August 23, 2018

Welcome to the class of 2022 and to our transfer students, and welcome to your families and friends.

Among the many things that impress me at Susquehanna is move in. The O-Team, first-year RAs, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the Selinsgrove community do such a great job of welcoming and, what’s surely more appreciated, schlepping. Let’s give a hand to those wonderful returning students and staff who have helped you with your initial move in to 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 share with you what they thought about those experiences.

We look forward to seeing many of you back on campus for Family Weekend, which is Oct. 26 and 27.

Students: 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.

First, a little practical advice: 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.

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.

Second, remember why we are here:

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

This is our mission. This is the creed of our community.

You have seen our motto on banners and posters all over campus: Achieve. Lead. Serve. The acme of that charge is when we are able to successfully serve through our leadership. That is the goal of citizen leadership. Our diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world has never needed productive, creative, and reflective citizen leaders more.

As you know from this summer’s common reading, we will be engaging in a year-long discussion on the theme of Resilience. Our conversations will be about how we can become more resilient as individuals, as a community, as a nation, and as a planet.

Resilience is our capacity to recover from difficulties. It is our ability to overcome challenges and adversity.

This topic presupposes that we are going to encounter failure and loss, disappointment and rejection. Well, we all will.

Our universe is subject to entropy: things naturally decline into disorder. As William Butler Yeats expressed in his poem “The Second Coming,” written in the aftermath of WWI:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats sounds as if he is writing about today. Things fall apart. It’s like the line from the old blues song, “Live life like you’re gonna die, because you are.” Now there’s a cheerful welcome to college life, but if you think about it, it is. The song is challenging us to live our lives as fully as we can, to play the hands we are dealt with zeal.

The Liberal Arts provide us with an array of viewpoints and historical perspectives so we can better contextualize and understand the challenges we encounter in our lives.

In anticipation of the myriad inevitabilities we all face, you are here to develop the tools to live your lives as fully as you can, to respond to challenges with grit and poise, and to lift up those around us whose resolve is spent. We are here to combat the intellectual and moral entropy of our modern world.

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy conclude their book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, with this summary:

The journey toward resilience is the great moral quest of our age. It is the lens with which we must necessarily adjust our relationships to one another, to our communities and institutions, and to our planet. Even so, we must remember that there are no finish lines… no silver bullets. Resilience is always, perhaps maddeningly, provisional… Many efforts to achieve it will fail, and even a wildly successful effort to boost it will fade, … Resilience must continuously be refreshed… Every effort at resilience buys us not certainty, but another day, another chance.

Resilience requires persistence. Resilience requires authenticity.

Derrick Brooms, author of the article “Black Men Emerging,” in our common reading, will be on campus next month. In that reading, we learned about the student Deondre who adopted “I don’t care” and “I’ll just do me” as coping mechanisms to navigate his college experience in an environment in which he did not feel fully included. We must strive to be a campus where such strategies are unnecessary, but we will each encounter circumstances of exclusion in our lives, and embracing a mantra to be our best selves in spite of the ignorance of others is wise. Striving to be our best selves is always the right choice, but in the face of adversity we must constantly remember to sustain that commitment. It is also important to remember that Prof. Brooms noted that a positive racial climate improves the social adjustment and academic performance of all students.

Resilience requires a diversity of thoughts and experiences. Zolli and Healy stated that “Resilient cultures are rooted in diversity and difference and are tolerant of occasional dissent.”

Scott Page, Professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, has coined the term, “Cognitive Diversity.” He has shown that the ability for communities or crowds to be accurate in their decision making requires that they either be a collective of very smart people, or they need to be people of average intelligence with a diversity of experiences and ways of thinking. By extrapolation, we as a community become our best as a constituency of both smart and cognitively diverse individuals. This is what we need to develop the collective resilience required to move us forward as a community and a nation.

Our campus theme last year was “Conflict.” Conflict and diversity make us stronger, but they often also make us uncomfortable. We must have the moral courage to be uncomfortable so that we can move toward becoming our best selves.

Courage and bravery are not the same thing. Often the only difference between bravery and stupidity is who’s telling the tale. Courage, on the other hand, is deep. It is built upon faith and wisdom, and fundamentally, it is selfless. You are here to seek wisdom and to develop the moral courage to become leaders of significance, to become resilient, and to cultivate resilience in those around you.

In the words often attributed to Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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 in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.”

I am hopeful that in this place you now call alma mater, you will cultivate the wisdom and courage to provide the resilience needed to make and sustain the change you most wish to see in the world.

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