President Nugent's Opening Convocation Remarks to the Class of 2007
The opening of the academic year has always seemed to me a magical time. So many possibilities open before us! More even than on January 1, when so many of us make resolutions about what we're NOT going to do (no more Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, for example...), the new school year permits us to re-imagine ourselves. I could become a person who speaks Japanese, who can draw, who understands micro-economics...
Yet, the beginning of freshman year in college is also a time of some ambivalence, lots of excitement, for both students and parents, about what's coming and what's possible in the future. But also a fair amount of anxiety, for both students and parents, about what's coming and what the future will hold.
We gather here today to mark and to honor with a moving Kenyon ritual the entry of members of the Class of 2007 into the College and to open Kenyon's 180th academic year. Four years from now, we will gather again in this same spot and take part in a mirror ritual to mark the graduation of the Class of 2007. Today, I want to speak very briefly to the parents of this wonderful incoming Class (the most selective in Kenyon's history!), to members of the Class of '07, and then to say a more general word about the College.
Let me speak first to parents. First, I should say that Kenyon parents are a very special breed. In my 25 years in higher education (at Swarthmore, Cornell, Brown, and
I know there are many different experiences of parenting among us. Some of you are adoptive parents, with the especially deliberate choice and commitment that that implies, as I know from the experience of my husband, Tom, who was adopted as an infant by incredibly devoted and loving parents. Some of you are single parents, with the extra sacrifice and effort that often entails. Some of you are bringing to college your only child. Others among you have now had this experience of bringing a child to campus two or three, or five, times. For some of you, your departure from Gambier will mean that you embark on the experience of being "empty nesters;" for others, you will now begin the process of college search for the younger sibling of your Kenyon matriculant.
No matter which of these, or other, characteristics describe your parental situation, however, I'll bet you share certain aspirations for your child with every other parent here. May Kenyon be a place where your child finds friends and feels comfortable, as well as challenged. May he or she gain skills and habits of mind that will be lifelong assets and provide lifelong pleasures in learning. May your children develop greater capacities in many ways (whether intellectual, social, or athletic) and may they also have experiences which clarify the limits of their current capacities, perhaps only to be transcended in the future.
We hear a lot about "diversity" in
To parents here today, coming from diverse situations yet sharing common hopes and dreams, I would say: Yes, your children will change at Kenyon. They will become, if we carry out our mission well, adults with talents and ideas that surprise and delight you. You will not "lose" them, but they will return to you in a different role, seeking your counsel but not your permission, offering new viewpoints which become a part of your own lifelong learning, and realizing, at the end of 4 years, how much you've learned since they left home!
And now I want to turn to the students before me who comprise the great Class of 2007. As you can imagine, I feel we share a special relationship, since I am embarking on my freshman year as the president just as you are beginning your freshman year as a student. Perhaps there is another way in which we may have something in common: I myself am not terribly receptive to well-meaning advice. Now, as college freshmen, you may feel that you've cornered the market on this, with everyone from U.S. News and World Report to Uncle Pat telling you what to do. Well, let me tell you, new college presidents encounter the same phenomenon. Consequently, though I am positively brimming with wisdom on what you should and should not do during your years at Kenyon, today I am limiting myself to one single piece of advice:
Respect yourself; respect your fellow students and community members. This sounds very simple, but after more than 20 years on college campuses, I believe observing this simple principle is the most central element in creating a community of which we're proud to be a part. I don't want to mar the solemnity of this occasion with less than edifying thoughts, but we are all aware that both alcohol abuse and sexual assault are increasingly problematic (and intertwined) issues on all American campuses today. I will tell you now: I have ZERO tolerance for these issues. Why? Because they indicate that you have forfeited your self-respect and your respect for fellow students.
I mentioned also respect for community members. The
And, finally, I want to say a word about the Kenyon community of learning. What do we aim to accomplish here at Kenyon? Well, it is very clear that we uphold the tradition of the liberal arts education. I have devoted my whole life to this in the Ivy League, and I look forward to doing so even more effectively at
Today, however, I simply want to highlight a concept among contemporary philosophers that resonates with me: They speak of "the moral imagination." What does this mean? Well, to me it means the ability to imagine different possibilities for one's life, and also to explore the implications of those possibilities for others. I mentioned in the opening the possibilities a new academic year brings to RE-IMAGINE ourselves. If I could characterize in a simple way our mission here at Kenyon, I would say it is to develop the moral imagination of our students, not only during their college years, but for the duration of their lives. If we succeed in expanding our students' moral imaginations, the parents of '07, as well as faculty and administrators who interact with our students, can look forward to more deeply curious, more intellectually and personally engaged students, who ask difficult questions that really challenge themselves and us. And the Kenyon graduates of 2007 can look forward to more fulfilling, more meaningful, futures.
Let me say in closing that we are delighted to welcome you to the Kenyon family, because our community is, indeed, a close-knit family.
In just a moment, I will ask the Rev. Mr. Stevens to deliver the benediction. Directly following that, those on stage will recess as we have processed. After that, I invite all students and their families to find one another and join my husband, Tom Scherer and me, as well as faculty members, administrators, and staff, for a reception on the lawn in front of our home, Cromwell Cottage. As you walk over toward Cromwell, please note that Dean Omahan and I will be there as a mini-reception-line to greet you all as new Kenyon parents and students. So please stop by to allow us to shake your hand and say hello before proceeding to refreshments on the lawn.