Alumni Weekend 2008
Alumni Weekend Opening Ceremonies
Remarks by President William G. Durden '71
Welcome to the Opening Ceremony of Alumni Weekend 2008! I know that all of you have returned in the hopes of seeing old classmates and renewing friendships. You are looking forward to revisiting—to the best of your memory’s ability—your time as a Dickinson student.
Alumni Weekend also gives you the opportunity to experience our college today. You may have spent only two to four years as a Dickinson student, but, of course, we are a Dickinsonian for life. The reputation and visibility of our college continue to define who we are just as they reflect how the value of our degree is judged by the public.
As you take a close look at your college this weekend, you will see and experience many familiar things. However, in some key defining ways, Dickinson is not the same college you or I attended—nor should it be!
No Longer the "Quiet Gem"
The mark of a truly great college is that it becomes better with every generation and that this steady progress is encouraged, applauded, supported and inspired by its alumni. As you take the time to experience Dickinson in 2008, I have no doubt that you will find a college that is an extremely confident, nationally and internationally engaged institution. We know who we are, we know where we are going and others now know this about us. We are no longer the “quiet gem in central Pennsylvania” that only those in academia have heard about nor should we be as a national liberal-arts college with something significant to offer our students and the broader community.
And yet, with all this current self-confidence, we preserve those elements of our college that we look to be here forever and should be forever—a small liberal-arts college, close faculty-student relationships, a sense of community service and caring for others, a community marked by civility, a global sensibility, an appreciation of the interconnectivity of knowledge, a learning environment that invites questioning and challenges mere opinion, a student residential life that is robust and varied, and athletics that are extremely demanding and intensely competitive but viewed in a healthy Division III perspective.
Today we know who we are as a college, and that confidence in our identity and purpose is being felt and received well in the American and international public. The college is on the move. For example, there is the new Rector Science Complex that I hope you have already or will tour this weekend. This rather bold and progressive structure was funded completely by the generosity of alumni (this set of buildings was the first to be fully funded before construction in Dickinson’s history), and it establishes our leadership in the innovative teaching of science for the 21st century.
Further, the successful completion of this structure and all that it stands for is a testament to the momentum of our current capital campaign. The Rector Science Campus is one of four campaign priorities. The other three are funds to enhance faculty excellence through new endowed chairs, to support student scholarships and to augment the Annual Fund.
To date, we have raised $125 million toward our goal of $150 million by 2010. Our progress has been impressive—we are several years ahead of schedule. And this has all been accomplished while simultaneously doubling the endowment in the last four years and securing the highest credit rating in the history of the college—an A rating, with an invitation just a few months ago from Standard and Poor’s to apply for an A+ rating, which was most surprising and encouraging during these difficult economic times.
I want to give special kudos to Annette Parker, who is with us here as a member of the Class of 1973, for her decisive leadership in this effort as college CFO. Annette majored in Fine Arts at Dickinson—her noteworthy success in the financial world once again affirms the flexibility of a liberal-arts education. During this period, we have also increased the diversity of the student body well beyond anything we ever experienced in our respective time at Dickinson. Today over 20 percent of our community are students of color and international students—a true reflection of the diverse, global world of the 21st century.
As many of you know, the home stretch of any capital campaign can be the most difficult. Many of you, I hope, will choose to contribute to the Annual Fund and help us in your own way and within your own means to complete arguably the first highly successful campaign in our history. I cannot tell you how important this support is—however modest the amount you feel you are able to give. Let me put this in perspective. Last year, gifts between $1 and $99 amounted to over $120,000!
I know how tight the economy is and how pressed many of us feel as we watch our gas and grocery bills climb. (And please remember to vote—regardless of party—next November!) But it is during tough times as well as flush times that we must continue our responsibility to sustain a tradition of giving to our alma mater. The amount you can give is less important than that you do give. The financial and reputational secret of the most outstanding American colleges and universities has been consistent support over centuries—often through donations to the Annual Fund—during good and bad times—combined with consistently ambitious leadership in the administration, the board and within the alumni. This is our time. These forces are aligned for us now. We cannot leave opportunity on the table.
Making Our Mark
As you mingle among your fellow alumni this weekend, you will discover and be amazed at the achievements—personal and professional—each of you have made. In just a few minutes, we will recognize several alumni for their accomplishments and for the honor that they have brought upon our college.
Please never forget that each of you continues to have a profound impact on our college through your own personal and professional accomplishments. You are reflections of Dickinson, and, individually and collectively, you serve as inspiration to future generations of Dickinsonians. Our current students notice.
Like you, your college is “out there,” making its mark upon the world. In the past year, you may have noticed that Dickinson has been in the news a considerable amount—the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Newsweek, Time, NBC Nightly News, CNN—on and on. We have taken important stands as a leader in the movement to find an alternative to the US News & World Report rankings. We organized a discussion next week with fellow members of the Annapolis Group—comprised of the nation’s 120 leading liberal-arts colleges—to confront the antitrust regulations that potentially tie our hands as we seek collaborative ways to reduce the cost of higher education for the American public. We have taken the lead among private higher-education institutions to give parents additional incentives to save for their children’s future—a component of the tuition equation that has received very little attention of late—that is, saving. We are joining with several leading colleges and universities—to include Smith and Kenyon—to explore the issue of the legal drinking age in this country.
And next fall, I have been invited to deliver the annual higher-education lecture at NYU on the future of liberal-arts colleges, and specifically to highlight the positive changes at our college over the last few years as a model for establishing a highly successful institution in higher education. Add to that an invitation to join 40 current and former members of Congress, ambassadors, leaders of business and higher education to prepare a White House Conference during the next administration to advance the important notion of civic diplomacy. Also, watch out soon for possible coverage in Newsweek about the environmental-sustainability effort at Dickinson—a key emphasis of our curriculum advanced significantly through the recent gift of a $1.4 million from the Mellon Foundation and a soon-to-be-announced grant from the National Science Foundation.
Celebrate the Momentum
This weekend, I invite you to celebrate the momentum and vibrancy that exist at our college today. We are unequivocally on the move—we are today graduates of a “hot” college. The days of confusing us with Farleigh Dickinson are essentially over. The thought that we are in any way a “second-rate” or “unknown” college is definitely over (you know what I am speaking about). We are today, in fact, the first choice of the majority of our highly qualified students and competing for them with the likes of Hamilton, Colby, Georgetown and increasingly Haverford, Amherst, Dartmouth and Penn among others (while never losing sight of our historic commitment to take chances on kids who don’t fit the expected numerical profiles).
If there are any alumni whom you know and who do not yet appreciate fully what has happened so positively to Dickinson in the last decade, please just direct them my way. I’m delighted to speak with each and every one of them and help them to achieve enlightenment.
And let us not forget that the general rule is that it takes 15 years of hard, consistent work to change a community’s perception of itself and 25 years to change the public’s perception of it. We are only into a targeted effort for 9 years and thus have some persistent work for years still to come.
Together, we, Dickinson’s alumni, represent a worldwide network of care and influence with a powerful connection to an extraordinary institution. It is within our collective grasp to fulfill finally the destiny set forth by our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush—to make Dickinson “First in American.” In so doing, we present our nation and the world a proper model for what liberal education might be in the 21th century.