Remarks by President Margee Ensign

Convocation 2019
Sept. 1, 2019

Good afternoon. Welcome to the start of the 2019-20 academic year. A special welcome to the newest members of our community: our new students, parents, faculty and staff, many of whom have arrived here from all over the country and world.

I would also like to recognize and thank our many fellow friends and colleagues—including Judge John Jones ’77 our chair of the board of trustees, Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott. A special thank you to our facilities and conference office team for all of their hard work preparing for today’s celebration and to the staff in the Student Leadership & Campus Engagement and Center for Global Study and Engagement for their coordination of the orientation program.

To the Class of 2023:

In choosing to come to Dickinson, I believe you have made one of the best decisions of your life. You have come to a liberal-arts college with not only a distinguished pedigree and history, but one of exceptional quality. I hoped this was true when I first arrived here two years ago: I absolutely know it to be true now that I have come to know the students and extraordinary faculty, the courses and programs here, the dedication to academic excellence.

What do we expect of you?

At this pivotal moment in human history, facing unparalleled challenges, we need students of courage and creativity. And we need places of learning which foster and encourage that creativity; places which nourish and inspire that courage. Dickinson is just such a place.

Having seen something of the world and the enormous challenges that lie ahead—challenges and opportunities—I believe more than ever that a liberal-arts education is precisely the sort that our times demand. An education as broad as the world. An education that encourages and fosters new and creative thinking. I am convinced that the liberal-arts approach is the most effective way to achieve this.

You have come to a college—alas, quite rare—a college that believes, that knows, that our times demand a global education for everyone.

To this end, we not only seek out and welcome students from all over the world, but we encourage all students, students from every background, students in every major, to study abroad, to get to know the world firsthand. In my view, this is indispensable for anyone claiming to be truly educated in the 21st century.

You have come to a college—far ahead of its time—that has led the way in sustainability education. Here at Dickinson, our concern for our local and global environments, our responsibility as stewards of the earth, is in our DNA. It informs all that we do.

And this year, you can help us celebrate a major accomplishment. Early in 2020, all of the activities included in the college’s carbon footprint—such as heating and cooling campus, use of vehicles, etc.—will add zero net emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, making Dickinson one of just a few carbon-neutral colleges in the nation. We need all of you to help, and we will share more information as the fall progresses.

You have come to a college that is actively engaged with the world. Dickinson from its very founding in 1783 has been a place where citizen leaders for our new rough and tumble democracy are educated. We have always taken this charge, the charge to civic action, very seriously.

To learn about the world and to help shape a better, sustainable one is the responsibility of us all. That starts right here in Carlisle, where Dickinson students are listening to, and learning from, our neighbors. In Carlisle where we all pitch in when and where we can.

And finally, you have come to a college which will require openness and courage of you all. It will require the openness necessary for true dialog with a wide variety of people in a community where everyone—everyone—is valued. Where everyone is welcomed. Where everyone is respected and heard. In this we are at odds with many governments and many people throughout the world, at odds even with many people in our own society.

But at Dickinson we do not privilege one group above another, nor one religion, one set of political or social ideas, one point of view. This is a place that not just tolerates but encourages civil exchange and debate. We are seekers after truth, not defenders of current orthodoxy.

And thus, you have come to a college that requires courage. Here you must develop the courage to have your most dearly held and fundamental beliefs questioned, probed and challenged. And this challenging, this conflict, is not something anyone relishes. But the world is full of people who do not agree with you, who think you are wrong. And tell you so, too. And inevitably, in some matters, you are. We all are.

At the heart of our enterprise, at the heart of the Dickinson liberal-arts education upon which you now embark, is the conflict of ideas, the clash of opinions and world views which are essential to our intellectual and emotional growth. They are essential if we are to progress as individuals and as a society. In a small world growing daily smaller, questioning and challenging our ideas is both inevitable and essential. It is one of the glories of a liberal-arts education—a tradition stretching all the way back to Socrates—that it protects and fosters freedom of civil discourse. In our community, which welcomes all points of view, learning how to live together, to communicate with and learn from each other, this is absolutely fundamental.

So once again, congratulations. Be strong, be courageous, be open minded, be involved and, class of 2023, welcome to Dickinson College.