaller '69, Doctor of Humane Letters

August 04, 2009

John F. Schwaller '69 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Grinnell College Commencement 2009.

Schwaller's career in higher education, spanning more than 30 years, has been characterized by a questing curiosity, leading him always to explore fruitful new avenues of inquiry and to adopt new tools for reaching time-honored ends. Whether as teacher or administrator, he seeks to take into account the full context in which people act.

After earning a bachelor of arts degree in history from Grinnell in 1969, he went on to earn a master of arts in Spanish from the University of Kansas in 1971 and a doctorate in history from Indiana University in 1978. A distinguished scholar of early colonial Latin America, and of the Nahuatl language and the Nahua or Aztec people, he is the author of five books and the editor of three others, along with many articles and presentations. His engagement with his material moves beyond sterile specialization to a search for comprehensive mastery of his field. He is known for his early recognition of the Internet's possibilities for building an even closer community of scholars.

Dr. Schwaller has had an equally distinguished career in academic administration, from his directorship of the Academy of American Franciscan History at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, Calif., to a series of administrative positions at Florida Atlantic University, the University of Montana-Missoula, and the University of Minnesota-Morris, and, since 2007, as president of the State University of New York-Potsdam. In all these positions, his intellectual rigor and attention to the wider context has allowed him to discover ways around obstacles of all kinds to realize his vision of academic excellence, not only for himself, but also for coming generations.

An inspiring teacher, Dr. Schwaller was named Distinguished Teacher of the Year from the College of Arts and Humanities at Florida Atlantic University. A dedicated scholar, he has served his discipline devotedly as a member of the American Catholic Historical Association, chair of the program committee of the American Historical Association Conference on Latin American History, president of the Rocky Mountain Council of Latin American Studies, and U.S. delegate to the History Commission of the Pan American Institute of Geography and History. His service extends beyond the walls of the academy: he is an engaged churchman and Boy Scout leader, as well as a longtime volunteer for Grinnell College.

Grinnell College honors John F. Schwaller, for his leadership, dedication, and innovations as an educator.