Convocation 2011

Mark D. Gearan
August 29, 2011

Thank you Trustee Zupan, Provost McGuire, Professor Bayer, Deans Baer and McNally, Jermiah Booream-Phelps and Caroline Dosky for your thoughtful remarks.

I want to use my Convocation Remarks to do a few things: first – to speak to the incoming Classes of 2015 and offer some reflections on their start at HWS; second to speak to the theme of our proceedings, 'the power of an idea." And finally to outline some of the key priorities I lay out for the year ahead.

First – to the Classes of 2015. You have been admitted to Hobart and William Smith Colleges with confidence for your success here based upon your secondary school academic work, leadership roles, service commitment and athletic accomplishments. Our admissions colleagues waded through more applications than ever, admitted 300 fewer students than last year – and bring you to campus with excitement for the difference we know you will make on our campus and in the Geneva community.

It was quite visible to me on Friday morning on the steps of Coxe Hall as I greeted you and your families and welcomed you into the Hobart and William Smith community.

It was visible to me Saturday morning with the energy and enthusiasm you brought to your service work at 31 sites in Geneva and Ontario County. You worked collaboratively, learned a bit about our wonderful city of Geneva and ways you can assist during your four years here.

And it has been observed to me by our faculty on this first day of classes. Your First-Year Seminar instructors and others have already commented on your engaged presence and the intellectual curiosity you have brought to your classes.

I am sure all the first year students will want to join me in thanking the entire Orientation team of students, our colleagues in Student Affairs, Student Activities, Residential Education, the Deans office, Registrar and others who worked so hard to make your transition a smooth one.

During the summer we hosted several events with our alums and incoming students. At one event in New Jersey the host received a hand written letter from an alum expressing regret in not being able to attend the party writing:

"Dear College Friends:

Thanks for the invitation to the summer gatherings. I greatly regret that I will be unable to attend any of them in person. However, I shall be with you all in spirit, wishing you the very best. May you and all your families keep well and happy.
Since I was born in December 1909, I am now 101, thankful to be able to spend the last years of my life in the Atrium of Navesink Harbor total care with pleasant people in beautiful surroundings – overlooking the Navesink River.
Come to see me. Room 203.
Best wishes always
Alice Weston Rounds
Class of '32

Ps please share with attendees."

The charming note prompted me to take her up on her invitation and I visited Alice in Room 203 the next day.

At age 101 – she is a dynamic, informed, fun and sage woman. She reflected on her years in Geneva, where she lived on campus, the year she spent at the Sorbonne following graduation from William Smith and her career as an educator as well as her memories of this special place. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that the incoming Classes of 2015 would be arriving soon to Geneva and asked if she had any advice.

And she did.

"First, she said – tell them to have fun.

Second, enjoy the lake and the beauty of the area.

Third, take advantage of all that Hobart and William Smith offers.

And fourth – be sure to use the summers during your undergraduate years wisely exploring possible interests and careers."

It was, I thought, very good advice. Very contemporary advice and I share this with you from one of our oldest living graduates. Alice's third point to take advantage of HWS is well placed. Take advantage of the faculty as Dean McNally urged at the Opening Ceremonies on Friday. Take advantage of the resources at the Center for Teaching and Learning, Finger Lakes Institute, Leadership Center, Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. Go to Trinity Hall and meet with Career Services about your summers as Alice advised. Join clubs and organizations where you will stretch the boundaries of what you think you can accomplish.

These are challenging and important times we live in – so follow the events, register to vote. Join 60% of your classmates and study abroad. 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 indeed take the good advice of Alice Weston Rounds who has certainly led a life of consequence.

Today's theme for Convocation is appropriately entitled "The Power of an Idea." Appropriate, of course, since our keynote speaker is a social entrepreneur who had one of the most innovative ideas in recent years that has inspired a movement for a child's right to play. Darell Hammond is someone who took a simple idea of harnessing the power of volunteerism with playground construction and created a significant national effort.

Today, Kaboom is the largest purchaser of playground equipment in the United States – more than McDonald's. He has built a national organization, raised millions of dollars and inspired an army of citizen activists.

This weekend, many members of the first year class started this process of playground construction right here in Geneva at the Middle School, West Street Elementary School and Geneva Community Center. And we have plans going forward to expand play areas for Geneva's children.

But this concept of the 'power of an idea' is a worthy one for us to reflect upon as we start the academic year.

As we think about the year ahead – I would urge all of us to commit ourselves to ideas. Explore them in the classroom with your faculty who lives are dedicated to ideas and scholarship. Consider them in our residence halls and dining rooms. Absorb them in the Fisher Center series, President's Forum guests and other visitors to campus. Be open to new and challenging ideas while respectful of other's views.

Hobart and William Smith has a long history of this culture of an engaged campus. My hope for the year ahead is that all of us – students, faculty and staff – can learn from one another. That we can consider new ideas. And that we can advance ideas for change – both within our campus community and beyond.

Darell Hammond offers us a model of someone who took his idea and thru tenacity and commitment saw it to a reality.

The year ahead also offers us the chance to advance our ideas of partnership with the Geneva Community, the expansive ideas we have to further our efforts to 'green' the campus and deepen our work to build a more inclusive campus community. These three priorities will guide my work.

We have ambitious goals for the year to complete our historic capital campaign securing $200 million for the Colleges and the performing arts academic space; implement the recommendations of our strategic plan HWS 2015; prepare for our accreditation review and welcome a new Provost and Dean of the Faculty.

We have much to do and accomplish. But I am confident that the energy and spirit I have observed this weekend, the commitment of our alums and the phenomenal dedication of our faculty and staff will allow us to realize our aspiration.

Today Darell Hammond brings his own commitment for change and his social entrepreurial skills to our campus. I wanted Darell to start off our academic year with admiration for his life's work and with anticipation for our collaboration for Geneva's children. It is my privilege to call him forth to deliver the keynote address.