2007 Convocation Address
Convening of the College by President William G. Durden '71
Welcome to the official opening of the 235th year of Dickinson College, an institution that is born out of revolution and continues to be guided in its ambitions and actions by this powerful historic legacy. Named for John Dickinson, a complex patriot known as the “penman of the American Revolution,” the College was chartered just six days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution.
Our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, intended Dickinson to offer a new, distinctly American approach to a liberal arts education suitable to the needs of the emerging nation. Dickinson was expected to prepare those engaged citizens and leaders who would ensure the success of the new democracy. We expect no less today as we confront a world that is breathtaking in its challenges and opportunities.
As we come together at the beginning of another year, I extend a warm welcome to returning students and faculty and hope that each of you had a productive and rewarding summer. I welcome also members of the Class of 2011 and other new students. I hope that each of you is looking forward to the upcoming year with energy and anticipation.
There is much of interest occurring at Dickinson today—events, topics, issues and debates that will define our community conversations this academic year. As we look ahead toward the fall semester, I would like to make a few brief announcements.
The Dickinson "Pep Band"
Firstly, I would like to make a call to any young scholar with musical inclinations to consider the formation of an informal but distinctive and slightly wacky pep band to play at athletic events and other college celebrations. I am also opening this invitation to faculty, staff and community members. Even I have dusted off my clarinet recently and intend to get out there! Anyone who is brave enough to join me should feel free to contact me personally in person or by email.
Secondly, I want to remind the College community of our national and campus-wide commitment to environmental sustainability. This commitment was strengthened last spring when I signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in Washington DC. As a Leadership Circle member, Dickinson is playing an active role in encouraging other higher education institutions to reduce and ultimately neutralize greenhouse gas emissions on campuses across the country.
Already, you will notice that the Green Devil is everywhere at Dickinson, reminding you to turn out the lights after you leave a room, shorten your showers, and to use the red bicycles on Britton Plaza or yourself as preferred forms of transportation. Our commitment to sustainability also informs our policy that prohibits first-year students from bringing vehicles to campus. And for students who are allowed to have cars, it is a terrible insult to our shared and precarious environment to use mammoth, gas-guzzling SUVs or even energy-inefficient cars to drive from residence halls to the HUB to class to the playing fields and back to the residence halls. After all, this campus that would probably fit within one small corner of a large university! A kinder and more thoughtful gesture would be to walk or bike and thereby save our shared environment and gain some “natural” fitness for yourself in the process. You will also notice that we will not cut the grass as frequently as we have in the past—a practice that may leave the campus looking less pristine, but one that will reduce our carbon footprint. The bottom line is that we are in the process of changing our campus culture and altering our own personal behavior and actions as we support the environment.
In this vein, I am pleased to announce that this summer that the College made an additional commitment to increase its percentage of electricity generated by wind power—the most environmentally friendly and sustainable source possible—from 12.5 percent to 50 percent. Effective September 1st, we have signed a two-year agreement to reach this goal.
This single initiative will reduce the College’s overall carbon emission by 6,000 tons, which is more than 25 percent equivalent to removing 1,100 cars from the road, annually planting 130,000 trees or driving around the world 485 times. Our commitment makes Dickinson College a national leader in terms of wind power acquisition, and the second highest user of wind power among all Pennsylvania colleges and universities.
College Investment Policy
Thirdly, I have asked that a special study group be formed to familiarize its members—students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees—and eventually, the entire campus community with the College’s investment policy and portfolio. I will ask this group to build consensus on what “socially responsible” investing truly means to our community in the context of an extremely complex world where one person’s social justice or sustainability can be another’s condemnation.
I will ask this study group to create an appreciation on campus for the elements and implications of various national and international working models that are in the process of being developed and tested. These models address the delicate balance that must be struck between sustainability and socially sensitive investment and the demand upon non-profit educational institutions to produce robust returns on endowment investment for the purpose of completing their own worthy and socially just missions.
Gift from Estate of Walter E. Beach '56
I have one final announcement that is particularly appropriate as we sit near the contemplative gaze of the statue of our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush. This statue came to Dickinson three years ago, culminating a forty-year effort led by alumnus Walter Beach, Class of 1956, and assisted by his brother Allen Class of 1955 and their friend, Woody Goldberg, Class of 1963.
Today, it gives me enormous pleasure to announce that on August 20th, the College received a check in excess of $2 million—the first installment of the Walter E. Beach ’56 estate gift. This incredibly generous bequest will be used to create an endowed chair in political science, a position that will strengthen the excellence of the faculty and create opportunities and advantages for many future generations of Dickinsonians. I know you join me in acknowledging Walter’s uncommon philanthropic spirit and his passion for all things Dickinson. He remains an exemplary model for all of us
And now, with the assistance of this old gavel, I officially open Dickinson College for the 2007-2008 academic year.