Remarks by Nancy A. Roseman, President
August 29, 2015
Good afternoon and welcome to this gathering to celebrate the beginning of another academic year. For Dickinson, it is the beginning of our 233rd year. But for most of you it is your first such beginning, and tomorrow is your first full day of being a college student. What has remained the same over much of those 233 years is the intent and spirit of Dickinson College. As a college we have tremendous clarity about why we exist and what binds us together. This afternoon we come together to celebrate a college and a community that is united in its purpose of educating generation after generation of young people in the liberal arts. And you, class of 2019, while yes, you are the largest class we have ever welcomed at Convocation, you should understand that you are part of a much larger stream of Dickinsonians who stretch back literally over two centuries and will now stretch forward from you for as long as you and other Dickinsonians continue to choose to sustain it.
And why are we, this community, this small residential liberal-arts college, why are we worth sustaining into the future? Why do I think, without a doubt, that we are going to win your affection, your loyalty? Why are you going to be so proud to call yourself a Dickinsonian? We are very, very proud of our history, our legacy and our deep roots in the very beginnings of this country. Those who brought this college into being were prescient in understanding that this experiment in democracy they were about to initiate would require the active and intelligent participation of its citizens in order for it to have any hope of succeeding.
Our founders were friends and colleagues who came together in the late-18th century to establish a school on the edge of the frontier. And while they themselves, Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson, are important historical figures, their good friends Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Marhsall may be names more familiar to you. Those friends and others made the building behind me possible. The original building on this site was destroyed by fire in 1803, and this building, Old West, designed by another historical figure, Benjamin Latrobe, was made possible due to their generosity borne of their support for the college’s mission to produce engaged and useful citizens steeped in the liberal-arts tradition.
To be true to our founding ideals, we must prepare you, class of 2019, for the mid-21st century. To do that, we build a class as diverse as possible so that it prepares you for the world, the community, the work place you will eventually enter. Our curriculum and our culture challenge you to think for yourself and confront you with real-world problems, not abstractions, and then give you the opportunity to test your solutions. What you will experience as a student here is a residential liberal-arts experience, but very strongly seasoned with practicality. This is why we refer to it as a useful liberal-arts education.
So, class of 2019, tomorrow is the first full day of college. Why you are really here is about to hit, and I know from talking to many of you, you are more than a little excited to get started. I imagine that you are a little overwhelmed right now, as we’ve introduced you to countless people and places and policies. 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 spot to work out in the Kline, your favorite red Adirondack chair. All of these kinds of things are the things that make a place feel comfortable, make a place your home, and make no mistake about it, this is your home for the next four years. And after you walk down these old stone steps in May 2019, I know that every time you return to Dickinson, it will feel like you are returning home, because you are.
Ahead of you is a great adventure. And, to be honest, it is going on that adventure with you that put all of us who work at Dickinson in our chosen professions. 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 sole 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 place high expectations on you while at the same time supporting you. Ultimately, we strive to transform you through the power of ideas and aim to provide you with the tools to intelligently wield those ideas. We have purposefully chosen to place ourselves within an extraordinary intellectual and social community. It is this entity known as a residential liberal-arts college. It is a rarity in the world of higher education. Less that 3 percent of all college graduates are products of a residential liberal-arts college.
Without question, a liberal education leads to the kinds of thinkers, leaders, innovators and problem solvers needed for an increasingly complex world. 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 will make you a more effective human being, no matter your personal or professional path.
In other words, you will be more useful. And, as many studies show, you will be more satisfied and happy as the product of a liberal-arts education. We give you a really big, diverse, flexible toolbox, and that is what is needed not only to survive, but to thrive and excel in the early to mid-21st century.
Last year, I read an article in a national magazine that 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. (No kidding, attack a problem using an interdisciplinary approach … duh!) It had all kinds of statistics, like the fact that one-third of all Fortune 500 CEOs have a liberal-arts degree. But embedded in the article was a quote worth repeating. Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple Computers, said the following in 2010:
“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 appreciated the significance of interdisciplinary thinking. In fact, during his brief time as a student at Reed College, he studied physics, literature and poetry. He believed in connecting the dots, something we do every day here at Dickinson. Connecting the dots between disciplines 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 think and feel. There will be a U.S. presidential election, with all the insanity that comes with it. Humans will continue to wage war. Natural disasters, many exacerbated by global climate change, 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. Medical miracles will be announced, wondrous acts of human generosity and heroism will be broadcast on the latest version of technology you hold in your hand. 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. One of the things that I most deeply value is the fact that your fellow students and you are so inquisitive. You are curious about, well, everything. You are not afraid to ask questions. You are not afraid to wonder aloud about things that are on your mind. As a teacher, I love that! Thinking out loud allows for dialog to happen. It is an open invitation to those around you to join with you to think and learn together. In many ways we take that aspect Dickinson’s culture for granted, but the truth is that it is a rare and precious thing that needs tending and support. There is simply nothing more important, nothing we should value more, especially within the context of a residential liberal-arts college, than an environment that promotes thinking out loud, that promotes intellectual dialog.
Class of 2019, I hope you take a class that changes the trajectory of your life. I encourage you to volunteer for one of the many wonderful agencies around Carlisle or go on an international service trip. You might take 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.
I envy you, your next 4 years. Class of 2019, go for it! Grab the biggest handful of Dickinson that you can. Embrace being a Dickinsonian, and discover how you, with your unique set of gifts, will make hearts sing.