Opening Convocation – August 25, 2021

August 25, 2021
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome Class of 2025. We promised to give you a warm greeting. Seeing the number of people fanning, we may have overdone it a little bit!

As president, it is one of the true privileges of my position to be among the first to greet you on this whirlwind day as you move in, say goodbye to parents, and start that remarkable stage of life known as college.

Your path to this day could not have been easy, given all you’ve lived through these last 18 months in particular. But you made it through, and you’re here now, and we’re all tremendously happy about your arrival among us.

All the other members of the Gettysburg College community, including the upperclass students, the faculty and staff, and our 30,000 alumni near and far join me in welcoming you to what I’m confident you will fondly recall years from now as among the “best years of your life.” Now in truth, you will have many “best years” in your life, but if you ask almost any graduate of this College, they’re certain to tell you that they hold their Gettysburg College years especially close to their hearts.

It’s important, I think, to state an important truth: that you are about to enter one of the most consequential periods of your life—a time of personal and intellectual growth that will be of great and lasting consequence to you in all the years of your life to come.

We welcome you as the newest members of this academic community. This is not the homogeneous community in which many of you have lived over the last 17 or 18 years. Here, you will meet people from many different races, backgrounds, beliefs, cultures, geographies, and circumstances. This is not by accident—it is very intentional on the part of the College. We pursue diversity because it is the truth of the world. And we pursue it because inherent to the educated mind is the facility and inclination to want to understand how the world looks through another’s eyes.

We pursue it because without it one cannot experience the immense joy and enrichment that comes from making friends and colleagues of people unlike yourself.

We pursue it because we’re a college ambitious to change the world, and what needs changing more than almost anything else is the reality that too often, in this nation and around the globe, we are finding it increasingly hard to speak to one another, to hear one another, to have compassion for one another, to find common ground with one another.

So, in your years at Gettysburg College, you will have the opportunity to meet people unlike yourself, and I urge you to take fullest advantage of this opportunity. All it takes is a curious mind, an open heart, and a deep appreciation of the fact that every member of this community adds to the vibrancy of our collective experience. It is simply a privilege to be in a position to know and understand another’s perspective, because it offers us the possibility that our own perspective may, as a consequence, be expanded, deepened, widened, affirmed, or even changed.

This afternoon, at this convening of the 190th Academic Year of Gettysburg College, you are entering one of this nation’s great colleges. We are here to help prepare you for long-term professional success in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world. We are also here to launch you toward a full intellectual and personal life—one in which you will find meaning more broadly, and take pleasure in appreciating the intricacy and the diversity of the world around you.

Now, membership in any community carries with it both rights and responsibilities. As you join this academic community, I’d be remiss in not touching upon some of those rights and responsibilities:

You will have the right to be treated with respect, and the responsibility to treat others as they would like to be treated.

You will have the right to express your own viewpoint, and the responsibility to reconsider that viewpoint in light of new information and new insight.

With the right of such an education comes the responsibility to acknowledge—first to yourself, and then to others— when it is the case that you “do not know.” True learning starts with that admission—it’s not an admission borne of weakness or ill-preparedness—it is, rather, a sign of intellectual and moral confidence.

In coming to Gettysburg College, of course, you have elected to spend the next four years of your life in an historic and consequential place: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Tomorrow you will take your First-Year Walk, one of the College’s most distinctive traditions. As you process as a class through the streets of Gettysburg to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, you will be welcomed along the way by upperclass students and townsfolk alike as our newest citizens. It will be energizing and uplifting.

But the broader point of the Walk is to provide you the opportunity to reflect upon the consecrated ground you will walk these next years of your life. Great sacrifices were made here in service of fundamental human rights and the nation itself. You will trace the path walked by the students of 1863 as they followed President Lincoln to the dedication of the new Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—regarded by many as one of the finest speeches in the English language—gave us renewed belief not just that our young country would survive, but that we should and must commit to the founding principles articulated, if not then or now fully realized, when the country was formed. Principles of equality, dignity, and the inherent worth of every person. Lincoln challenged all of us to resolve to complete the “unfinished work” of creating that “more perfect union” the founders had promised.

I don’t think I need to remind nor convince you that in our time, in the here and now, the unfinished work of which Lincoln spoke remains unfinished: the full promise of America still eludes us. It is my hope that in your years of living and studying here, in this historic place of great consequence, that it will fill you with the resolve and determination to lead a life of meaning, purpose, and contribution to that unfinished work.

Let me offer some final thoughts about the promise we make to you as new students of this College:

We promise you A Consequential Education, one that will empower you to lead a consequential life—a joyful life of contribution to the world, and to the lives of others.

A Consequential Education means that we will develop your intellectual dexterity—that ability to walk around a problem thoughtfully before choosing your way in to solve it. We mean an education that will deepen your emotional intelligence, crucial to being able to empathize and communicate effectively with others. We mean an education that will allow you to sharpen your skills of discernment—necessary for being able to separate fact from opinion, recognize the better ideas amid the lesser ones, and choose the better path when there is a choice to be made.

Your consequential education will hone your capacity to adapt, thoughtfully and nimbly, in response to unexpected changes in your personal and professional lives, such as what you’ve been through these past 18 months.

And you will learn how to convert your aspirations into concrete, tangible action—a lifelong skill that will hold you in good stead whatever life throws at you.

Obtaining A Consequential Education is not a passive process—it doesn’t get poured into you. You are here because you have our full confidence that you can do great work, both as an individual and as a team member. Just remember, we are here to support you. There will always be someone nearby who can lend a hand. We’re all here to do great work, and ultimately, we need one another in order to accomplish it.

So, my charge to you on this Opening Day of your college experience is to embrace the opportunity before you. Lean into the entirety of your experience here—and whether you find yourself in a mind-bending philosophy class, or on a field of play, or in a clinic in Ethiopia—take it on, with a full heart and an open mind.

Finally, have fun. These next four years will fly by, so take the time to explore this place, enjoy the cookies—you’ll hear a lot about those—and build those friendships that will last a lifetime. Honor one another, engage with your professors, and support the work of this great community.

Class of 2025: Welcome and, together, let’s Do Great Work!