Student Senate President Andrew Chesley '13's Convocation Speech

Andrew chesley commencement speech.

Good afternoon. I want to first offer my thanks to President Durden and the faculty for inviting me to speak today. To members of the class of 2016, it has been a pleasure to meet and interact with you throughout Orientation. I'd also like to welcome everyone new—first year, transfer and non-matriculant alike—to the Dickinson student community. Many of you have already visited the Quarry in the time you've been on campus. The next time you are there, in between bites of your jalapeño pretzel, take a look at the plaque on the wall by the fireplace. It lists the 17 students who helped make the Quarry a reality. During their Dickinson journey, those students saw that there was a need for another social space on campus and decided to create one in an abandoned fraternity house, making their mark on our community through the renovation of that building. This is just one of the countless physical changes that students have made on campus. Last year, a group of Dickinson students built a bicycle repair shop from the ground up and constructed a mobile-coffee-sales vehicle—The Peddler. Of course, not every student who makes their mark on Dickinson has a plaque or coffee cart commemorating their contribution. In fact, the majority of students who have made a lasting change in our community often go unrecognized for their work.

For the last few years, the students, faculty and administrators of the LGBTQ Task Force have worked tirelessly to improve the campus climate for LGBTQ students and their allies. Thanks to the efforts of this group, the college now has an LGBTQ coordinator, Brian Patchcoski. I have had the fortune to watch the work of this group through the eyes of my friend, Peter Shapiro, a member of the committee and the class of 2014. A visible advocate on campus since his first year, Peter found this experience particularly rewarding. I don't think I've ever seen him more excited than he gets when he talks about Brian and the programs and culture the role will build at Dickinson. Peter's commitment to the committee's work and the overall climate surrounding LGBTQ issues on campus makes our community a more inclusive and welcoming one to all students.

Peter's excitement for improving our community is not unique. One of my fondest experiences in my time here was the work I contributed to the college's sexual-misconduct policy. When I first came to Dickinson, I could not have anticipated this collaborative and rewarding opportunity. For six months ending in December of last year, I worked with a group of fellow students, administrators and faculty members to develop a new policy governing sexual misconduct at Dickinson. The process allowed me to write entire sections of the document, to engage in an extensive process of group editing with administrators and faculty members, and to defend the policy we had written against criticisms leveled by other students, faculty members and administrators. Like Peter, what was most important to me was not what I gained personally from working on the policy—it was the chance to set in motion a change in the culture of gender-based violence on campus by empowering those who have been assaulted and putting in place a strong policy that protects our campus.

Not content to contain their impact within the limestone walls of Dickinson, many students make their mark far beyond the borders of our Borough. Indeed, there are countless examples of service, leadership and enduring positive change in which Dickinsonians have been involved across the state, nation and globe. After a life-changing semester studying abroad in Yaoundé, three Dickinson women, Grace Lange, Rachel Gilbert, and Sarah Wright, sought to make a lasting impact on the lives of Cameroonian women. Upon their graduation this past May, the three formed an organization, Cameroonian Roots. Their shared experiences in Cameroon, coupled with academic work in sustainable development, inspired them to plan a return to the country to work on micro-finance, urban agriculture and support programs for working women in Cameroon. They are still fundraising for the organization's first trip later this fall. Study abroad facilitated the chance for Grace, Rachel and Sarah to make real, substantive change in the lives of Cameroonian women. It is likely that they did not anticipate the enormous potential of their impact as first-years sitting in the seats you occupy today.

The reason that Dickinsonians can become engaged with our community and our world is in part the same reason that I am able to stand in front of you now. Our time in college always owes in part to a Dickinson admissions counselor. Greg Moyer was a first-generation college student when he entered Dickinson not too many years ago. He graduated in 2006 and, unable to bear the pain of leaving, returned to work in admissions. When I asked him about his work at the college, he explained to me, "I truly believe that Dickinson changed my life—and I will be forever grateful.  I'm not sure if I felt like I 'owed' something to the college, but instead, I think I was drawn to working for Dickinson out of a sense of stewardship.  I genuinely believe that Dickinson is special; it is rewarding to be a part of something that is larger than yourself." This same sense of stewardship drives so many Dickinsonians to give back to our community—because we want to join the tradition of Greg and those who came before him and made this place so special. Perhaps it is for this reason that many of us share our love of Dickinson with friends and family members. Greg's brother is a current Dickinson student, and I'm excited that my brother Nathan is in the crowd with you today. By helping to build the best first-year class possible, Greg has ensured his place in this lineage of Dickinsonians and helped many of us into our place here as well.

Like many, it took me a while to realize the depth of the influence I could have at Dickinson. When I was in your shoes three years ago, I had no idea I would be able to impact major college policy. My plea to each of you today is to take the time you have this year and get yourself involved with improving our campus and our community. At Dickinson, you can serve as a voting member of the committees that set all of our policies and sit on the committee for your major. Every significant event involves students in planning and execution. Students contribute to decisions to hire faculty members and administrators. There isn't an office on campus where students don't work, and there isn't an area of campus policy where students don't have a voice. When you graduate, one member of your class will serve on our Board of Trustees. The opportunities to make your mark on this campus are ahead of you; it is your job to take hold of them. By signing into the college in just a few minutes, you are entering a community. Take every opportunity you have to ensure that our community keeps improving over the next four years. Your time at Dickinson goes so fast, and often memories and an excellent education are all that you get to take with you. But, if you make your mark on campus, you'll have something more than buildings and memories to return to.

I want to close by emphasizing one other Dickinsonian who has made his mark through his vision, and I am honored to share the stage with him today. As one of two students on the Presidential Search Committee, I have the challenging (some would say impossible) task of helping find a successor to President Durden, a member of the Dickinson Class of 1971. Of all the things I have done over the last three years, this is both the most unexpected and the most rewarding. Among the many Dickinsonians that I know, he has had the greatest impact on our community as it exists today. His mark is seen in our push above 6,000 applications and increase in our endowment. Most importantly, though, is the sense of purpose that we all derive from President Durden. This is the stewardship that Greg refers to in his comments. This purpose drives the women from Cameroonian Roots to study abroad and carry their experiences beyond a semester. This is what makes students like Peter Shapiro want to strive to make all students feel equal. I hope that this sense of purpose will be ignited in you early and will carry you through your four years at Dickinson. More than any statistic, building or other tangible change, it is our sense of purpose that is President Durden's most enduring legacy.

In his letter announcing his retirement this past February, President Durden referred to the founder of Dickinson, Dr. Benjamin Rush. President Durden noted that Dr. Rush once said of himself, "He aimed well." President Durden stated merely that during his time at the college, "I aimed." Last spring, hundreds of students joined together to tell President Durden that like Dr. Rush, we think he aimed well too.

Not everyone can set the vision for our community in the way President Durden has. And while he will only be a fixture of one of your four years at this college, I hope that all of you will follow his example, as well as those of countless Dickinsonians before you, and "aim well."


Published August 28, 2012