Nan Crystal Arens

Professor of Geoscience Nan Crystal Arens
August 29, 2016

Just between you and me, I’m not supposed to be on the stage today.  The faculty remarks at Convocation are typically given by the winner of the annual faculty award for teaching.  I didn’t win that award; in fact, I’ve never won that award.  The 2016 winner is a member of the dance department, an exceptional teacher/artist—Prof. Cadence Whittier.  She is such an effective and innovative teacher that a publishing house recently asked her to write a book detailing her method of teaching ballet.  Her teaching is that extraordinary.  You should try hard to take a class with her.  But, you say, I’m not interested in dance.  I’m interested in … fill in the blank—no, seriously, fill in that blank and hold that thought.

If my colleagues will indulge me for a moment.  Colleagues, if you are teaching this semester—and you are able—please stand and turn to face the students.  Students, I want you to take a good look at the folks standing before you.  Look for someone interesting…someone you’re curious about…keen to get to know?  Some of these folks probably know a whole lot about that thing you are interested in—find them.  You may have had great high school teachers, but these aren’t your high school teachers on steroids.  Every one of these folks is a leading expert in their field.  They aren’t just teaching you things they have learned, they are creating new knowledge and sharing it with you.  Right here.  And you can be part of it…if you want to.  More importantly, every single person standing before you has dedicated their life to teaching.  We each have a passion for ideas and a passion for getting you to love ideas too.

Thank you colleagues. You may be seated.

All summer long, people were probably asking you, “So, what are you going to study at college?”  You may have answered with sincere conviction.  Or, you may have made something up because you really don’t know yet.  In your shoes, I answered with great conviction: journalism, I’m going to be a journalist.  I graduated five years later with a degree in Earth science.  College is like that—I was transformed.  Right now, it doesn’t matter at all what you want to study.  If your mind and heart are open, you will figure all that out.  But here’s what does matter:

Why are you here?

“Ooo…ooo… to learn, of course, Prof. Arens.”  Or perhaps: “to have a really good time before adulthood finally sets in.”  Nope.  You are here to transform.  Some of those folks you looked at earlier are going to blow your mind wide open if you let them—you won’t see the world the same way again.  If you take the chance on study abroad, you won’t return the same person, guaranteed.  If you get involved—in sports, in clubs, in service, in leadership, in the arts, in activism—you will meet people who will help you discover passion you don’t know that you have.  If you try research, you may discover something that changes how we all look at the world.

Are you ready to transform?  It’s going to be wild ride—guaranteed.  Some amazing highs, some tears, some stress, some fear.  But don’t worry, you are part of the HWS family now—reach out to any of us—anybody you see surrounding you right now—and we’ve got you.  We can’t wait to see who you will become.  See you in class.