Convocation 2003

Ithaca College, August 25, 2003

Thank you, Board of Trustees Chairman William Haines. Good morning, everyone.

Since joining Ithaca College, I have had the privilege of welcoming six classes of new students to campus. I know from personal experience that each class is unique, and I am certain that you, the class of 2007, will leave your own distinct mark on this institution as well.

You are a very bright group of people. In fact, you are one of the brightest classes in the history of Ithaca College. There are 32 valedictorians, 23 salutatorians, and 7 National Merit scholars among you. Each and every one of you is to be congratulated for being among those selected for the class of 2007 and for your impressive record of accomplishments in high school.

I am, however, reminded of what Robert J. Kibbee, chancellor of the City University of New York, said: "The quality of a university [or college such as ours] is measured more by the kind of student it turns out than the kind it takes in." I agree with Mr. Kibbee: it is the job, it is the mission, it is the obligation of every one of the 1,300 Ithaca College faculty and staff to provide you with an exceptional educational experience -- an education that broadens, strengthens, and inspires you.

If we succeed, and if you take full advantage of your time here, you will leave this campus wiser, more knowledgeable, thoughtful, mature, grounded, and sure of yourself than you are today. It's our job to help you prepare for your graduation a few years from now. More important, it's our job to do everything we can to ensure that you are prepared to make your way in the world when you leave.

You will follow in the footsteps of more than 60,000 Ithaca College alumni who have, through their hard work and extraordinary accomplishments, proven the value of the Ithaca College education you begin today. Their donations for the building of new facilities across campus, their funding of our scholarship programs, and their contributions to our endowment fund are evidence that they value the education they received at Ithaca College -- and that they understand their role, as alumni, in ensuring that you receive the same quality of experience.

I have had the pleasure of attending some of the more than 50 alumni gatherings held across the country in the past year and have been fascinated to hear stories of how individual lives and careers have evolved. Certainly, there are many alumni who left Ithaca determined to follow a precise life path -- and have done exactly what they set out to do. They are, however, the exception, not the rule.

While we can point with great pride to the former Ithaca College television-radio major who now heads the Walt Disney Company, we also take great pride in a former Ithaca College journalism major who went on to produce political campaign commercials, worked in a Hollywood talent agency, managed the construction of an award-winning golf course, and today runs a camp for young children.

While we are proud of the alumnus who received his degree in chemistry and is now a respected research scientist with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, we are equally proud of the alumnus who majored in sociology but was so upset by his father's bad experience with a dialysis treatment that he opened his own treatment center.

There's a planned studies major who now runs an opera house in Berlin and conducts Disney musicals throughout Europe.

There's an alumnus with two degrees in music from Ithaca College who is a successful corporate Realtor in New York City. He still composes, mainly for the marimba, and a couple of his pieces are considered standard in the repertoire.

There's an alumnus who majored in accounting and who eventually became a partner in a prestigious firm in New York City. That's his day job. His true love and passion is music. So at night he lives another life -- playing bass in a Dixieland jazz band in Greenwich Village, as he has for more than 40 years.

Finally, there's a recent graduate who is interning at Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City. Instead of applying her degree in occupational therapy in a traditional way, she has combined her love of dance and occupational therapy to help breast cancer survivors recover after they have been discharged.

These alumni illustrate a point: Your next four years at Ithaca College should prepare you to handle any eventuality. That means successfully following a precise, predetermined life path -- or successfully navigating a life path that is neither straight nor predictable.

Your Ithaca College education offers you a superb opportunity to learn about your fields of interest. It will provide you with an opportunity to learn what you like and don't like, what you stand for, and what you believe in. Most important of all, your time here will provide you with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover who you are. I can assure you that there is no better place than Ithaca College to do exactly that.

You have everything you need right here to fully explore what you are passionate about, as well as to discover new interests and passions. Ithaca College offers a comprehensive educational experience that is normally only found at a university many times our size. So by all means, take full advantage of the choices offered to you in a curriculum that includes 2,000 courses in more than 100 degree programs.

In coming to Ithaca College you join a community. You will live and learn with students from diverse backgrounds who have different life experiences and who have different values.

Here in the academy, we love to think, to talk about ideas, to be constructively critical, to search for new knowledge, and to find meaning in all that we experience. Playing with ideas and imagining possibilities are what we are about. You come to Ithaca College with intellectual skills already developed, and by the time you graduate you will be an even more sophisticated thinker and intellectual.

Your College experience will be richer and more fulfilling if you reach out to as many of your classmates as possible. We believe that the interaction among students in different schools and majors is enriching. That's why we initiated our summer reading program -- to engage the entire campus in discussion, debate, and reflection on an extremely important and timely topic: diversity.

James McBride's book, The Color of Water, is, of course, a testament to his Polish-Jewish mother and his African American father. All of you have read it and will analyze, discuss, and debate it this semester and throughout the year. We selected this book because it supports a commitment we made in our Institutional Plan -- namely, to "create a campus environment that accepts, reflects, and celebrates diversity." We will have the privilege of hosting the author here on campus next month. He, by the way, is also an accomplished saxophonist and composer.

While we expect our discussions of The Color of Water to be civil, we fully encourage you to speak your mind. This is true even if your opinion is not a popular one. I wholeheartedly agree with the art and science scholar Jacob Bronowski who said, "It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it." Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual; you have the obligation to be one."

Likewise, be open, really open, to the opinions of others. Rhythm and blues diva Ruth Brown said, "The only person that listens to both sides of an argument is the fellow in the next apartment." But it need not be that way. In an academic environment such as ours, you need to learn to listen well to others -- and be willing, in the face of a compelling argument, to change your point of view.

You have worked hard to get here, and your parents and families have sacrificed to make it possible for you to attend Ithaca College. So I have some practical advice for you to succeed here and make the most of your college experience. Assuming, of course, that you will work hard and manage your time well, I have some other suggestions for you:

  • Take a course that you would not ordinarily take, beyond your primary field of study. Often the course we remember is one that had nothing to do with our major. For example, I vividly remember a physical geography class that I took as an elective. It influenced my view of the physical world and has inspired me to travel to remote and rugged places.
  • Get involved in community service as a volunteer. You can help others right here in Ithaca by joining in our outreach efforts at the South Hill Elementary School or the Longview senior community, which is right up the road. You could even participate in one of the volunteer initiatives we organize at locations around the country during fall and spring breaks.

    I am struck by the important volunteer work our alumni are doing in their communities and by how their student experiences here shaped that commitment.

  • Incorporate at least one international experience into your program. Study at our London Center, or one of our programs in Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Japan, Australia, or Singapore. And by all means, explore other opportunities right here on campus to broaden your knowledge and understanding of the world and of other cultures.

    Also, consider studying at our center in Los Angeles for students in the Park School of Communications and at our center in Washington, D.C., which serves students in all academic programs.

  • Attend music, theater, and other arts events on campus and in the community because these are enjoyable and enriching experiences and because you may never again find yourself in a community with so many opportunities.
  • Ithaca College is well known for its outstanding athletic programs at the intercollegiate, club, and intramural levels. Consider participating. Students do pick up new athletic interests during their college years. If you are not so inclined, then support our athletes by attending their games and meets.
  • Play a role in student government and the many clubs and organizations on campus. While you may choose to be a participant in some, be sure there is at least one in which you are a leader -- we need both.

    I hope you will also heed the words of former U.S. secretary of the treasury William Simon, who said, "Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don't vote." You will have the opportunity and privilege next year to vote for president of the United States. I encourage you to learn about the candidates, listen to the debates, decide for yourself who you believe is best suited to lead this country, and then vote in the primaries and the general election.

  • Enjoy these wonderful surroundings for both exercise and reflection. Our campus is nearly 800 acres -- about the size of New York City's Central Park -- and is a great place for a walk, a run, or a bike ride.
  • If you like the outdoors as much as I do, I encourage you to enjoy all that the nearby state parks have to offer, to relish the beauty of the waterfalls right here in town, or to relax by the shores of our chapel pond.
  • And, whatever you do, have fun; it's a critical ingredient for a successful college experience.

Your first year at Ithaca College will be challenging. You will certainly need to adjust to your new surroundings, as well as your newfound independence. But I suspect you will emerge from your first year with some very good things to show for it.

In a recent national study of students at the conclusion of their first year of college, most believed that they had gained greater self-understanding, greater self-confidence, improved writing skills, improved public speaking skills, and that they had become emotionally stronger.

It is also interesting to note that their life goals changed, too, with substantial increases in their desire to influence social change, to be community leaders, to help others in difficulty, and to become authorities in their chosen fields.

In another study of students at the conclusion of their first year, the students from Ithaca College stood out in one very telling way. When asked if they felt that they were capable of bringing about change in our society, an overwhelming 85 percent of first-year Ithaca College students said yes. Their responses were twice as optimistic as students from other four-year colleges. I am proud of their response because I believe that being confident that you can make a difference is what distinguishes a leader from a follower.

In closing, I welcome each and every one of you -- all 1,575 first-year students and 135 transfer students -- to Ithaca College. You come from 40 states and 34 countries, including Argentina, Bulgaria, China, South Africa, Nepal, Russia, Jamaica, Japan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. We are truly delighted that you have chosen to study with us, and we look forward to learning and growing with you. Today marks the beginning of a relationship between you and Ithaca College that will last a lifetime.

Though your goal is to earn an undergraduate degree, it is the journey on the way to that goal -- how you shape it and how you experience it -- that will define the quality of your overall college experience.

As French novelist Marcel Proust said, "We do not receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness that no one else can make for us, that no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world."

You will graduate from Ithaca College wiser than you are today -- with the knowledge, skills, and confidence you need to make good choices in life and to thrive in a world that is often unpredictable yet is full of opportunity.

On behalf of the trustees, faculty, staff, and your fellow students, I wish you all the best on your Ithaca College journey!