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Whittier College President’s Convocation Address
by Linda Oubré
September 1, 2019
I am so excited to welcome you to the Whittier College community.
I’d like to take a little survey. How many of you are from Southern California? How about the state of California? Outside of California? Outside of the United States? How many of you are a Whittier legacy, your parents, siblings, or another family member attended Whittier College? How many of you are the first in your families to attend college?
Here at Whittier College, our mission is to focus on your success, both during your time here as a student, but also when you leave here after graduation. We do this by living a culture of equity and inclusion. We work hard to ensure that Whittier College is a welcoming place for everyone. We also work hard to ensure that you are provided with all you need to fully engage in learning inside and outside the classroom.
Look around! THIS is what a 21st century college looks like! Our campuses, our workplaces, our communities, and our way of life are becoming more and more international, multicultural, and globally interconnected. Whittier College is a model for present and our future.
Whittier ranks as one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country. We attract students from every socioeconomic tier, ideological perspective, religious and social background, sexual orientation, gender identity, and from 35 states and 27 countries.
At Whittier, you will engage in a unique learning experience with our amazing and committed faculty and staff in an environment of exceptional openness, inclusion, and collaboration. You will leave here transformed and ready to take on the world.
Our changing global community needs exactly the type of leaders that Whittier prepares. By some estimates, two-thirds of you will eventually work in careers that have yet to be created. To be successful, you will need to learn how to learn: to be flexible and adaptable, experimenters and explorers, makers and creators. That’s why we focus on educating leaders who can think analytically and critically, who are creative problem solvers and innovators, who communicate effectively and who know how to work in teams with other individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints. These are the abilities you will acquire through a rigorous education in the liberal arts and sciences here at Whittier College. Combined with real-world experience through internships, community service, international study, and research projects, you will gain an unbeatable foundation for your future success.
And, just as our aim is to prepare you for success as students, our mission is also to instill in you the importance of being responsible global citizens. As an institution founded on Quaker ideals, we will nurture and develop you into leaders who believe in social justice, ethical decision-making, a commitment to serving others, and making a difference in our interconnected global world.
This is the legacy of Whittier College and the Quaker tradition. To treat every person as if they have value and to promote social justice. This is also the legacy of our namesake, John Greenleaf Whittier, who was not only a Quaker and a Poet, but also an abolitionist who used his platform to fight for full equality in the United States at a time when the enslavement of other human beings was legal.
The social justice ideal that education is a basic human right is at the core of what makes us Whittier College. John Greenleaf Whittier wrote many poems, but it is his abolitionist writings that showed his true skill and courage. He specifically cited the practice of withholding education and knowledge as a strategy designed to sustain the system of slavery. To subjugate and oppress the “other,” he wrote, was a system built on the belief that people who look like many of us here must be:
“kept ignorant...it is the business of the free to keep the slaves in ignorance.”
He knew that education is the key to freedom.
Like many of you, I am a first generation college attendee from a public school in Los Angeles. I have seen first-hand how a college education can transform lives.
My grandparents never graduated from elementary school. Five generations before me my great-great-great grandparents were slaves in Alabama and Louisiana. And yet, I stand before you today as a graduate of UCLA, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania. I stand before you as the President of a College named for a Quaker Abolitionist Poet. And I know that the only reason I stand before you here today is because my parents and grandparents told me:
“Get as much education as you can stand because it’s the one thing that will transform your life and the one thing that no one can take away from you!”
So embrace this wonderful opportunity you have been given to get an education. Enjoy the journey. Don’t waste it, don’t throw it away. Remember what got you here today, and remember the individuals who came before you, and who stand with you now.
The education you will get here at Whittier College will impact not only you, but also your extended family, your community, the region, the nation, and the world. By investing in your education, you are investing in not only your future, but you are also investing in the future of our local and global communities.
Whatever you look like, wherever you come from, whatever your abilities, however you identify, and whatever you believe, you are the leaders who will change the world. And like our namesake John Greenleaf Whittier, you will become a part of the legacy of Whittier College.
And finally a message to the parents and families of our newest Poets. I want to assure you that the leadership, faculty, and staff of Whittier College will do everything we can to ensure your student’s success. And as you leave them here today, (and yes, you do have to leave soon) remember that they are in good hands.
Dear Poets of the Class of 2023, I am honored and humbled to take this journey with you!
Best wishes and enjoy the next four years!