The Convocation Address
Delivered by President Nancy A. Roseman
August 31, 2014
Good afternoon and thank you for gathering here this afternoon to mark and celebrate beginnings. For Dickinson, it is the beginning of our 232nd year. For faculty and staff who are here today, it is the beginning of that annual adventure—the start of another school year. For friends of Dickinson, I think there are ways you just like to see what we are going to do next. How are we going to build and improve on this 232-year-old college you love so much? For those new to our community, new faculty and staff, I imagine you, like our new students, are sitting here full of energy and excitement and naturally some trepidation.
Class of 2018, you must be thinking, what comes next? Tomorrow is the first day of classes, which means the reality of why you are really here is about to hit. We’ve had you here for about a week, some longer, and we’ve pre-oriented you, oriented you, maybe dis-oriented you a bit. We’ve introduced you to countless people: professors and older students and coaches and mentors. We’ve tried to give you a sense of where things are and just an inkling of how the place works. All that will take a while to sink in, but trust me, in no time you will find your favorite place in the library, you will decide which you like best, Massey’s custard or Leo’s ice cream, you will have your favorite place to work out in the Kline, your favorite spot to sit in one of our red Adirondack chairs. All of these kinds of things are the things that make a place a home, make you feel comfortable, make you feel like you own your space, your environment.
Your new home, Dickinson, is a beautiful place. This is a beautiful college, nestled in a stunning part of the landscape of Pennsylvania. The architecture, the landscape, it nourishes us every day. And it speaks clearly to what Dickinson is all about. Pay attention to the number of buildings that are LEED certified, showing that they were built responsibly and function sustainably. Pay attention to the landscape that is purposefully sculpted to require fewer resources in water and labor, and actually works to utilize water runoff created when you cover the ground with a building. We are a college that doesn’t shirk our responsibility as a member of society. We say loudly and passionately that we, as global citizens, must be responsible citizens. We try to live and work sustainably and are ever vigilant to do better, operate smarter and reduce our impact on the planet. There is always room for improvement.
Ahead of you, class of 2018, is a great adventure. And, to be honest, it is going on that adventure with you that puts all of us who work at Dickinson in our chosen profession. We get to go on that ride with you, and the rewards for both of us are deep and fulfilling and nourish you, and us, every day.
The thing that I want you to appreciate—and take some time to think about—is that Dickinson, as an institution, a college, exists for you. That is its purpose. It doesn’t exist to turn a profit. It doesn’t exist to manufacture a product you can hold in your hand. It exists for young people, for students, for every single one of you. It exists to educate you, to embrace you, to challenge you, place high expectations on you, support you, confuse you, and to ultimately transform you through the power of ideas, and it aims to give you the tools to intelligently wield those ideas.
We have all chosen to purposefully place ourselves within an extraordinary intellectual and social community. It is this entity known as a residential liberal-arts college. It is really rare. It is really special. It is, in ways that boggle my mind every single day, under attack from many quarters.
Now, unless you are a college president or for some reason you are interested in the history of higher education, what you may not realize is that it has been under attack for over 100 years. The demise of the liberal arts has been predicted over and over again.
Today, that attack takes many forms. One I am sure you have heard promotes the notion that there should be a calculable return on the investment or cost of your education. That you should be able to draw a straight line between some notion of a guaranteed income and tuition. One shorthand version of this view encourages young people to just go learn to code! Become a technocrat! Get specialized in order to survive.
I could not disagree more, and I am not alone. The tide is beginning to turn, and I am not surprised. More and more I see passionate and thoughtful statements about the advantage of a broad-based education. More and more I see arguments made about how a broad-based, liberal education leads to the kinds of thinkers, leaders, innovators, problem solvers needed for an increasingly complex world. How it leads to producing well rounded, thoughtful citizens needed for the proper functioning of a democratic society. Wrestling with big questions in a philosophy class, wrestling with the visual and performing arts, wrestling with physics, wrestling with the written word, all at the same time, blending those disciplines together is what makes you more thoughtful, more effective, no matter what you do personally and professionally.
We give you a really big, diverse, flexible toolbox, and that is what is needed to not only survive, but thrive and excel. If you also want to learn how to code, please do, but imagine how much more imaginative and useful that code will be with a little philosophy, a little art history swirling around in your creative mind.
After I wrote this convocation address, one of our trustees happened to send me an article addressing this very thing. It was full of quotes from heads of companies about how a liberal-arts education makes for better employees because they attack a problem from multiple perspectives and know there is rarely one answer to any question. It had statistics like the fact that one-third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have a liberal-arts degree; notable given that liberal-arts colleges produce about 3 percent (1/25) of all college graduates. But the one quote that grabbed me was one I had read a while ago and had forgotten, and it was something Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, said in 2010.
Jobs said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing.” Jobs understood the power of the liberal arts. Jobs understood interdisciplinary thinking. He believed in connecting the dots, something we do every day here at Dickinson. Connecting the dots is part of our DNA.
During your time here, I can guarantee there will be events that will impact all of us, that will affect the climate on campus, how we all feel. There will be a U.S. presidential election, with all that brings with it. Humans will continue to wage war, natural disasters will occur, acts of terrorism will happen, and we will have economic news of some kind, good and bad. I know better than to predict anything about the economy.
Some of us will have wonderful things happen in our families; some of us will have tragedies that strike close to home. You will have tremendous successes, and—I guarantee—you will have tremendous failures.
Through it all, always remember, you are now part of a larger family of Dickinsonians. We will share all of that together, as a community. As a community, we will survive and we will thrive. As a community, there is so much we will celebrate.
I hope some of the qualities I love about Dickinson will soon envelop you. Your fellow students, and you, are an inquisitive bunch. You are curious about, well, everything. You are not afraid to ask questions. You are not afraid to wonder. You are not afraid to make things better, wondering aloud about the things that are wrong or are not as good as they could and should be. You will stretch yourselves and find that you like—no, love—things you couldn’t imagine loving before you got here. You will come to love new people, new ideas, new disciplines that you never dreamed yourself exploring.
You may take an economics or archaeology class that changes the trajectory of your life. You might volunteer for one of the many wonderful agencies around Carlisle, or go on a foreign service trip. You could spend a semester in Cameroon and follow that by a semester in Copenhagen or Toulouse. All of these experiences will alter how you think about the world, but more importantly, how you think about yourself.
But that’s why you came here. To never be the same. To try new things, learn new things, unlearn some old things. Dickinson is about to change your life. Dickinson is about to teach you how to connect the dots.
I envy you, because you are about to have a wonderful experience. Class of 2018, go for it. Grab as big a handful of Dickinson as you can. Make hearts sing.