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Convocation 2009

President Mark D. Gearan
September 2, 2009

 

Provost Amott, Deans Baer and Banks, Professors Arens and Oberbrunner, Chaplain Adams, Student Trustees Dan DeNose and Regina Triplett and our distinguished speaker, Mr. Thomas Tighe.

To the members of the faculty, staff and students of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and to our Geneva neighbors joining us today: Welcome.

Over the weekend, members of the Classes of 2013 arrived in Geneva to begin their undergraduate years and we welcome them especially today at our Convocation Exercises. Following a rigorous admissions selection process they bring impressive academic achievements to our classrooms, broad intellectual interests to our campus and a commitment to service and leadership. To acknowledge our community's welcome and best wishes for your academic success at the Colleges, may I ask the Classes of 2013 to stand.

We also welcome new members of the faculty - with backgrounds in a broad array of fields - who will join a faculty that is deeply committed to student success and achievement. We welcome new staff colleagues who bring expertise in different areas to enhance the student experience and move HWS to the next level of excellence.

And finally, we welcome returning students, faculty and staff who make up this very special place. The year ahead will be an exciting one and we look forward to your leadership and engagement.

Convocation allows us the chance at the start of the academic year to come together as a community - students, faculty, staff, alumni and alumnae - and to commit ourselves to the year ahead.
We will hear from students, a distinguished faculty member, the Provost and Dean of the Faculty as well as our keynote speaker.

The event in some ways mirrors the Commencement exercises with the pageantry of academic regalia, flags signifying our commitment to global understanding, bagpipes and addresses. But today, we join together at the outset of the academic year and commit ourselves to excellence in the classroom, labs, performance spaces and in the many, varied co-curricular venues that distinguish HWS.

Allow me the chance to use these Convocation Remarks to outline four key initiative areas for the year ahead. As a community we have the chance - and privilege - to set a standard of excellence in how we engage with each other and the community at large.

First, we will work during the coming year to deepen our commitment to Geneva with the Geneva Partnership. As an institution, we have a responsibility to model a level of engaged citizenship - both individually and collectively.
The Geneva community has been a supportive and gracious host to the Colleges for nearly two centuries. In turn, the Colleges have also been engaged in important ways with Geneva. But we can, and must do more.

The Geneva Partnership affirms our broad recognition that the HWS community is engaged in meaningful ways to assist our Geneva neighbors. From Days of Service to particular efforts with Boys and Girls Club, Community Lunch program, Big Brother/Big Sisters, Geneva Heroes, HWS Athletes for Geneva's Youth, America Reads, First Book Geneva and American Counts - there are many significant ways to engage the community. This year, we can expand these efforts, deepen our ties and, in so doing, bring the Colleges into the community more and bring the community into the Colleges more.

We will expand our efforts with the Geneva schools in an initiative to insure that every Geneva child knows that "College is Possible" when they work hard. We can assist with community based research projects, tap the expertise of our admissions colleagues, mentor with programs like Project Eye to Eye, engage with parents and collaborate with professional development.

Second, the Colleges are committed to fostering an inclusive community in which every student, faculty and staff member feels valued and supported. Toward this end, two years ago I established a Commission on Inclusive Excellence comprised of students, faculty and staff members. We have worked effectively last year on admissions and retention issues, but our efforts this year will expand both the awareness of these issues, attention to our campus climate and the workforce issues of campus. Indeed, we are off to a very good start: our Orientation weekend for all first year students included important conversations on social class. We will continue these dialogues with a President's Forum lecture when we welcome Dr. Cornel West back to campus on October 5th. In my judgment, the work we all engage in with the Commission on Inclusive Excellence is critical for our lives today - and essential for our long term success.

Third, the HWS Goes Green Program launched a year ago to develop a culture of environmental sustainability on campus has produced notable results, but we have much more to do this year.

We are proud that over 40 tons of food waste were diverted from the landfill due to our institutionalized composting or the Spring semester Trayless Tuesdays campaign that saved nearly 15,000 gallons of water, or our recycling rates going from 16% in the Fall to 23% in the Spring. Or the success of our work to reduce energy consumption by 9%.

But with this progress giving us increased motivation, this year we will complete our Climate Action Plan to plan how the Colleges achieve net zero green house gas emissions; complete the second Green House inventory; focus on energy efficiency and improve campus environmental awareness in all student residences.

And fourth, this year we will engage in a series of important conversations - students, faculty, staff, Trustees - on the development of our strategic plan. Previous efforts have been useful in guiding our course. I believe it is very healthy and invigorating for a community to cast an unflinching eye on our efforts, consider our aspirations and join together with strategic recommendations and guidance.

We all know that the efforts of the year ahead are set against the backdrop of the economic recession. We continue to experience the realities of the economic turmoil and see its effect in philanthropy and the greater financial demands on our students and their families. In order to continue to provide access to a Hobart and William Smith education and maintain the student experience here, we must continue restraint in other areas of spending. We will continue to hold spending and navigate these challenging times while honoring the trust students and their families have given to us.

In planning the Convocation we wanted to begin our academic year with a clear statement about our mission of providing a broad liberal arts education for students to lead in this century of great change and promise. We talk a great deal here about HWS as offering "Worlds of Experience and Lives of Consequence" and indeed our keynote speaker today was chosen for his life which has truly been one of filled with worlds of experience to lead a life of consequence.

Hobart and William Smith has long been recognized for its global education programs - recently listed as 18th best in the nation. But we also have a shared focus on community engagement - and therefore our focus today on global citizenship.

In the Colleges' Global Education materials, the concept of global citizenship is stated quite well:

"Global education can easily provide worlds of experience. But how can you translate this experience into lives of consequence. Consequence implies something more than success in the global economy.
It implies a contribution that outlasts the contributor.
A life of consequence demands the wisdom to perceive the interconnectedness of all life and living, the courage to embrace and learn from difference, not fear or deny it, and the compassion to maintain an imaginative empathy that reaches beyond one's immediate surroundings and extends to those in distant places.

A life of consequence demands global citizenship.
Global citizens have a commitment to service and action, at the local and global levels.
Global citizens understand themselves and their own culture.
Global citizens have an in-depth understanding of at least one other culture and language.
Global citizens can work across these cultures with facility and ease.
Global citizens understand that culture is constantly changing.
Global citizens look to other cultures for solutions to challenges in their own.
Global citizens understand the human place in the complex ecosystem of the planet.
Global citizens feel compelled to work towards genuine understanding among peoples. And actively work across lines of gender, class, culture and nationality to solve the challenges facing the whole of humanity.
Lastly, Global citizens are critically reflective of their own actions and conscious of their own need to continue to adapt and grow."

So we begin this year with the charge to think carefully about this enormous opportunity before all of us - living in this stunning place, engaging with fascinating professors, staff and students. How can all of us evidence our global citizenship? How can we make a difference on this campus, in this community and for this world?

Whether you join the 60% of students who will study abroad with our faculty or remain in Geneva for four years - everyone can take advantage of the global perspectives on this campus - in classes, from fellow students, faculty, staff, by reading the Aleph, attending the Away Café or Fisher Center events or other visiting speakers. Our conversations will continue throughout the semester and into the Spring Semester in January when we welcome the author of Three Cups of Tea, David Relin, to campus for a community dialogue on global citizenship on January 26th. (You now all have a reading assignment for the semester break in December.)

First year students will see our commitment to these issues in our curricular and co-curricular life. I was delighted to read today's announcement of the Washington Monthly survey ranking HWS as number 37 in the nation for the percentage of graduates serving in the Peace Corps and number 12 in the nation for the amount of federal work study dollars spent on service.

This past week, our nation buried an historic figure. Whether one agrees with the views of Senator Edward M. Kennedy or not isn't the lesson here. The lesson for all of us - is to reflect on the life of an engaged global citizen. He chose the arena of public life and brought his skills to debate the important issues of our time. You may go onto public service, the private or the non-profit sectors - but all of us have the chance to engage with one another and lead a life committed to ideals and values.

So I open the academic year and these Exercises of Convocation in the spirit of global citizenship and the difference all of us can make in the year ahead.

I am pleased to bring forth the Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Teresa Amott, for remarks and introduction of the faculty speaker.