Chaplain Maurice Charles
August 31, 2015
President Gearan, Provost Ufomata, Trustees, and esteemed colleagues on the rostrum, thank you for the gracious invitation to offer a word of welcome.
Returning students, welcome home. And to the Classes of 2019! 2019! Some of us recall a time when 2000 was so far away that we imagined we would travel to and fro in hovercrafts in the 21st century and have fully automated homes that would do our chores for us! Well, things didn’t quite turn out like we expected—but that is not to say that we are disappointed. The most exciting thing about this brand new era is right before us. You! With all your experiences, achievements, qualms, and quirks—all of you.
Welcome class of 2019! You belong here.
Like you, I have the great privilege of being a first year. Do you recall the moment when you first felt you belonged here and not at one of the many other wonderful colleges and universities that dot the globe? When I first visited, I had a grand time, from the thoughtful conversations to the salad fork and cocktail tests—I mean, delicious meals.
But two moments stand out in particular: The moment I fell in love with the colleges, and the moment I knew, without a doubt that I belong here. When I had a break from the meet and greet marathon I happened to walk through the Religious Studies department. A little sticker on Professor Michael Dobkowski’s door read, “Did you know I was a first generation college student?”
I thought about that first time I walked into a 300 seat lecture hall as a first year and how much it would have meant to see such a sign in the hall. That was the moment I fell in love with Hobart and William Smith Colleges. After asking around, I learned this simple, wonderful little gesture of hospitality was the brainchild of William Smith Associate Dean Lisa Kaenzig.
Small gestures matter. Communities are built—or destroyed—one small gesture at a time. When I shared this story with Professor Heather May, of the Theater Department, she had her own story to share of the small gesture that made her decide to come here. Ask her when you meet her. What is your story?
The second moment that confirmed my place here was when I arrived after driving from Cleveland, clad in wrinkled shorts, Keen Newport sandals, and my favorite t-shirt—black of course—with the Oakland Peace Center logo on it. I headed to public safety without changing clothes, wondering, “What will happen if walked up to the window just as I am? No jacket, no collar.” The serious but cordial officer [I’m going to track down his name] slid open the window with the customary “May I help you?”
I started, “I’m the new chaplain Maurice” and before I could say “Charles” he threw up his hands, flashed a smile and said, “Oh, great, we’ve been waiting for you. Welcome!” And with that, he handed this stranger the key to the chaplain’s house (where dinner is served, Wednesday every week at 5:30.)
Such a small gesture. (It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why, in the current political climate, this small gesture was a big deal.)
Hobart and William Smith and Geneva as a whole are communities built on small gestures that matter. We invite you to create your own gestures of hospitality, to help us widen the circle of friendship, and yes, even to challenge us on those unfortunate occasions when we fail to live up to our highest values. You belong here. Listen for that message in all that you hear today and it in the dead of winter, after the exam doesn’t go quite the way you expect, or your crush banishes you to the friend zone!
Welcome to a new academic year. Welcome home! We belong here.