*Bridge Out: An escape move in wrestling in which the wrestler rolls from the bridge position—back arched and above the mat—onto his stomach.
Settling into an airy, kitchen-adjacent room in his sprawling Saucon Valley home, Schaninger, 49, dips into what he calls his own “rather tortured tale” of trauma and, ultimately, metamorphosis.
Schaninger was born in the heart of Allentown, not too far from Saucon Valley and yet a vast and varied world away. His parents were teenagers, children really. Barely 17 when Schaninger was born, his mother left William Allen High School during her pregnancy and would eventually get a GED. She had both of her children before the age of 20. There was intense love, says Schaninger, lots of anger and swearing, little money, and the sometimes-comforting/sometimes-smothering weight of urgent, important dreams. Other than a grandfather’s abbreviated attendance, no one from either side of the family had ever gone to college.
He also has what he calls a decent genetic makeup and was both reasonably bright and a solid athlete, starting in football and wrestling throughout his four years in high school. Moravian College recruited him; he wasn’t interested. “I had gotten into Johns Hopkins,” he says. “I thought I was too good.”
He also thought he wanted to be an engineer. But he blew a physics placement test for Hopkins and convinced himself that he didn’t have what it takes to survive the discipline. His parents disagreed. “They told me, ‘You will take engineering. Or pre-med. Or you will not go.’ I was like, ‘okay’—and then without telling either of them, I promptly disenrolled myself from Hopkins and enrolled myself at Shipp.” Shipp as in Shippensburg University. “It clearly wasn’t Hopkins or Moravian,” laughs Schaninger. “And it was devastating for my mother. But it was cheap, and where it led was interesting.”
What it was, instead, was two years of sub-2.0 GPAs, an unimpressive streak that ended with the end of Schaninger’s childhood. The spring of his sophomore year at Shipp, his father, a printer, was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), a cancer that begins in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system. NHL is a catchall diagnosis; it’s given to many different types of lymphoma that share the same characteristics. In Schaninger’s father’s case, the suspected cause was the toxic chemicals—solvents, inks, adhesives, pigments, and the like—to which he was routinely exposed at work. He died when his last round of chemo overwhelmed his organs. He had just turned 40. Schaninger was 20.
“In that moment, I had to step up,” says Schaninger. “I was reeling, but my predominant feeling, the one I remember most, was that I needed to not be an idiot.”
Schaninger moved back home, and along with working “some not great jobs,” he coached wrestling at Salisbury High School. Fast-forward a year, when he accompanied his team to the district championships: He ran into Greg Skutches, who had tried to recruit his younger, more idiotic self for Moravian. “He came up behind me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Why are you home?’ ” Schaninger’s story spilled out. “He said, ‘I’ll tell Admissions you’re coming.’”
And he did—but Admissions was less enthused than they had been three years earlier. Schaninger was required to take a class to prove himself. He chose political science with Professor John Reynolds. And the transformation began.
In one sense, this was literally true. As in high school, Schaninger played football and wrestled for Moravian. At the time, Moravian’s wrestling team, incredibly close-knit and arguably even more successful, was ranked fourth in the country. He much preferred the physicality of wrestling to football. “Football is 11 people needing to work together through a series of set plays,” he says. “I found the preparation monotonous. Wrestling is very different. It’s all raw intensity and thought. When I wrestled, I was always thinking, always assessing, always planning my next move.”
This is, in essence, what Schaninger does, and it is what he learned to do during his undergraduate years at Moravian—think. “There’s a real argument for the need in this country for a liberal arts education, an education that both teaches people to think and gives them the room to do it,” says Schaninger. “We need that, desperately.” Because thinking, one could argue, is now a little revolutionary.
This is not how Schaninger categorizes the work of McKinsey, which helps organizations across private, public, and social sectors around the world achieve their most important goals and even aided a country in its recovery from natural disaster. “Impact isn’t just making money,” says Schaninger. “Impact is also solving problems that matter. I feel really good about being associated with an organization that is preeminent on that front. But if I’m honest, I don’t think there’s anything we do that’s as revolutionary as enrolling women. I’m so proud that we do that, that Moravian does that.”
It all comes back to where it started.
From his home in Saucon Valley, tucked into the curve of a leafy suburban street, Schaninger accepts a call from his longtime partner, Becky, an English teacher, before musing on the multiple arcs of his life. He is a thinker, a planner, a wrestler plotting his next five moves. And he has no interest in a burning platform (see 'Business 501' below). He likes to set things up. Forty-nine this year, he says he will work until he’s 55.
Very local. “There is benefit to resilience,” Schaninger says. “Many of us have experienced what currently, in the literature, would be called trauma. If you can find your bearings, find a place—physical or mental—that helps you to find your bearings. If you can thrive through it, not just survive it, it sets you up pretty well for life.”
Morgen Peters '20 loves working for VITA, Moravian College’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program for lower-income families. “It’s heart-warming to help people who struggle so much,” she says.
It is an empathetic experience for Peters, who herself has struggled financially and benefited from the generosity of others—specifically Bill Schaninger ’93, MBA ’98, whose annual scholarship, awarded to first-generation students, makes it possible for Peters to get an education here at Moravian College.
Like Schaninger, Peters grew up in Allentown. She earned her high school diploma at Dieruff. Neither her mother nor her father had the financial resources or encouragement to attend college.
“My parents really encouraged me to go to college,” says Peters. “They understood that it would open up so many opportunities for me, and they wanted me to discover my passion and pursue the career of my choice.”
Peters’s grandmother paid for her first semester, and then the scholarship came to the rescue. “Without it, I wouldn’t be here,” Peters says.
“Being awarded scholarships means being able to get an education, and it lessens the stress associated with loans,” Peters adds.
Heading into her senior year, Peters, who interned with Concannon Miller as a junior, will seek out more hands-on opportunities. Her goal is to earn her CPA certification and eventually develop her career in tax services, a passion inspired by her work with VITA. “I like numbers and making sure everything balances out,” she says. “In accounting, if something isn’t working, you can find an answer.” Like Peters’s Moravian College experience—the pieces added up and balanced out. She found her answer.