Convocation 2007

Opening remarks by President Mark D. Gearan
August 29, 2007

Mr. David Deming, Board Chair; Ms. Maureen Zupan, Vice Chair;  Members of the Board of Trustees and Student Trustees; Congressman Lewis; Provost Amott; Deans Baer and DeMeis; Professors Conroy-Goldman and Drennen; Chaplain Adams; Mr. Felipe Estefan and Ms. Shavonne Ward of the Commission on Inclusive Excellence;  Students of Hobart and William Smith Colleges;  Members of the Faculty, staff and our Geneva neighbors.  Welcome.

At the start of each academic year we gather together as a community for Convocation exercises.  In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to the rigor of the academic year ahead, we welcome some of the newest members of our community and by our presence and participation we restate our dedication to the values and aspirations of this special place.   The flags which grace this lawn note the global nature of our mission and reflect the fact that for nearly two centuries young men and women have come from across the nation --  and the world -- to study at the Colleges. 

They have had the benefit of a dedicated faculty working with them to explore areas of intellectual interest.  They have had a committed group of staff and coaches supporting them and preparing them for success.  They have had an alumni and alumnae group committing resources and gifts that allowed for access to a HWS education and appointing this beautiful campus with academic, residential and athletic facilities.   And they have had Genevans hosting and cheering them on.

And so, too, for us on this glorious day like generations past – we pause to come together as a community – faculty, staff, students, Genevans – to mark our start and our beginning.

First, we officially welcome the Classes of 2011 – selected from the largest applicant pool in our history, representing 33 states and several foreign countries.  These first year students have already demonstrated academic achievement in their preparation before HWS and they bring leadership, service and athletic skills to enliven our community.  Already they have added to the vibrancy of our campus and I ask them to stand and be welcomed to Hobart and William Smith.

Next, we greet new faculty and staff colleagues.  We welcome the largest group of new tenure track faculty members in our history who join with other new appointments for a dynamic group of teacher scholars.  Our faculty enjoys a rich history and legacy of teaching excellence, research prominence and service to our community. 
Many new staff colleagues have also accepted our invitation to join the community.  They, too, bring experience and perspective from other institutions along with their own training. I ask our new faculty and staff colleagues to stand so that we might acknowledge you and welcome you to the HWS family.

We have had a busy summer preparing for the start of this year.  It can be seen in the new faces recruited to campus and in the physical changes – two new residences on South Main Street – Carr-McGuire and the Abbe Center for Jewish Life; resurfaced Cozzens Field; enhanced plaza at the College Store; enhancements to classroom and residences. 

And we have a great deal to look forward to this year – innovative classes that challenge your notions of the world; creative partnerships among faculty and students; teams that build community on the athletic fields; community service that deepens our engagement with Geneva; visits by alumni and alumnae through the Salisbury Center for Career Services; internship opportunities in every possible field; Fisher Center speakers series, the President’s Forum; enhanced study abroad semesters; events recognizing the William Smith Centennial;  the continued impact of the Fingers Lakes Institute. The list goes on and on.

Many of you have heard me say that I believe the Colleges are at an extraordinary moment in our history.  Fueled by growing interest in attending HWS; notable achievements and outcomes of our students; international recognition of our faculty – Hobart and William Smith stand poised for the next level of excellence.  Our alumni, alumnae, parents and friends of the Colleges have responded exceedingly well to the priorities of our Campaign for the Colleges. 

At Convocation one year ago – we were preparing to publicly launch our capital campaign.  Today, we have raised $112 million toward our goal of $160 million.  While these dollars are essential for scholarship support, programmatic support and facility needs – they also represent an extraordinary commitment of those closest to the Colleges.

And so we begin this academic year with confidence in our ability to continue our progress and advance the strategic plan, HWS 2010.  We have set a course to be known for the quality of our students, faculty, staff and graduates.  With our 2010 plan, we must insure that we meet this test and recruit the next generation of students from around the nation and the globe to reflect the inclusive community we aspire to be. 

We must insure that we prepare for this with faculty and staff support and appropriate physical spaces for academic, residential and administrative needs.  And we must engage our alumni, alumnae and friends in our aggressive plans for a world class liberal arts institution set in this marvelous place committed to the values of service and equity and global understanding.

But excellence is not defined merely by buildings and pathways, budgets and balance sheets.  I believe we have the chance this year to set a standard of excellence in how we engage with each other and the community at large.  There are four prioirty areas for the year ahead.

First, the work of the Commission on Inclusive Excellence I formed last Spring will continue as we envision a community guided by the principles of equity, social justice, cultural competence and engaged citizenship.  This year the Commission will develop a strategic plan and structured initiatives.  Two student leaders will speak today for the Commission that is comprised of faculty and staff.  I believe our work together with the Commission can advance our community in significant ways.

Second, the Office of Public Service will be renamed the Office of Community Engagement and Service Learning and will be charged with a broad mandate to deepen our engaged relationship with the Geneva community and build upon our service to our nation and the world. 

With targeted opportunities to meet student and community needs, strategic programming to assist with community and student development, the active involvement of our alumni, alumnae and friends of the Colleges – we will research, study and become advocates, advisors and partners in such relevant issues as environmental policy, child advocacy, international politics, constitutional and voting rights, literacy, hunger and poverty relief.  All under the umbrella of seeking answers and progress for the question we ask ourselves and each other today:  what do you stand for?

Third, we will enhance our work in the community of Geneva with an initiative that focuses on the partnerships we can create with our neighbors.  Geneva has been an extraordinary host to the Colleges for decades.  And we have a responsibility - individually and collectively - to model a level of citizenship and engagement.  I will be reporting to the community later in the semester on the Geneva Initiative in areas of education, economic development, vitality of cultural life, civic engagement, well being of children and families, public safety and community development.

And fourth, our community will be strengthened if we acknowledge the far reaching effects of global warming emissions and take seriously our responsibility to minimize emissions and work toward sustainability in our practice, our curriculum and as a lifetime model for our graduates.  To this end, I will sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and join with other presidents and chancellors who are “deeply concerned about the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects.”  

I will also form a task force of students, faculty and staff so that we might explore ways to make this green campus more “green”.  I would expect a one year effort with recommendations for improvements.  To study at HWS is to appreciate the beauty of this environment.  As stewards, we can do better and I will look to Professor Drennen and others for assistance.  The President’s Climate Commitment is a statement of our intent – and this Task Force will offer us specific recommendations.

We have work to do.  But I am confident that these efforts with our other plans will bring about the kind of community we seek.

Today – August 29th – is date of significance.  Two years ago Hurricane Katrina took the lives of more than 1800 people and caused more than $81 billion in damages.  I am proud that we have sponsored six trips to the area to gut and rebuild homes with nearly 100 faculty, students and staff traveling to the Gulf Coast.  I am proud that so many of us have signed the Gulf Coast Civic Works Project or watched Spike Lee’s film at Scandling Center.  I am proud that HWS raised $36,000 for the Red Cross and other relief efforts and that we were named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with distinction for Katrina relief efforts.

And 44 years ago today, the world was talking about a march in Washington where a young man named John Lewis addressed the crowds with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  He spoke about the struggle for civil rights and as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee mobilized his generation of students in the fight against injustice and intolerance.

And so it is fitting that today – with our Convocation committed to building a community of inclusive excellence – that we hear from a man whose has lived a life of consequence.  A man who nearly lost his life from two vicious beatings during a Freedom Ride and another while marching in Alabama.  A man who endured numerous arrests during peaceful demonstrations yet is still filled with hope and love.

I wanted John Lewis to come to campus because we live in a time of great cynicism and I believe we can draw great inspiration from his journey.    Virtually every sector of American society today has been tainted by scandal and disappointment.  Leaders in government, business, sports, religious life, higher education have abused the trust reposed to them and left us with the question posed by a recent newspaper headline:  “Where have all the heroes gone.”

John Lewis answers that question. 

His life is one of engaged citizenship.  Hope.  Struggle.  Perserverance.   For he was only 23 years old and the son of sharecroppers when he decided he could make difference and took his beliefs into action.   Inspired by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr – he has dedicated his life to securing and protecting human rights and personal dignity.

In my judgment, he is the ideal individual to start this academic year and certainly worthy of the President’s Medal which will be presented to him today. 

I know our students will listen carefully to his message.  I know Congressman Lewis has drawn strength from his meeting earlier today in my home with students in first year seminars.

John Lewis has said:   “As young people, as students, when you see a problem, confront the problem.  Don’t run from it.  As a good citizen – you have an obligation.”
That obligation, Lewis says, is to “Find a way to get in the way.”

Think about that:  As a good citizen, as a student, when you see a problem, confront the problem.  Find a way to get in the way.
And that’s my charge to you this year:  Find a Way to get in the way.
Go to Trinity Hall and involve yourself in community service.  Join clubs and organizations where you will stretch the boundaries of what you think you can accomplish. 

Follow the events of our time, register to vote.  Create academic and career goals that fit your values and ideas.  Study abroad.  Attend lectures.  Read more than you are required.  Think harder than you’ve done before.  Get out of your zone of comfort and take advantage of all that is here for you.

For in this involvement – this engagement with the world – you will honor the life of John Lewis and set yourself on a path of  your own life of consequence.

With gratitude to the Board of Trustees for the honor they have entrusted to me, I open these ceremonies and this coming academic year and call upon the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mr. David Deming, Hobart College Class of 1975, to extend greetings.