Convocation 2008

President Mark D. Gearan

President Mark D. Gearan
September 4, 2008


Every September year we gather at the beginning of the academic year to mark the start of our shared journey. We say to ourselves and to each other that we commit our energies to the rigor of the academic year ahead, we welcome the newest members of our community and we reaffirm our dedication to the values and aspirations of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In this beautiful space we meet surrounded by flags of the countries our students hail from - reflecting our commitment to a global community and we think about fellow HWS students who are abroad studying in 12 different nations.

This year we meet at a time of great excitement and progress on our campus, a dynamic new group of first year students, talented new faculty and staff colleagues have arrived who will join our community and add to it in special ways. We gather during the Centennial year of William Smith College - a chance for all of us to celebrate 100 years of leading women.

We gather at a time when the Colleges enjoy widespread respect for its faculty who engage students and prepare them for lives of consequence. We gather with a group of staff colleagues whose commitment and dedication to our students and to this place is unyielding. We gather with enhanced physical spaces and institutional support thanks to the commitment of thousands of grateful alumni and alumnae who have reached over the arc of their lives to remember the difference HWS made for them.

And we gather in the City of Geneva - a community which has been a wonderful host to the Colleges for nearly two centuries - a city that has welcomed our students, supported our efforts and advanced our mission.

For all of those things, we are grateful.

So let me begin with the Classes of 2012 - selected from the largest applicant pool in our history from across this country and around the globe. In seven short days on this campus they have already begun to make their mark. We welcome them in the spirit of those who preceeded them. The Classes of 2012 are talented students who bring strong academic preparation coupled with leadership, service and athletic skills to enliven this campus.

May I ask the Classes of 2012 to stand for a welcome to Hobart and William Smith.

Next we greet new faculty and staff colleagues. An impressive group of new tenure track faculty joining other new appointments follow in our legacy of teaching excellence, research prominence and service to our community.

We greet new staff colleagues who bring considerable professional experience across a wide array of areas to serve our students.

May I ask our new faculty and staff colleagues to stand and be acknowledged by a grateful community for accepting our invitation.

Now since our upperclass students left Geneva in the Spring, we have had a busy and productive summer. You may have read that ABC's Extreme Makeover television show came to Geneva for a home renovation. Well, we have had our own version of Extreme Makeover on this campus this summer: Three new units at Odells' Village; an enlarged and enhanced Scandling Center that now truly becomes a campus center where students, faculty and staff can gather informally; a new Learning Commons in the library that joins library services with technology in a 21st century design and brings our dynamic Center for Teaching and Learning into new space for its talented and extraordinary staff; a new Kosher kitchen at the Abbe Center for Jewish Life reflecting our commitment to a more inclusive community; work on the Centennial Center for Leadership on South Main Street that will be dedicated in November.

Countless staff members have labored very hard over the course of the summer on these and other projects from Peoplesoft conversion to extensive outreach to our alums and prospective students. We set ambitious deadlines requiring late nights, weekends and extra effort - I am one grateful college president and I know you want to join me in acknowledging our collective thanks in preparing for the year ahead.

I begin this academic year with excitement for the opportunities that exist for all of us. Classes for students that will open minds and expand areas of intellectual interest; possibilities of travel to cities and countries that will give our students a truly global education; community engagement that will honor Geneva's important role in our campus life while broadening all of our understanding of local issues and challenges; athletic contests that show skill and leadership of our student athletes while providing excitement for the rest of us; lectures and discussions by alums and friends of the Colleges who return to outline their professional fields at the Salisbury Center for Career Services; speakers who enliven the Fisher Center series, President's Forum and other events; outreach of the Finger Lakes Institute that remind us our responsibility to this unique region; efforts to green this campus and our collective commitment to environmental stewardship.

My fondest hope and most important recommendation to students for this year - is to take advantage of this place. Involve yourself in your classes, clubs, team and residences. At last year's Convocation, Congressman John Lewis urged us all to 'find a way to get in the way' when we see issues or problems, confront them. Good advice.

We begin the academic year with great momentum for the 'state of the colleges' is a sound one - advantaged by growing student interest in attending HWS, notable achievements of our students, national recognition of the scholarly contributions of our faculty, considerable engagement of our alums who care deeply for this place. All of this building the support of our Campaign for the Colleges - essential financial support that will solidfy HWS for generations to come.

Less than two years into our public effort, we have raised $138 million toward our goal of $160 million. These funds are essential for scholarships, programmatic support and facility needs.

The success of the Campaign for the Colleges is mirrored in our strategic plan's priorities. A year ahead of schedule, we have already grown the student body, maintained the faculty to student ratio and improved the entering qualifications of students. To be sure, our work is not done, but we are making progress.

As you know, I do not believe that excellence is defined solely by buildings and pathways, budgets and balance sheets. We have the chance to advance those important priorities - but we also have the chance - and privilege - to set a standard of excellence in how we engage with each other and the community at large. To this end, let me outline the three priority areas for the year ahead.

First, we must advance the work of the Commission on Inclusive Excellence. With faculty, staff and students the Commission worked last year to envision a community guided by principles of equity, social justice, cultural competence and engaged citizenship. Organizational work, objectives and mission are now complete and the Commission took a productive step for campus dialogue on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with an all-day session.

Over the summer we benefited from counsel from a nationally recognized scholar. But we have much more to do this year - and with greater focus, improved visibility and communication and urgency.

This work is widely shared in our community as a core mission-central effort. By continuing to listen to our students and campus constituencies, I am confident we can use data to guide our work, allocate resources, and move from words to action. Our Commission will reconvene soon and its work is of enormous importance to our strategic future.

Second, we will deepen our commitment to Geneva with the Geneva Partnership. You know my view: we have a responsibility - individually and collectively - to model citizenship and engagement. Indeed, our roots as an institution are borne from Genevans themselves who wanted an institution of learning here - the Geneva Academy.

So we will take what is already a good and productive working relationship with Geneva and take it up a notch. An advisory committee will assist me - but we will always honor what Genevans seek. Coxe Hall will not decide what is best for Geneva - but we will listen and learn from Genevans themselves and work to do our part in the areas of education, economic development, vitality of cultural life, civic engagement, the well being of children and families, public safety and community development.

Third, we will build upon the very successful work from last year to acknowledge the far reaching effects of global warming emissions and take seriously our responsibility to minimize emissions and work toward sustainability in our practice. Last year at Convocation I announced my decision to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to 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."

With an active Task Force of students, faculty and staff we took notable steps last year to make this green campus more green. The founder of the national Presidents Climate Commitment visited our campus and inspired us to further action.

This year with a sustainability coordinator in place and broader campus wide efforts from recycling to the yellow bike program to conservation - we can make even more strides.

These three areas - building a more inclusive community, working in partnership with Geneva and advancing our stewardship of this unique campus - will combine to distinguish Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

At the start of this academic year - we will hear from our Provost and a faculty member as well as students who have traveled the world during the summer with the Salisbury Summer Stipend to explore interests; we will honor a local Genevan and patron of the arts and we will hear from our keynote speaker, Eric Liu.

I wanted Eric Liu to come to campus and start our academic year with a conversation about civic engagement. In my judgment there is no better person to begin our dialogue for the year than this gifted writer and activist. It's not just because we face an election in 60 days - although that is critical. But the issues of engagement and his work on patriotism is of great urgency to our democracy.

Liu has recently written a book entitled The True Patriot - that will be distributed at the close of Convocation. With co-author Nick Hanauer he sees the limitations of both political parties and advances a sense of public morality for our nation. He freely admits his views may bring discomfort to both the left and right of American politics, but he wants to stir a discussion leading to greater civic involvement.

Whether you agree with Liu's own politics is not the point - it's his vision of patriotism and civic engagement that you should consider.

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 Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Maureen Collins Zuppan, William Smith Class of 1972 to extend greetings.