Good morning. It is my pleasure and privilege as the president of Ithaca College to welcome you all here today: trustees, faculty, staff, and -- most importantly -- students, the members of the class of 2004. I am honored to welcome you officially on behalf of the entire College community.
In the world of education, there is a clear delineation between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. As Jewish chaplain Michael Faber said, this gives all of us, students and non-students alike, the opportunity to reflect on why we are here -- the nature of our work, the opportunities before us, and our responsibilities to ourselves and to one another. In that sense, we all begin anew with each new entering class of students, committed to doing our best work in order for students to have the best possible college experience.
Members of the class of 2004, this is a special day in the life of Ithaca College. Convocation marks the official beginning of your educational experience with us and the beginning of a new academic year -- our 109th. This is a special and important day in your life, for it signifies a new beginning in your life's journey: a time for intellectual and personal development and for discovery. We are delighted that you have chosen to study with us, and we look forward to contributing to your college experience. We also look forward to the contributions that you will make, individually and collectively, to Ithaca College.
This is an exciting time for each of you -- filled with opportunities, emotions, responsibilities and, of course, many questions. I hope that you are settling in well and that you are filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead for you in this new place, with new people and new ideas. As you look around the room at your peers, you will see some obvious differences and some obvious similarities. You will soon discover that you all share the anticipation that a new experience such as this affords.
As you have already heard from Chairman of the Board of Trustees Herman E. "Skip" Muller Jr., you, the class of 2004, represent a diversity of backgrounds and experiences; you come from many places around the country and around the world. Because of these diverse qualities and traits, you will enrich our community with the unique perspective that each of you will bring to the classroom, to the residence hall discussions, and to overall campus life.
During your time with us, I hope that you will come to value the privilege and opportunity you have to seek to understand others similar to and different from you and, most importantly, to learn something new about yourself along the way. You will discover a wealth of differences in opinions, ideas, and values. I encourage you to explore those differences -- to listen to opinions that differ from your own, to stretch yourself to try to understand them, to respect them, and to develop the capacity to live in a community, and a world, of different views and different experiences. These are important and wonderful dimensions of living and learning in a residential educational community. They will enrich the quality of your academic experience and your personal development overall.
Speaking at Convocation is one of my most cherished duties as president of the College. For although we will have many informal opportunities to talk and to get to know one another during your tenure as a student, there are only two times when I have the opportunity to address all of you as a class -- Convocation and Commencement. Believe me. Commencement will come soon enough. And although I always look forward to celebrating the successes of our students at Commencement, today I value this opportunity to share a few thoughts with you as you begin your Ithaca College experience and start to develop your dreams and life plan over the next few years.
New beginnings offer us the opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we are going. During the past year or so, most of you have been busy bringing a positive conclusion to one chapter of your life while you planned ahead to begin another new and exciting adventure as a college student. During this same period, hundreds of members of this college community worked together to chart our course for the near future. We engaged in an institution-wide planning process that afforded us the opportunity to reflect on and to assess who and what we are, and to set goals and strategies to ensure our continuing success in the future. Out of this process, we have adopted a new mission statement, a new vision statement, and nine priorities for the College. The final product from this exciting and exhaustive process will be shared with the entire Ithaca College community later this fall.
I would like to share our new vision statement with you, as I believe it accurately captures what Ithaca College is and what we strive to be as an institution of higher learning in the 21st century:
Ithaca College strives to become the standard of excellence for residential comprehensive colleges fostering intellect, creativity and character in an active, student-centered learning community.
Our new vision statement reaffirms our commitment to provide a first-class education in a residential environment. Although this may appear obvious at first glance, it is not to be taken lightly. Higher education in America has perhaps never seen a more interesting and challenging time. You are the first new class of students in this new century and millennium. Together we face a future of great opportunity, with great unknowns. Never before have we had the luxury of communicating and learning about people from around the world with simply the click of a button. The availability of information has never been greater. Technology and economic entrepreneurship allow us to reinvent ourselves and the service we provide as educators at a staggering pace.
While all of this certainly provides us with new modes of delivering education and reaching out to an awaiting world, I am pleased that Ithaca College has recommitted itself to what we do well: teaching, learning and service in a residential community. Although we can, and certainly will, use and benefit from the changes available in technology and distance learning, our future will continue to emphasize the personal educational experience that is available at Ithaca College -- in our classrooms, labs, offices, residence halls, international study centers, and exchange programs; and from our guest lecturers, special campus events, leadership opportunities in student and residential government, clubs and organizations, community service and, most specially and importantly, the personal relationships and interactions between you and faculty, staff, parents, alumni and friends.
Just as the College has assessed carefully its past and planned for the present and future, you now are at the brink of a very similar, yet unique, opportunity. With each new class you take, each person you meet or each decision you make, you have the wonderful opportunity to thoughtfully consider your dream and develop goals and a plan that will guide you along the way.
You have heard me mention the word "opportunities" many times in the last few minutes, for you are indeed fortunate to have numerous opportunities awaiting you. However, with these opportunities that you will discover, explore and choose come a few responsibilities to the College community, to the greater society and, of course, to yourself.
As a member of this campus community, you will interact with a diversity of others. You will share both fun and challenging times together and no doubt make some lifetime friends. Through all of these interactions you will share a part of yourself and be a part of other people's experience -- just as they will be a part of yours. Please consider this as you make decisions and choices about your actions and interactions.
We hope that you will get involved in the life of the campus by sharing your ideas, opinions and talents, as well as by attending events and exploring new and interesting topics and ideas. Throughout the year, many exciting events are planned to bring the College community together. I invite you to be a part of these and, most specifically, I hope to see you at many of the events planned around Unity Day in just a couple of weeks.
As much as I want to encourage each of you to cherish your time and involvement here on campus, I also want to remind you not to forget the larger community beyond our campus boundaries. I urge you to keep yourselves informed about the issues facing our greater society by reading a daily newspaper or, at the very least, logging on to CNN headlines as you surf the 'Net or use e-mail.
Speaking of the importance of keeping yourselves informed, you have a special opportunity this year. With the upcoming elections this fall -- the first time for most of you to participate in a presidential election -- you join the rest of us in having a responsibility to be informed citizens and to cast your votes. Statistics from a national study on student characteristics, conducted for the past 30 years, indicate that the traditional college-age voting population has shown a growing apathy toward the political process in the past and that that apathy reached an all-time high last year. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to change these statistics.
Such apathy is not the case, however, in another realm of student life: involvement in community service. This same national study shows a steady increase in the level of student engagement in service. This is true of life at IC as well. Just this past week, over 100 of you arrived a few days early to take part in our Community Plungeprogram. I congratulate all of you for the positive impact you have already made throughout the local Ithaca community. As you all explore Ithaca and beyond, you will have the opportunity to make a difference, locally, through various acts of service. I hope you will continue to seek to make such a difference in your new home community.
During your time here, however, I challenge you to reconcile the apparent disinterest in the political process with this increased interest in service. Many of your service interests involve programs and activities that are influenced, initiated, or funded by municipal, state and federal legislation and policies. If you are truly committed to these programs and causes, then -- in addition to performing acts of community service -- you must direct the actions of policy makers at all levels of government by acting on your right to vote. You can make a difference in two important ways: in service activities and in the voting booth.
Your time here will go very fast -- just ask any senior you meet -- so I strongly urge you to take full advantage of every moment. In high school you attended classes all day long, five days a week. As a college student, you will actually be in the classroom for only about 15 to 18 hours a week. What you choose to do with the many hours beyond that is up to you -- and will ultimately be a part of your education here. There is much happening at your very doorstep. The choices will be many and the choices will be yours.
So what does all this actually mean for you on the individual level? It means go to class prepared and ready to be an active participant in the learning process; explore and join a club or two that you will not only enjoy but that will expand the horizon of your experience; keep informed about and involved with issues beyond the campus at the local, national and international level; and, by all means, do not waste a moment in getting to know and learn from other members of our community.
And, finally, remember that individual planning process I have encouraged you to begin to think about? Well, as you put your plan into place and proceed along, do not be afraid to make a few adjustments along the way. Life's realities will present you with a wealth of options during your time with us. It is okay, and actually advisable, to pause once in a while and take stock of your progress and your interests. This will either affirm your direction and provide you with the motivation to continue along your chosen path or cause you to reconsider your options and, perhaps, choose a new path. Either way, the educational process works as long as you engage yourself in it. Don't forget to ask for directions or help once in a while. That is why we are all here.
Congratulations on deciding to study with us here at Ithaca College. I am confident that you have made a wise decision and will find success as you embrace opportunity with responsibility. As you begin and then make your way on this new and exciting journey, do so knowing that all of us, as a community of faculty, staff and fellow students, will do our very best to assist and to support you.
I will conclude my remarks with advice similar to that I gave our graduates at Commencement last May -- be well, have fun, and do good work. All the best.