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PSS Winter '09 - Bruce Springsteen Photo

A Conversation About Civic Engagement

Eric Liu

by Melissa Sue Sorrells ’05

“This year, I want to start a conversation about civic engagement,” said President Mark D. Gearan, welcoming hundreds of students, faculty, staff and Geneva community members to Convocation 2008. “In my judgment, there’s no better person to begin that dialogue than this gifted writer and activist.”

Eric Liu, the writer and activist in question as well as the founder of The True Patriot Network and coauthor of “The True Patriot,” kicked off the academic year by encouraging those in attendance to redefine politics, patriotism and public service in moral terms. He also asked the Classes of 2012, 261 Hobart men and 290 William Smith women selected from the largest applicant pool in the Colleges’ history, to consider the impact their decisions have on those around them and the world at large.

“You have to leave the joint better than you found it. How you define the joint is up to you,” said Liu, a former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser in the White House. “You should ask yourselves: ‘What am I doing to make this place stronger?’ Whatever path you choose, this notion of purpose is fundamental. Purpose – a purpose driven life and a purpose driven politics – begins with the simple notion that it’s not about you.”

“We have the privilege to set a standard of excellence in how we engage with each other and the community at large,” said Gearan. “My fondest hope is that you will take advantage of this place and involve yourself in your classes, clubs, teams and residences.”

Student speakers Kathryn Klutts ’09 and Josh Parks ’09 also encouraged those in attendance to enjoy new experiences and take advantage of all the Colleges have to offer, both calling on their summers as Salisbury Summer International Internship Stipend awardees.

“I challenge everyone here today to try something new this semester,” dared Klutts. “I have found that pushing your comfort zone is the best way to learn and grow.”

“How many undergraduates get to sit down with a Supreme Court Justice, have breakfast with a member of the South African regional court or even have the chance to spend time in Africa at all?” asked Parks. “Fortunately, as members of the HWS community, we all have that opportunity. Take advantage of it.”

The ceremony was a strong kick-off to the Colleges’ academic year, especially as the academic standing of the first year class continues to improve with 25 percent of firstyears receiving merit awards and a mean GPA of 3.25.

“At the level of the head, and more importantly at the level of the heart, something special is going on here,” said Liu of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “This is a remarkable campus and a remarkable group of people. This is a place where service and stewardship are woven into every aspect and every detail of campus life.”