Good morning. I am pleased to welcome you all here today -- trustees, faculty, staff -- and to offer a very special welcome to our new students. I am honored to recognize you and to officially welcome you on behalf of the entire Ithaca College community. We are delighted that you have chosen to study at IC and hope that your transition has gone smoothly so far. We hope that you are beginning to feel that this is your new home and that we are all your new neighbors.
Most of you are trying to appear cool and relaxed in your new home, even though you most likely have many questions and perhaps a few worries. It is perfectly reasonable for you to feel that way, so live with it. Just think: you are in a new place, with new people, embarking on an entirely new stage in your life. If you were not a little anxious about what lies ahead, I would be worried for you. All of us at IC are interested in your success and will do whatever we can to support you in achieving your goals.
In anticipating your arrival this weekend and thinking about the journey you are beginning, I thought about a book that I read last year and some of the parallels. The book, Deep Waters, is a story about a woman's physical and spiritual journey, the story of her long-awaited, much-planned circumnavigation of Lake Superior in a single-person kayak. She undertook the journey for the physical challenges that it involved. Her journey turned out to be much more than that -- it was a life-changing event.
Her trip was rigorous, filled with moments of joy and fear. For much of the journey she was alone -- at times enjoying the solitude, at other times wishing for more company. Along the way, there were planned meetings with friends and family on shore -- to check in and to be cheered on. The weather was uneven -- sunny days, cloudy, windy, and cold rainy days. She had a map of the lake that provided a general outline of her route, but the map did not include enough detail to inform her of what the trip would really entail. Some days she felt at one with her craft, totally in command and at peace; other days she was frightened, questioning her ability to meet the challenges at hand and ahead -- even wondering why she had embarked on the adventure in the first place. In the end, she completed her trip successfully and had an incredible, life-changing physical, spiritual, and emotional experience.
As I think about what lies ahead for you as you begin your college experience, I think that you are embarking on a journey that will be similar to hers in many ways. I hope that each of you will enjoy the success she did.
I would like to explore a few of the parallels:
1. Being alone and being with others
You are responsible for your education -- your own learning -- as she was for navigating around the lake. However, you will encounter many other people along the way. A few people you meet, people from whom you expect support and encouragement, will disappoint you. They will not be there for you when you expect them to be; they will fail to provide the support you had anticipated; they will disappoint you. They might even encourage you to behave in self-destructive ways. However, there will be many others upon whom you can confidently rely, who will be your lighthouse, so to speak. These people will make you feel terrific and will cheer you on. They will help you see talents and potential in yourself that you had never imagined. These people include family and close friends you left behind, as well as Ithaca College faculty, staff, and students. We are here to support you; please look to us to be there for you.
Today, immediately following Convocation, the faculty, staff, and administration are hosting a campus community picnic to welcome you to the College. I encourage you to reach out to faculty or staff and get to know a member of our campus family.
As you begin your academic work at IC, we provide you with a course catalog, a student handbook, excellent academic advising, and related information that will enable you to make good choices among the many available options. At best, however, these can only serve as rough guides, providing a general sense of the direction your experience can take. Just as the kayaker's map provided a general outline of the perimeter of the lake and could not give her all the information about the shallows, the currents, the obstructions, the wonderful inlets that she would encounter, so too, the information and materials we provide cannot answer all your questions nor anticipate every situation you might encounter. If you use these maps and guides in conjunction with your innate abilities and all the background that you bring with you to this exciting endeavor, you will indeed make the most of your college experience. You will be called upon to make choices and to exercise good judgment in order to make this time in your life all that it can be for you.
Develop the confidence to explore on your own. You will have numerous opportunities along your journey that are not obvious or foreseen. But this is often where the fun and the exciting challenges lie. Pursue them. Follow your own instincts and explore what looks interesting and intriguing to you. While here, take an elective class that intrigues you, go to a lecture that will challenge you intellectually, and try playing a new intramural sport. No two of you will have the same experience, even though your journeys begin and end at the same place with similar maps and guides.
The parallels I saw regarding weather relate to confidence and self-doubt. Along the way you will all have cloudy/stormy days, as well as days filled with sun and blue skies.
The cloudy and stormy days will be those difficult times when everything seems to be going against you, seemingly keeping you back, making you feel uncomfortable, and even causing you to doubt your own capabilities and your reason for being here. You may feel tested for no apparent reason. Accept these days as part of the journey -- work through them and learn from them. Some of them will probably be in the category of "just a bad day"; others, however, will be ones involving significant growth and challenge, e.g., a concept in physics that you just cannot seem to grasp because it requires you to achieve a new level of cognitive development. These days, albeit gray and cloudy at the time, will frequently be the days that lead to significant intellectual and personal development.
There will be other days -- many, I hope -- where everything will come together nicely: the wind will be behind you and the sun overhead, enabling you in very positive ways, moving you swiftly and joyfully in the fullness of your knowledge and capabilities.
The interesting thing is that anyone who has hiked, canoed, or undertaken any other outdoor adventure will quickly -- and with much more satisfaction -- tell you tales of their times of adversity along the journey before they tell you about the sunny, picturesque days. Those difficult and challenging days were tests of their abilities and attitude. Their ability to deal with adversity led to a sense of accomplishment and new learning.
There are a number of other parallels that I could draw from the book, but I will stop here and look ahead with you in a more general sense.
What will be the nature of your journey?
Your college experience will not take a linear path. Rather, it will be a journey with many bends and turns, taken against a backdrop of uncertainty and opportunity. Your challenge will be to find your way. Your clear goal, as you set out, is to earn a college degree and to gain new knowledge. However, it is the journey itself and how you shape it that will affect the quality of your learning and your overall college experience. The words of Mary Catherine Bateson in her book Composing a Life are apropos, and I quote: "The knight errant who finds his challenges along the way may be a better model for our times than the knight who is questing for the Holy Grail." (1)
As you begin, you will draw upon and build on your interests and the capacity for learning that you brought with you to IC while you meet new and exciting challenges and further develop your capacity for adaptation, reflection, and redirection. You are well equipped to do this, and you will continue to get better at it as you proceed along the way. Before coming to IC, you made numerous and significant choices, including the decision to come here. Each of you has a history of personal achievement, and you have learned to deal with success and failure, disappointment and joy. You begin your college career with a grounding in all that has come before in your life, with openness to possibilities and with the capacity to respond to those qualities in a meaningful way.
So as you embark on your journey at IC, look back as you look ahead. Recognize that at each stage and with each accomplishment in life we learn a number of new things, including knowledge and skills and a sense of what we like, what is important to us, where we excel, and what we still need to learn. Recognize that, as things change and as you continue to develop, there are some basic aspects of you -- your interests, your talents, and your ideals -- that you continue to develop and that provide the base from which to develop further. Again quoting Bateson, "Composing a life involves a continual re-imagining of the future and reinterpretation of the past to give meaning to the present, remembering those events that prefigured what followed, forgetting those that proved to have no meaning within the narrative." (2)
Acknowledge and accept that there is no one best way, no one right way -- the paths taken and the lives lived are as varied as we are from one another. Recognize that notion as liberating, not limiting.
You are privileged to be here and to have the opportunities you have. You may not see it that way. Perhaps most of your friends are attending college as well, but many in our country have not had the opportunities to prepare themselves for higher education or do not have the financial means to be here. Take this responsibility and privilege seriously. As you develop as an individual, do so within the context of the larger society, always asking how you can contribute, always asking how you can make the world a better place for all its citizens and how developing yourself to the fullest can make you better able to attend to the needs of others.
At Ithaca we have a rich history of service and continue to support this tradition. I challenge you to share your talents with the community and to learn from others.
In closing, begin your journey with enthusiasm and with the knowledge that you have what it takes to succeed. We have confidence in you. As you venture forth from today, be open to new experiences, take intellectual risks while being responsible, and see what new worlds appear. Be open to the people whom you meet along the way -- those who you know are supposed to be your guides, as well as the many strangers who have much to teach you.
As Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers say in their book A Simpler Way, "Relationships change us, reveal us, evoke more from us. We do not live in a world that encourages separateness. Only when we join with others do our gifts become visible, even to ourselves." (3)
You also will develop relationships with faculty, staff, and students who have very different backgrounds from you. They will be from almost every state in the union and a host of countries. They represent a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, which provides a rich mix on our campus. I encourage you to celebrate your own heritage and to learn about others on campus.
In September, a Day of Unity will be held on campus in support of our entire community. I encourage you to participate. Throughout the year there will be a number of lectures and performances that address tough questions and issues concerning race, religion, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic class. I challenge you to attend.
This is a safe place to try new things. Take responsibility for your own learning and development. Enjoy every minute of it. We will challenge you. As you begin, know that you have the academic capacity and tools to succeed. The challenges will more likely be for you to apply your moral sense and your personal discipline to the journey at hand. At the same time, have fun here. Enjoy the intellectual and social experiences of college life.
Last May, standing at the podium at Commencement, I saw reflected in the faces before me the same sense of joy and fulfillment that I think the paddler must have felt when she completed her journey. The significant difference is that the paddler ended her journey in the same place she started. Your journey at IC will take you to places you have never even imagined, places far away from where you are today.
Again, from Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers: "Life wants to discover itself. . . . Newness appears out of nowhere. We can never predict what will emerge. We can never go back. Life is on a one-way street to novelty. Life always surprises us." (4)
That is the wonder and excitement of this very special time in your lives. Enjoy and do well.
1. Mary Catherine Bateson, Composing a Life (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989), p. 10. [back to text]
2. Ibid., p. 29. [back to text]
3. Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers, A Simpler Way (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1996), p. 67. [back to text]
4. Ibid., p. 66. [back to text]