August 24, 2017

Aug. 24, 2017

Welcome to the Class of 2021 and to our transfer students, and welcome to your families and friends.

I have the distinct pleasure of joining this great university with you. I arrived in June, and like you, I was greeted by the O-Team, and like you, they emptied our car with good humor and impressive speed. Let’s give a hand to those wonderful returning students and staff who have helped you with your initial move into campus.

To the families in the room, thank you for the roles you have played in helping these assembled students choose to become Susquehannans. You can continue to play a critical part in their university journeys, but please don’t spend too much time on the phone with your students. You can keep track of events taking place on campus through our website. When you do call, be sure to ask about your student’s participation in those activities and ask them to reflect on what they thought about those experiences.

You may want to follow my blog, where I share highlights from campus news and my thoughts on higher education. It is linked off of the President’s Office web page. Feel free to email me topics you would like me to consider for future posts.

We also look forward to seeing you back on campus for Family Weekend, which is November 4th and 5th.

Throughout this year, you will hear me emphasize four pillars of our work together: Citizen Leadership, Global Citizenship, Access and Engagement. Over the next few days, you will be overwhelmed navigating new places, learning new faces and names, and drinking from a firehose of new information. I don’t expect you to remember much from this event, but I will offer a few things for you to think about as your get acclimated and begin what will be a remarkable intellectual and spiritual journey, and I hope a few of these seeds will take root.

The goal of a liberal arts education is to prepare Citizen Leaders. You are here to prepare for a life of citizen leadership.

“Susquehanna University educates students for productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership and service in a diverse, dynamic and interdependent world.”

That is our mission.

We are here to educate you for productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership and service in our diverse, dynamic and interdependent world.

You have seen our motto on banners and posters all over campus: Achieve. Lead. Serve. Our diverse, dynamic and interdependent world has never needed productive, creative and reflective citizen leaders more. The recent events in Charlottesville were a chilling reminder that our nation and our world are in desperate need of the leaders we are here to help you become.

To be a successful citizen leader in our evermore interdependent world, you must become an engaged Global Citizen. As Dr. King wrote in Letter from Birmingham Jail, “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All … [of us] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

As you navigate your early days and weeks at Susquehanna, listen to the stories and reflections of returning students about their GO experiences. What domestic or study abroad cross-cultural program will help you to grow the most? What campus and community activities will prepare you to make the most of those experiences?

It is our responsibility to provide Access for you to the best academic opportunities available. I am depending on you to help me to guide the continuous improvement of the university and to help me to develop an accurate and effective narrative as I seek additional support for your education experience. This is what it means to be part of a living-learning community.

From this convocation, the 4th pillar is the one I most want you to remember: Engagement. You are a participant in a critically important social contract. In addition to the faculty’s innovative curriculum, the entire campus community contributes to a rich out-of-class co-curriculum that provides valuable complementary opportunities for learning and personal development.

That is the water, and you are the horse.

Some of you were here in April when I spoke about a recent Gallup study that correlated six specific experiences in college with general happiness in adult life. They all had to do with meaningful engagement. Take full advantage of your advising sessions, ask lots of questions, participate in organizations and activities, and attend campus events. Make the most of these experiences, participate deeply, and reflect on how the array of activities you undertake connect and contrast with each other.

Each year, we have the great privilege of seeing the transformative power of this special type of education on our students. Let me tell you about one such student. He was a smart and talented young man, but he was an extraordinary student because he engaged deeply in the opportunities he was given, and he was persistent in his engagement.

This particular student was an accounting major. During his first year, he helped make some home repairs as part of a university service project in an adjacent neighborhood. In his conversations with the home owner, he learned that many people in that neighborhood wanted to improve their homes, but didn’t have adequate tools.

The student worked with faculty and staff to do some research on community tool libraries. During his sophomore year, he proposed a self-designed study-away tour of existing tool libraries in other cities, which led him to develop a business plan and to connect with existing community service organizations. He collected tool donations and launched a modest new tool library. As part of a grant-writing course, he secured a $50,000 grant to purchase a building in the neighborhood the tool library served, and tool donations continued to pour in.

When he graduated, permanent funding had been secured, regular home repair workshops were being offered, and community members had been identified to sustain and lead the organization. Hundreds of homes and families benefit from this resource each year. I remember asking him how he managed to create such a remarkable legacy while he was a full-time student. He replied that each task was small, and with the guidance of faculty and staff, he just kept doing the next small thing. That chain of small things has made extraordinary changes for that community. All great journeys begin with a single step persistently followed by the next.

There are things you can do to make it easier to take those steps and to accomplish your goals. One of the most important skills you will learn while you are at Susquehanna is Time Management. Yours is the most programmed generation in history. Most of you have had nearly every minute of your lives scheduled for you. Now you are in charge, and you are being presented with a formidable list of potential activities and experiences.

Here is a little practical advice: treat your academic schedule like a full-time job. As you build your schedules, plan to use the time between classes to do your course work. The conventional wisdom is that for every hour you are in class, you should be doing 2 to 3 hours of work out of class. If you dedicate the hours between breakfast and dinner to being in class, doing homework, or getting ahead in your reading, and if you engage in that discipline from the beginning of the semester and build it into a formal schedule, you will find yourself able to take full advantage of the lectures, concerts, readings, athletic events, service projects and social activities we have planned for you.

As you know from this summer’s common reading, we will be engaging in a year-long discussion on the theme of Conflict. One of the most important skills we need to develop as citizen leaders is the ability to deal effectively with conflict. We need to learn how to have difficult conversations, to engage in civil protest, and to foster progress through thoughtful compromise.

As President Obama said in his 2016 commencement address at Howard University, which is in our common-reading anthology, “… democracy requires compromise, even when you are 100 percent right. This is hard to explain sometimes. You can be completely right, and you are still going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want.”

As you know, Susquehanna was founded as a Lutheran institution. Over time we have become a widely representative and pluralistic community, but the culture of the university has been shaped by its heritage. This is a source of our commitment to service. We strive to meet the world’s deepest needs. This October marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg thus starting the Protestant Reformation. It was a movement with “protest” in its name. As we delve into the theme of conflict, we will occasionally want to use the lens of informed civil protest, and we will need to reflect on how we can develop the skills needed to be, as Gandhi implored, “that change we wish to see in the world.”

You are about to embark on a journey of great change. As an educator, I know that Susquehanna is a place where students who take full advantage of the opportunities they find here are truly transformed for “productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership and service.”

I am so excited to begin this journey with you, and I look forward to seeing how you become leaders for positive change in our diverse, dynamic and interdependent world.

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