by Margee Ensign, President
In August, I had the great privilege of welcoming the 606 newest members of the Dickinson community during my first Convocation ceremony as president of Dickinson College. On that occasion, I shared with these eager and talented young people my vision for the college, and what I see as the core values of this historic institution. I’d like to share some of those remarks with you.
“Dickinson College was born at the dawn of American democracy, founded by Benjamin Rush, an important figure in the American colonies and a signer of our Declaration of Independence. The college was established here on what was then the western frontier of a new nation.
Chartered as the first college in the new America, Dickinson, from its outset, has sought to prepare broadly educated leaders for our new democracy. That was Rush’s intent. We honor it still. He founded his college to help build a different sort of nation, and now we are called upon to ensure that our students are prepared for the challenges of a very different America, a very different century and world.
It is a world being daily transformed by astonishing discoveries and innovations, the spread of unprecedented global prosperity, improved health and longevity. We often forget that we have seen more progress in human development in the past 60 years than in the previous 600. For such progress to continue, we need to nurture creativity and research of all kinds. The scholars who constitute the Dickinson faculty are doing precisely that. I have been here long enough to be enormously impressed by the women and men who are giving their lives and their talents to the advancement of knowledge and to the education of our students.
Although we have seen great progress, we also face enormous challenges: climate change and environmental degradation, growing inequality, bigotry and hatred, terrorism and transnational diseases. Responding to these needs, Dickinson has been at the forefront of both sustainability and global studies; we will continue to build on this distinguished and important work and become a leader in intercultural competency and civic engagement.
We are proud at Dickinson to declare that we are a liberal-arts college. The liberal—the liberating—arts and sciences have come under assault by those who don’t understand how this kind of education opens minds and encourages us to see things in new ways. Clearly, our futures depend on such new visions. Such an education, we know, leads us to make new connections and create, adapt, identify and solve new problems. In a world where many sorts of knowledge are outdated in just a few years, we all must continue learning and trying new things—for the rest of our lives. A liberal-arts education teaches us how to do that.
Providing a liberating education, a useful education, and working for the newly conceived common good was the aim of our founders. It continues to be our aim today. Achieving the common good requires that, working together, we forge common understandings and goals. It requires, it seems to me, a level of tolerance and civility now widely under attack by many different sorts of people—but incivility is incivility, intolerance is intolerance. Neither has a place in a college that truly values the liberating arts, where disagreement is expected, honored, celebrated. Today the common good, at Dickinson and in our society and world, must be forged by people with very different backgrounds and views.
Today we are welcoming the most diverse class in our history. Again, we are pioneering. Again, we are at the forefront of our precious America. As Dickinson welcomes a class that looks like all of America and all of the world, we do not shirk from the very hard work of trying to understand one another, to listen to one another, to learn from one another—and never to silence one another.
We are all in this together, and it is going to take all of the talent, goodwill, intelligence and drive this species can muster to transcend the challenges that today’s student generation will have to face. Our future will require liberally educated young people—educated in freedom with a breadth of vision, a ferocious curiosity, a courageous depth of knowledge and a commitment to the common good. Such an education is our mission here. It has been our mission since the birth of this nation.”
I look forward to welcoming a great many more remarkable students and scholars into this community, and to ensuring that Dickinson maintains its position as a leader of higher education in the United States.
Published November 3, 2017