Benjamin Hale Dinner 2009

Joshua Unikel '07
April 17, 2009

Scholarship, Leadership, Ownership

Members of the Hobart Classes of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012; students of environmental studies and English, political science and public policy as well as numerous other areas - gentlemen, I encourage you all to pause and look around the room tonight. Look at your friends sitting next to you; look at your peers seated at your table; and look at your peers at all of the tables here tonight.

As you pan the room, I want you to know that you and every Hobart man who you see around you is one of the leading student scholars at this institution. Whether you are here to be recognized for general academic excellence in making Dean's List or to receive an award for specific scholarship in your field, you are here tonight because you are extraordinary academics - you are leading the way in the classroom, and for that, I congratulate you all.

You have proven to your professors, your deans and to me that you have mastered scholarship. So in your various academic, professional and personal journeys, I hope that you all consider two other tenets as well: leadership and ownership. Both of these, in my view, should begin with passion.

Gentlemen, what are you passionate about? Is it something in the classroom? Is it something on the athletic field? Is it in the community or in a club on campus? Is it some combination of these? You do not need to find that answer tonight, but you do need to find that answer. And I encourage each of you to find it before you leave this campus.

Before I graduated two years ago, I found my answer inside and outside of the HWS classroom. By my junior year, I'd discovered that my personal and academic passions in life were for writing and philosophy. Being a student-scholar of these subjects was important, but it was an important start. I knew that I had a lot more to offer HWS than exams, essays and in-class questions; I knew that true scholarship becomes co-curricular leadership. 'Virtue is a thought and an action.'

So I took action: I made my presence known here. On campus, I re-invented the Colleges' literary/arts magazine, and I started the Colleges' first philosophic organization that included students, faculty and staff members. In my departments, I became involved in decisions about who would teach you and the future students of Hobart and William Smith by becoming a member of a philosophy faculty review committee and meeting with a prospective English faculty member.

With that said, understand that I am not the first to do so. And I trust in all of you that I will not be the last. Gentlemen, if you have not already seen, Hobart and William Smith is not only where it has been and where it is, but this campus is where you lead it.

While you do your part to shape this campus, own what you do. Expect yourselves to lead as academics and as campus organizers and expect yourselves to lead in new ways. Make your voice, your name and your particular passions known - the HWS community will listen and foster your pursuits. Part of what makes this place special is how open it is to change, how it welcomes new campus leaders and organizations, and how it cultivates new areas of study. That said, own what you study here by studying what you are passionate about: create your own major, double major, take independent studies, do honors - follow your passions and your professors and deans will guide you along the way.

As a student at the Colleges, I wanted to write creatively while studying literature and philosophy. More to the point, I needed to do philosophy through writing creatively and use new forms of writing to do so: something that none of my faculty mentors in either field were doing. However, they all contributed to and encouraged my pursuit of this new, hybridized field of study. They were excited by my ideas - they fostered my particular type of scholarship and, in supporting me, they helped me become the writer, the academic, and the person that I am now.

At about this time in 2007, I was in the same place as the seniors here tonight: wondering what happens next. Knowing that I wanted to use my background in writing and editing in the professional world, I hit the pavement: started getting in touch with people on campus about opportunities here. And it's no surprise that the Colleges wanted to help me further my passions again: this time by offering me two positions on its staff: as an editor in Communications and an editor for the Seneca Review. Recognizing my passion for writing and for publications, I have had the rare fortune of receiving a second type of education at the Colleges: learning how to carry myself as a professional, how to make deadlines and how to be a passionate member of a team. These are lessons that I hope you all learn in whatever manner you enter the professional world.

Looking back on my time at the Colleges and all that it has taught me as a staff member, as a student and as a person - nearly all of what I've learned is based on scholarship, leadership and/or ownership. They apply to being a student at HWS, to being a professional after graduation, but most importantly: scholarship, leadership, and ownership apply to being a citizen in the world.

So, gentlemen: know what you're passionate about, become educated in it, apply that education to the world of action, and, by all means, lead and accomplish in your own way.

With that in mind, I ask the members of the Hobart Classes of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 present to look around the room once again and see your peers. All of you will be recognized tonight for your mastery of scholarship. And if you haven't already, I encourage you all to transform your scholarship into leadership and ownership at the Colleges and everywhere you go afterward because your campus, like your life, is not what you make of it; your campus and your life is what you make it into.

Thank you.