Dr. Walter Greason ‘91 is a Ranney lifer that is truly a model global citizen and exemplifies authentic leadership. The alumnus was recently appointed as the Chair of the History Department at Macalester College and in his spare time, he is a member of Ranney’s Board of Trustees serving as Chair of the Diversity Committee, member of the Education Committee, and member of the Alumni Leadership Council.
As a student, you were involved in many areas of Ranney. Did Ranney cultivate your interest in many different activities or are you just a naturally curious person?
To have the opportunity at Ranney to be in a small academic community where I knew everyone from an early age is what made me confident to look for new and other opportunities at Ranney and in the local community. I was involved in every aspect of Ranney as a student–choir, athletics, art, you name it, but most folks would remember me from my involvement with student government. It is a point of pride that I was president of student government my senior year.
What was your transition like from Ranney to college?
In my first couple of weeks at college, I realized my study habits were much better than my classmates’. I remember in my first Spanish class–after taking four years of Spanish at Ranney–the professor started speaking in Spanish and I was the only person who understood that there was not going to be any English language instruction. This immediately gave me enormous confidence to go forward in college, and know that I could not only handle college but excel.
The lifetime of instruction in the curriculum at Ranney taught me to excel long after I had graduated. Even in my first classes as a doctoral student, I read more closely and I wrote more succinctly with more detail and style than my peers.
How did you get into history?
Mr. John Yale was the former Middle School principal and a dear mentor of mine. While I was in the Upper School, he was the history department chair. In my sophomore year at Ranney, I took AP US History with him. I had done well in other classes prior, but somehow during the course, everything clicked. I retained knowledge and I could see patterns. It was like being in the matrix and I could see the code. It became immediately apparent that I had a knack for history. Not only did I take the two-year AP US History sequence with him, but I loved it so much that, in my senior year, I requested special permission from the school to be Mr. Yale’s teaching and research assistant. Mr. Clay, the principal, said ‘yes.’ I had a special note on my transcript that I was an instructor, helping to develop course work and lead instruction with sophomores taking AP US History. That work convinced me that I could be a high school teacher. Beyond that, it was possible that I might have the skills to be a professor.
You recently were named the Chair of the Department of History at Macalester College in Minnesota–congratulations!
Thank you–I am excited and honored. Macalester College is internationally known as a leader in liberal arts education. To be hired as a faculty member is an honor, and to also be named head of the history department is simultaneously being recognized as one of the best historians in the world.
Macalester is a place where I can leverage my work and research, which have changed a lot of discussions in the historical profession about how people look at residential development and global finance. Specifically, my work with the Black Panther movie and creating the concept of Wakanda is shaping work at the Smithsonian, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, University of Michigan, and more. Being at Macalester is a recognition of the excellence of the trajectory in my career. All of that is provided by the foundation Ranney gave to me. So much of my work now is global. Because of the diversity of the Ranney community, I have been able to connect with people from many different countries.
How did you get involved with Ranney as an alumnus?
During my 20s, I wasn’t as involved as I would have liked to have been because I was busy with my doctoral work. Ranney has been my heart, and I cannot imagine it not being a part of my life. A few years ago, when I was asked to join the Board of Trustees and was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I was tremendously struck and moved. I could never be more honored to come in and sit with the individuals who maintain the Ranney legacy.
What is your quintessential Ranney memory?
Field day. Field day was when we pretended that we were in the Olympics, formed teams, and competed in outdoor events. It was one of the few days of the year when we didn’t have to dress up in uniforms. From my earliest memories of first grade, we had a quarter-mile race around the track. I came in third in my first race and thought “wow I am pretty fast.” Essentially my entire athletic career derived from that moment.