Convocation Faculty Speaker
August 22, 2007
Good afternoon and on behalf of the faculty, welcome to Gettysburg College.
When I was asked to give the address today, I thought about my own freshman convocation 19 years ago. I was a raised in the city and had never been away from home, nevertheless, I chose to attend a remote rural university in a town that makes Gettysburg look like a booming metropolis. On the day of convocation, I sat with over a thousand other nervous freshmen, worried about classes and roommates and I was lonely and homesick already, even though my parents had left only an hour before. Then the faculty speaker got up to address the class and he said, "one in three college students will graduate in four years. Look to your right and your left. This is your competition...which one of you will it be?" I was 17 years old and terrified, and I thought that was the absolute most horrible thing that I had ever heard. I was sure that I wouldn't be the one in three to receive that diploma in 4 years. And that is how I started college.
Now listen to me carefully: you are NOT at that school, YOU are not at that school, you are not at THAT school, but let me tell you a little bit about the school where you are.
For 175 years, Gettysburg College has been dedicated to academic excellence, individual creativity and engaged citizenship. There is an amazing intellectual energy here, fueled by passion, ingenuity, and our institutional commitment to service. It is true that part of this energy is fed by a certain level of competition. But understand that in competing, the best measure of success is in bringing others along with you. The faculty at Gettysburg College know that you are some of the best students in the country and that you have already demonstrated that you are accomplished, intellectually curious global citizens. We've all chosen to teach at Gettysburg because we recognize that the students we are able to attract to this institution are those of you who can and will make a difference in the world. This has allowed us to create a learning environment that is remarkable. There are very few places quite like it.
The time that you spend in college is magical. This is when you have the chance to take risks and really push your boundaries. I'm not talking about the chance to act crazy-some of you might do a little of that, but you surely don't need me to tell you about it. I'm talking about the opportunity to take intellectual risks-the chance to completely destroy an idea and then rebuild it so that it's entirely yours and it's even better than it was when you first conceived it. I'm talking about being active learners where you don't just accept ideas and statements and theories because you've read them but because you've consumed them and you've tested their truth value for yourselves. Learning like this is hard, and it can be truly heartbreaking as well, but it is also exhilarating.
That learning will challenge you in ways you can't even imagine. It will push you to look beyond yourselves and beyond the college. It will compel you to think about your community, your country, and your world in unimaginable ways. Use it during your next four years to change the lives of those people sitting to the left and the right of you, and the lives of people at home and abroad. Be sensitive and conscientious-make careful, well informed decisions... examine your heart and resist stereotypes when you're working to serve others both locally and globally. Above all, understand that there is more to helping someone than doing it from pity. You have the unique opportunity at Gettysburg to do great work on and off campus, but make sure that you do it with compassion and sincerity.
Soon you'll begin working harder than you have before. You will also work to change the world for the better. And in the process, you will change yourselves. At Morehouse College in 1948, Martin Luther King Jr. said "the function of education ... is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society.... We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." The next four years you spend here at Gettysburg is a time in which you'll discover so much about yourself and your own character; you'll struggle with new choices, decisions, and opportunities that will allow you incredible insight into who you are now and who it is that you want to become.
Don't waste a second. You are members of an unbelievably gifted class of students and you have every reason to be confident in your abilities and identities. But when you graduate four years from now, without a doubt, you will have become very different people. Over the next couple of years, each one of you should take the time to get to know yourself and think carefully about the person that you want to become. Live purposefully and be self aware. Know the exhilaration of working until you're exhausted. Form deep and genuine friendships. This is an excellent educational institution where you will discover abilities, skills, interests, and ambitions that you do not yet know you possess. Gettysburg College will present an abundance of experiences, both inside and outside of class, which will allow you to develop your abilities and expand your horizons. You're going to have so many chances here to be absolutely amazing-take advantage of them. No matter how much you've accomplished up until now, you will completely surprise yourselves. So, I urge you: discover the exceptional gifts you each possess; put those talents, your intelligence, your passion and curiosity, to work to make the world a better place.
In closing, I'd like to give you the same instruction that I received at my freshman convocation almost 20 years ago. Look to your right and your left. This is your community. These are your partners. These are your confidantes, your fellow activists, your sorority sisters, your fraternity brothers, your team mates and your co-conspirators. The people sitting next to you will be there when you tackle new problems, make new discoveries, play a piece (or a part) perfectly for the first time; they will share in your triumphs and in your defeats. And in an incredibly short four years, they will be your fellow alumni. I'm certainly not saying that you will all love each other all of the time, but these are the people with whom you will grow up, and for many of you, these are the people who will make the most significant impact on your lives.
Now look all the way to your right and all the way to your left; look at the faculty. This too is your community, and these too are your partners. We're your guides, your mentors, your advocates. We will work diligently to inspire you to work hard: we will spend hours in labs, we will listen to countless rehearsals, and will read first, second, and third drafts; we will share our passion for learning, creating, and discovery with you, and we will help you figure out how to ignite the fire in yourselves. We are committed to challenge you to think critically. We are committed to push you to think intensively. And perhaps most importantly, we are dedicated to your self discovery as you explore the depths of your character. We too are looking forward to the next four years. Thank you.