Thursday, August 29, 2019

Opening Convocation Remarks, 29 August 2019

Welcome to the class of 2023 and to our transfer students, and welcome to your families and friends.

Among the many things that impress me at Susquehanna is move in. The O-Team, first-year RAs, athletes, alumni, members of the Selinsgrove community, faculty, and staff do such a great job of welcoming and, what’s surely more appreciated, schlepping. Let’s give a hand to your wonderful new neighbors who have helped you with your initial move into campus.

Let us recognize the legacy of the Susquehannock people who were the first stewards of this beautiful place and from whom this university and the river derive our names.

To the families in the room, thank you for the many ways you helped these assembled students choose to become Susquehannans. You can continue to play a critical part in their university journeys, but please don’t spend too much time on the phone with your students. You can keep track of events taking place on campus through our website and the new SU mobile app. When you do call, be sure to ask about your student’s participation in those activities, and ask them to share with you what they thought about those experiences.

Convocation means to be called together from the Latin words “con” meaning with and “vocare” meaning "to call" or  “to be called.” It’s is the same root as vocal and voice. So, at this event we are called together to begin the academic year, as Dr. Hastings does with such ceremonial panache. More importantly, we are called together with you to signal your entry into the life of this university and to celebrate the beginning of your matriculation, which is the substantiation of your having been called to this place.

You just made one of the best decisions of your life. The faculty and staff of this institution are truly extraordinary, and their commitment to your development and success inspires me every day.

It would be unusual for a student to choose a college based upon the central curriculum, but here, this spine of all students’ academic experience is an outward sign of fundamental values held by this university community. As our catalog states, “the Central Curriculum is designed to develop in students an awareness of:
·      the richness of human thought and expression,
·      the ways humans have sought to explain the natural world, and
·      the breadth of human interactions throughout the world, across time and into the present, and of the belief systems, values and practices through which those interactions are manifested.”[1]

These are the issues that bring value to our lives and present the most vexing challenges we face as members of an increasingly complex global society. One of the many benefits of a liberal arts education is how your world will continue to expand and shrink at the same time.

The vastness of the cosmos and the staggering breadth and depth of human achievement in the arts and science become more humbling at every turn, but a growing awareness of the countless ways we are linked through common human experiences are equally inspiring affirmations of our interdependence.

We are all citizens of the world. Asking where you are from was once a sincere icebreaker, but it has too often become code for “you’re not from here.” The great cynic philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope declared that he was a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.  

I have a strong affection for Diogenes. None of his writings survives, but like the faculty in this room, he was a great teacher, and he changed the course of western thought through his students.

Living in exile, Diogenes did not want to be treated differently because of his place of origin, so when asked where he was from, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” As the banner in front of our home and homes throughout our community and the nation say, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor.”

We are all citizens of the world. This is the fundamental lesson of the GO program. Each year, hundreds of Susquehanna students learn first-hand the immeasurable value of human and cultural diversity, the wealth to be discovered in our differences, and how much each of has in common.
We are all citizens of the world. We are bound by hope and common desires of personal expression, freedom from want, and the wellbeing of those we love.

Two years ago, upon being installed president, I said, “The world has never needed Susquehanna graduates more.” Little did I know how dramatically that need would escalate. The citizens of our world need thoughtful advocates, our planet needs thoughtful advocates, and our future needs thoughtful advocates.

We are not alone. On August 19th, 181 members of the Business Roundtable, which comprises the chief executives of the largest U.S. corporations, signed a new “Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation.” This 300-word document begins with this sentence, “Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.” The citizens of all nations deserve these rights.

The Statement continues by saying that corporations share a “fundamental commitment to all…stakeholders.” These include customers, employees, suppliers, and communities, as well as investors. This is consistent with the concept of a triple bottom line. To be successful, a business (or any enterprise) must be financially sustainable, benefit its employees, and be good for its surrounding community, meaning its neighbors and the environment.

As citizens of the world, we are all stakeholders in a collective future. Our world has never needed Susquehanna graduates more to be advocates for the triple bottom line we all share, so all may thrive, so all may enjoy respect, and so all may inherit an environment that has been passed down responsibly.

At the laying of the cornerstone of Selinsgrove Hall in 1858, Joseph Casey stated, “Education, in its legitimate sense, includes not only the cultivation of the mental powers, but the proper training and development of the moral sentiments and faculties, and its true object is to ‘make us not only wiser but better…’”[2]

Today, I invite you to your graduation in this space in May of 2023. At the close of that ceremony, I will give you this charge:

Achieve all you can for good,
Lead with honor and humility,
Serve with love and pride,
And always strive to be not only wiser, but better.

Keep those goals in mind as you spend the next four years preparing for that day. Today, I give you this charge rooted in the goals of our core curriculum:

·      Engage in the richness of human thought and expression with a convert’s zeal,
·      Ponder the ways humans have sought to explain the natural world with an openness to the wide-eyed wonder with which we have sought to understand the mysteries that surrounded us;
·      Treasure the breadth of human interactions throughout the world and across time; and
·      Learn to appreciate the belief systems, values, and practices through which those interactions are manifested,
·      So that you can become the advocates and leaders the citizens of our world so desperately need.

Welcome home!

[1] Susquehanna University Bulletin, 2018-2019, p. 7.
[2] Joseph Casey, Esq.: “Remarks delivered at the laying of the corner-stone of the Missionary Institute at Selin’s Grove, PA, September 1, 1858.”


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