President's Convocation Address
August 31, 2008
Newest Poets, I'm looking out at you and imagining that a few of you know exactly where you are headed in life; some of you know the general direction; but most of you don't have a clue! Well, don’t worry. Regardless of your destination, Whittier will get you on the right path.
Each year at graduation, I give advice to our new Whittier College alumni. Last year was no different. I stood before a remarkable class of active, engaged learners. They conducted outstanding research, wrote influential papers, and created inspiring art. They sang at ceremonies like this one, led athletic teams to victory, and spent time helping others through service.
And they had big plans. Some were heading off to the best graduate and professional schools in the country. Some were headed directly into exciting careers, having readied themselves by interning on Wall Street or at the United Nations or at Broadoaks, our renowned laboratory school. And—listen to this one, parents—some, helped by their professor advisors, already had established lucrative businesses, which financed their college educations. These young graduates were on excellent paths.
But even they could not know exactly where those paths ultimately would lead. Henry David Thoreau told us: "We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success." Well, tonight, we sit together in the dark, and you are about to take a big leap.
You signed the matriculation book this morning and soon will receive the Light of Learning, officially making you a Whittier College Poet. In joining the Poet family, you will be challenged to broaden your way of thinking, try on new ideas and roles, and prepare for a lifetime of surprise, change, and multiple paths to opportunity.
And Whittier College will make this possible.
In 1887 our Quaker founders established a college dedicated to community and committed to service. They urged all to "let our lives speak." At this College you will learn about and celebrate those who let their lives speak, and we will help you recognize the power of action in your own life.
Our founders believed in the value of silence, a silence that encourages listening to one's inner voice—the voice that calls for good—and that reminds us to listen to the voices of others. They wanted—and we today want—every student to learn to listen deeply.
Our founders established a college devoted to profound respect for people of all backgrounds, a respect symbolized by the international flags behind me. And today such is our diversity in race, religion, socioeconomic circumstances, ethnicity, nationality, and political ideology that there is no typical Whittier student. Through your classes, through talking with each other, and through mingling with visitors such as the author Barbara Ehrenreich, who will be on campus next week, you will stand in others' shoes, find our common humanity, and prepare yourself for a world of complexity.
However, on this beautiful night, I suspect that you are looking not at your life after college, but to the next days and perhaps years in this remarkable place.
Here is what you will find. You will find yourself talking in class as much as listening. You will not find yourself in a classroom filled with hundreds of students, listening to a professor way down in the front drone on and on. The ability to hide in a large class or avoid a professor's stare is not in store for you at Whittier College, and our esteemed professors do not drone.
And just as you were warmly welcomed on campus today, you will find that we will encourage you to leave. To leave for internships at the Boys and Girls Club in Whittier, or an aerospace corporation downtown, or with one of our alumni at a movie studio in Hong Kong, or at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. We’ll encourage you to leave for Ireland or Greece for study abroad, and to leave, along with your professor and classmates, for January-term trips to South Africa or Morocco or Chile or Rome.
Newest Poets, there is a world out there that needs your intelligence, your commitment, and the education you will receive here. Your family and your teachers prepared you and have high expectations for you.
Commit yourself tonight to seize every opportunity that this fantastic college will provide, and leap into the dark to your success.