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Convocation RemarksConvocation Remarks
August 25, 2008

It is my honor, on behalf of the College, to welcome to this student convocation the members of the board of trustees, faculty, staff, and the returning students who are here today by virtue of their role as student leaders. Ithaca College is a special place because of your commitment and expertise.

To the students who are joining us for the first time -- whether as freshmen or as experienced college students who have arrived from elsewhere, let me say, "Welcome." Like you, I am new here. I have just a small head start on you, with my having been on campus since early July. But like you, the ink is still drying on my ID card, and I am sometimes late for things because I don’t yet know where all the buildings are. I had a major triumph last week when someone asked me for directions and I actually knew the answer. In other words, fellow freshman, I feel your pain -- but I also feel your excitement! We are in for a wonderful adventure together as part of the learning community at Ithaca College.

So this is it -- your college career is either beginning or continuing in a new venue. You are going to remember today and the next few weeks for the rest of your lives. It is a bit shocking for me to realize that my own freshman year began 38 years ago next week. My parents dropped me off at the residence hall in the family station wagon, the 20th-century version of an SUV. I carried up to my room one suitcase full of clothes and a stereo, the 20th-century equivalent of an MP3 player. My parents gave me a wrapped box as they left. I opened the box later that day and found inside a popcorn popper. The card said, "This is to help you make friends." (I guess my parents knew I would need help.)

The popper is long gone, but I still have some of the friends with whom I shared popcorn during my first month in college. Thirty-eight years from today you will still have some of the friends you are going to make in the next few weeks. What happens to you while you are at Ithaca College is going to stay with you for a lifetime. The phrase is trite, but today is truly the first day of the rest of your life.

That thought can be pretty intimidating, so it is reassuring to remember that you don’t have to figure out today everything about your college plans, much less life after college. But the decisions you make now and the habits you develop now will deeply affect how much you get out of your IC experience.

You will spend the next four years attending classes, being mentored by faculty, and studying alone and in groups. Many of you will also participate in athletics, join clubs, work for pay on campus and off, volunteer in community organizations, complete internships, and travel in this country and abroad. How you make sense of these experiences -- how you use them to develop a deeper sense of your interests, abilities, and commitments -- will determine what you get out of college.

Ten years from now, you probably won’t remember the details of most of your courses. But, even as specific memories fade, you will find that the ideas you discover here will affect how you encounter the world, how you make sense of your experience, and how you define your own priorities in life. If you take a reflective approach to your academic and social experiences, you will become a person who has the intellectual and emotional resources to cut to the heart of any issue and develop a well-considered position or plan of action. You will become the kind of person who is able to cultivate essential knowledge and skills as you come to need them.

I want to make special note of the role of diversity in your educational experience. Whether you regard success in life primarily through the lens of success in the job market, or a life of meaning and joy, or both, the same set of skills is required. Lives of fulfillment, on any dimension, require the ability to communicate, to work well in collaboration with others, to understand a variety of points of view, and to grasp competing value systems even while being clear on your own values. In short, it requires empathy, which is the understanding of difference.

Where on campus will you find the opportunity to develop these skills? The answer is, "Everywhere." Your time here as part of the Ithaca College community gives you the opportunity to cultivate the skills of communication, empathy, and collaboration across realms of difference. To help you take advantage of that opportunity, I urge you to accept the following challenge today: Find three people who you don’t know. Introduce yourself, offer a bit of background about yourself, and ask some questions of the person you have met. Listen -- really listen -- to what he or she has to say.

Not much of a challenge, you think?? You are right. I didn’t get to the challenging part. Repeat the process tomorrow. Find three more people you don’t know. Do it again the day after tomorrow. Keep doing it for the next three weeks. When you run short of new people in your classes and in the residence halls, go to the organizing meeting of a club that interests you, even if you think you probably won’t join. Eat in a different part of the dining hall or at a different time of day. Wander over to one or more of the other schools on campus and find out how the other side lives. By the time three weeks have gone by, you will have met more than sixty people you don’t know today. In that short a period of time, you will have made significant strides in appreciating the variety of backgrounds, interests, and values that are found in the Ithaca College community. You will be part of the network of mutual respect and of learning from others that characterizes the best our community has to offer.

One aspect of mutual respect is to understand environmental stewardship as a commitment we make to each other and to future generations. That commitment is captured in the idea of sustainability -- a learning process by which we make ever more informed decisions that fully consider the impact of our actions on others and on our environment.

As you leave this convocation and head to the picnic on the quad, you will see examples of sustainable choices you can make. Be sure to take a reusable beverage mug as you enter the picnic area -- and please use it often in the future. It is made from recycled plastic, and can itself be recycled at the end of its usable life. Take a look at the local and organic foods being used in recipes borrowed from the Balanced Way nutrition program. The plates, napkins, cups, and eating utensils you will use today are all compostable. Volunteers will help you separate your waste items for maximum efficiency. After eating, check out some examples of student-created displays and activities related to sustainability -- from EarthCafe to the mobile solar unit to the giant ecological footprints.

Advancing sustainability in our personal and professional lives requires the application of both intellect and creativity. Making this commitment is a mark of character. I hope you will consider signing the Commitment to Change pledge to make more sustainable choices in your own lives. Speaking of commitment to change, please listen for a special announcement to be made at 12:30 today, during the picnic, about a corporate gift to our environmental studies program. This gift recognizes Ithaca College’s leadership in campus sustainability and will enable us to significantly expand our efforts.

Class of 2012, you are embarked on a wonderful and privileged journey. It is a journey whose destination is not a place, but rather a quality of increased sophistication and a breadth of insight with which you look at the world. The fruits of the journey are not magically conferred upon you at graduation, but instead come every day from the effort you put into the trip and the experiences you get out of it. You are making your journey at a college that features some of the finest maps and best travel guides around. You were chosen to be here from among over 14,000 applicants. You belong here. You are welcome here. You will succeed here. It is up to you to make your journey count.