Opening Convocation Remarks
Thursday, Aug 22, 2013
L. Jay Lemons, President
Good Afternoon. My name is Jay Lemons. It is my great pleasure to welcome all of our new students and their loved ones here for this grand occasion.
The themes of my address today are tradition and technology. Let me begin with tradition. Ceremonies such as this and the attending ritual symbolized by the colorful academic regalia worn by our faculty, keep us mindful of the roots of the university sewn more than 800 years ago in Western Europe, in places like Oxford, Cambridge, Paris and Bologna.
From the beginning, the promise of the liberal arts has been to prepare students to live as free persons readied by knowledge, by habits of heart and mind, by commitment and by character to build and continually strengthen just, democratic societies. That is a timeless tradition and one that undergirds our mission.
Each year on this occasion we celebrate this tradition which continues to inspire and inform the work of teachers and scholars. In light of this year’s academic theme—technology—it is also especially meaningful to consider that which endures.
The pace of change in modern times is extraordinary. In my own 53 years, I have witnessed televisions go from small boxes to larger boxes built into furniture to sleek flat screens of all sizes and from black and white pictures to color screens to high definition to 3-D. As a boy, I worked like crazy selling items as a cub scout so as to earn the prize of a small transistor radio that would capture the am radio frequency that brought sports to my small, rural town. How I loved to go to sleep with my transistor radio under my pillow listening to beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers or the Detroit Tigers brought to ear by the lyrical voice of the legendary Ernie Harwell.
My fascination with technological gadgets continues to this day but it began with that transistor radio. It was not much different in size than a modern day iPhone and I regarded it as wondrous.
When I was twelve or thirteen I mowed grass one summer to earn the funds needed to buy another breakthrough of technology: a hand-held calculator. My memory is that it cost $79.99. It had the incredible capacity to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide up to eight digits. My parents and teachers worried it would ruin my mastery of mathematics because it would lead to lazy habits. Today you can buy a much more powerful instrument for a dollar!
I bought my first computer in 1984 when I bet on a newly introduced computer called the Epson QX 10 rather than the early products of a small company, no one really knew much about, called Apple, or those of 'Big Blue," IBM. I loved the QX 10 but not many other people did.
I rectified that error when I invested in a MacIntosh SE in 1988. As well, I replaced my dot matrix printer, which literally sprayed dots of ink to form letters on the page with a Texas Instrument laser printer, which gave me letters like I saw in newspapers and books. Truly a miracle like the 1976 Xerox Super Bowl commercial starring the medieval monks I expect some of your parents remember! Thank you Brother Dominic....
In 1990, I found myself with a colleague making a brazen pitch to the chief financial officer of the University of Virginia, where I worked, suggesting that every member of the administration and faculty at that great institution should have a computer on their desks. My colleague and I were heard but the idea was dismissed as excessive and unnecessary. Whenever people needed computers, we would give them a “Kaypro”…a computer in a suitcase. Surely everyone did not need a computer all the time in their workspace.
I recall vividly my introduction to Gopher in 1994, in the year many of you were born. Gopher allowed access to computer files in other locations. This incredible development was an important milestone that lead to the formation of something grandly called the worldwide web.
Computers did come to every desk in most professional settings, schools and homes. Then we entered into a race to lay fiber in cables underground to enable networks to be formed connecting people and enormous capacities for moving data and information, including pictures and sounds! It was not long after that when we began to move towards the development of wireless networks that now are present in all Susquehanna residence halls.
Members of the Class of 2017, it may be hard for you to believe, but email came into widespread use just about the time you were being born. Hard as it is for me to accept, my kids think of email as an “archaic” form of communication. While it may be vintage, just remember it is about your age!
This trip down memory lane is intended to capture the extraordinary changes in a relatively short period of time how technology has changed our lives. While I was thrilled to stand in line to buy an iPad the first day they were available, I must admit that there is one area where I have been a Luddite—use of social media. Facebook remains for me a memory of the printed books of new students who came to campus. Instagram, Pinterest, and the rest are all odd made up names with no meaning to me.
In the spirit of this year’s theme and after repeated requests from students, alumni and others, I will be giving the social media of Twitter a try. I really don’t know what it is that I will “twitter” about —oh, I mean “tweet . . .” nor sure if others might be interested. And while I know and love hashbrowns, I have no earthly idea what a “hashtag” means or why it is important for those who tweet.
Just as you members of the Class of 2017 are doing something new, I will be doing the same, albeit on a more modest scale. Our wonderful O-Team who enthusiastically welcomed you earlier, chose my Twitter handle this morning. They picked @PrezLems. So I invite the Class of 2017 to be my first followers and the subject of my first tweet! Look for it later today!
Jean-Baptiste Alphone Karr, the mid-19th century editor of LeFigaro, the conservative French newspaper, is oft cited as the creator of the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” While change and transformation are as steady and certain as the water that flows through the banks of the Susquehanna River, there are timeless and enduring dimensions of the human condition. The need for food, water, safety, and belonging are universal and as salient today as ever. Equally, the quest for knowledge, truth, vocation, purpose, self-understanding, and meaning remain part of the journey for each of us.
Here is where I think technology and tradition intersect. While our theme for this academic year is technology, we are also intentional about traditions. Today you become Susquehannans. Like those who came before you, I am certain you will find that no matter where life takes you, you will be well prepared by your liberal arts education, you will find yourself rooted in this place and attached to its people through shared experiences and relationships, many of which will last a lifetime.
In your program booklet and on the screen, you will see a Ginkgo leaf, along with the words “Susquehanna Traditions.” For many years, members of our community have talked about the university’s traditions. Our traditions reflect a sense of place and recollections of them continue to warm the hearts of alumni.
Opening convocation marks one of many traditions you will experience as a Susquehannan. Thank you for sharing in the singing of the alma mater. That is a tradition I love. I hope you learn the first verse of the alma mater before the end of orientation as I want the class of 2017 to lead the alma mater at the Homecoming football game on October 19 when we welcome back Susquehannans from the decades dating back to the 1930s and 40s.
It won’t be long before you learn of other traditions—Family Weekend, Senior Scholars Day, Thanksgiving Dinner when you will be served by faculty and staff; the candlelight service, which is followed by hot chocolate and dessert at Pine Lawn and shopping downtown; and many others.
Let me share a few words on the Ginkgo leaf and why it was selected to represent our Traditions program. Ginkgo trees line Kurtz Lane, which crosses through the center of campus. The trees can easily be found today because they are wrapped with ribbon. A few Ginkgos, all of which were given as gifts to the university, can be found elsewhere on campus.
The mere mention of a Gingko can evoke memories of a very memorable and well—undesirable—scent produced by the seeds (which look a bit like berries) that dot the walkways of campus in autumn. The Gingko is so much associated with the university that some alumni joke it is the Gingko’s not-so-pleasant scent that can make the campus “smell like home.” Among your early lessons here is to watch where you step!
But there is far more to this tree than meets the nose for this species, which has endured for nearly a millennium and was nurtured by Bhuddist monks. Its longevity and resilience mirrors the strength of the Susquehanna community. The Ginkgo represents the potential for growth in each Susquehannan. Each new class renews hope in the potential to collectively carry out the Susquehanna mission by pursuing lives of achievement, leadership and service.
Today you join an august body of persons who have come to this place to study and learn. From the beginning, our purpose has been to help students understand their vocational gifts and how those gifts might be used in service to society. That is our most important and enduring tradition.
In that spirit, I want to introduce you to five students who are exemplars of that tradition. I could highlight literally hundreds of students like those you will meet today and I urge you to seek out and get to know the members of the O-team, the residence life team, and of course our Student Government Association as there are many stars to admire here. I hope you will hear in the very brief descriptions I share about them why we are proud of the persons each is becoming.
Candence Cannaday ’14
CC is a member of the class of 2014. She is a Psychology major and a native of Chicago. CC is Vice President of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, a past Hitchener scholar, a member of the Black Student Union, a mentor at the Center for Diversity and Social Justice and a member of the women’s basketball team, having come back from major knee surgery. It says a lot about Susquehanna that last year, her sister, Crystal, became a member of the Class of 2016.
Her advice to incoming first year students is, “Never be afraid to be who you are. Take chances, make mistakes, and explore all that Susquehanna has to offer.”
Cameron Dougherty '14
Cameron Dougherty ’14 is from Voorhees, New Jersey, majoring in accounting. He has been involved as a member of Alpha Lambda Delta Honor Society, the Accounting Club, Student Activities Committee, Students in Free Enterprise, and the club ice hockey team. Cameron has also served as a Global Business Perspectives Coach and last year he was elected to the University’s Board of Trustees, that’s right ... in a way he is my boss. He did an internship this summer with the accounting firm, Deloitte, who made him a great job offer that he has accepted.
Cameron’s mother gave him a small gift at the time of his high school graduation. He has kept it close during his college years mindful of its message: “You are the author your own life story.”
His advice: “Be who you want to be, create your own life, and live your dreams.”
Jakub Husek ‘14
Jakub is a Chemistry major and travelled to us from the Czech Republic via Wyoming Seminary. He too is involved with the club ice hockey team. Jakub has also been a member of the Chemistry Club, the Mathematics Club and the Student Activities Committee. Jakub is a resident assistant and plans to go to graduate school to study alternative sources of energy and hydrogen storage.
His advice for incoming freshmen: “Follow your passions. It doesn't matter if you like knitting, baseball, canoeing, or yoga - do what makes you happy. Take advantage of everything that Susquehanna has to offer!”
Brian Maehl '14
Brian is a Spanish Education Major from Westfield, New Jersey. His proud father is a member of the Class of 1978. Brian was among the founders of Charity Water in 2011. He has been involved with SU International, Alpha Lambda Delta, Kappa Delta Pi, O-Team, Student Government Association, a host of other activities, and he is the Head Resident of Reed Hall.
Brian’s advice is: "Find where your passions lie and work alongside others to create something new. Leave behind a legacy for the next generation of Crusaders —and have fun while doing it."
Kirstin Waldkoenig '14
Kirstin is from Gettysburg, Pa., but her family has deep connections here as her grandfather, Ken Fladmark, is a retired, legendary member of the faculty in the Sigmund Weis School of Business. Kirstin is a double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy and is a member of the Honors Program. She is a member of Alpha Lambda Delta, Sigma Tau Delta and the Outdoors Club. Kirstin has been involved with Essay and is also an accomplished musician performing in the University Choir and orchestra.
Her advice to you is, “Really make Susquehanna your home—do your homework outside, cool off your feet in the fountain, run across campus in the rain, stargaze on Smith Lawn, take long walks to the river, read in a tree, watch the sun rise over Sassafras Complex after an all-nighter.”
Each of these students have achieved, led, and served. Each of them has personal qualities that are deeply appreciated by our community. Please seek them out, heed their advice, follow their lead and find your own place here. Join me in thanking CC, Cameron, Jakob, Brian and Kirstin.
Parents this is an extraordinary time in your life. Whether this is your first child to leave the nest or your last, this day marks an important part of your familial journey. I also understand the mix of emotions I expect many of you have today as we launch our daughter, Maggie, on her collegiate journey tomorrow.
I hope that the students you just met excite you about the journey ahead for your loved ones. The growth and development that takes place during these years is amazing.
It’s become tradition here for me to share with you a story that came from a dear friend that captures some of what is bound up in this moment. I call it The Faith of the Ship Builder.
Launching a ship is hard. It is arduous. It is filled with excitement and anticipation as well as concern and doubt. Yet at the end of the day, there is only one place where a ship can be tested and that is at sea.
Parents, you have worked hard to make your human vessel seaworthy. You have cared and loved this person for the past 17 or 18 years. You have molded their character and nourished their intellect. Like the shipbuilder, launch your vessel with confidence and faith in your work.
Parents, your work is not done. Know that the ship will come back to port every few months and usually with loads of dirty laundry. Your human ships will come home to port to be restocked, to have the sails repaired, to have barnacles removed from the hull. Yet for the shipbuilder, there is great pride and joy at watching your ship take to water.
Members of the Class of 2017:
You have come here to learn from and with brilliant faculty members and bright, promising classmates. Here you will experience and enjoy the benefits of technology and facilities that are constantly being renewed and updated. It is a powerful campus community with its human and technological assets. Yet it is also a place informed by history, wisdom and traditions in ways that connect and bind us together. Find ways to embrace both new and old.
You will see the Ginkgo leaf many times during your years on campus. My hope is that like the Ginkgos, you will grow strong here and become resilient, and that you will come to appreciate both the good days and the bad days, or, put another way, the days when life is sweet, as well as those when it stinks. Both are part of the journey.
So as you begin, remember to watch your step:
1. Make good choices that will build both your good name and will reflect well upon the university.
3. Get involved!
4. Dream big!
Class of 2017, Godspeed as you embark on the journey!