Welcome to Denison: A message to our incoming students
Welcome to Denison, to Granville, and to the start of an education that aims to inspire and educate you to become an autonomous thinker, discerning moral agent, and active citizen of a democratic society and globalizing world. That is the Denison mission.
Our history is generations of Denison alumni who have achieved a lifetime of personal, professional and civic success. They have done it in business, politics, education, athletics, the arts, and everything in between. If you take advantage of Denison, it will open opportunities and ways of being that you cannot even imagine as you sit here tonight.
Samantha Virginia Driver, Denison Class of 2012, stood on this stage at her commencement and said, “This education is a privilege and an honor that transcends any monetary value, and it is our responsibility as graduates to use the knowledge we have gained to make the world a better place.”
In a similar vein, Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” John Dewy said, “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself.” And my favorite, Cesar Chavez said, “You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read.” Great thinkers and actors across history imagined, fought for, and believed in the kind of process that you are about to experience.
At Denison, there are multiple paths to your education. You are going to be presented with opportunities galore, but you have to be the architect of your own Denison experience.
How do you do that? We have a guide! It is called the Denison Learning Guide, and it was developed by our faculty and staff. In my view, it is the best piece written on the liberal arts in many years. I encourage you to read it, memorize it, scan it into your phone, shrink a copy for your wallet, hang it on your wall. Let it be your guide for your time at Denison and beyond.
In the Guide, we encourage you to do ten things: ask questions, manage your time, follow your heart, be creative, respect others, take risks, maintain your integrity, show courage, take care of yourself, and enjoy it all.
I can't remember ten things at once. So let me boil it down for you. At its core, the Learning Guide asks you to commit yourself to the intellectual life of the college by paying attention to the three dimensions of a college education: academics, experiences, and community.
It all starts with the academic. Your classes are the foundational element of your education. They are why we come to college. They are a gift you have given yourself.
You have chosen to come to a liberal arts environment. At its root, a liberal arts education prepares you to think critically, understand profoundly and connect broadly. It is an education that will prepare you for a vibrant life. The essence of your education will come from learning to ask the right questions. To do this, you have to tap into your sense of wonder and your creativity. Our faculty are among the best educators in the world. They are master teachers who came to Denison because they believed in the power of the student - faculty interaction and the magic of the liberal arts. Get to know them. Take full advantage of the curriculum. Savor every class.
It is the challenging experiences that you will most remember. Every semester, make it a point to seek out a few experiences in the curriculum and co-curriculum that push you outside your comfort zone. It can be a class that you are not sure you can pass or a campus activity that will show your vulnerabilities. Seek out professors and peers who have views that threaten you from your very core and learn to hear them. Do not be afraid to fail. The historian James Froude, wrote, “Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.” But I like the way Michael Jordan put it when he said, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Follow your heart. Each of you have interests that either you have not had the chance to explore or you were too embarrassed to admit. Use your time at Denison to examine them. Some of those interests will become lifelong passions. Who knows, those passions may change your life or even the world. All of this requires being willing to risk. I can't say it any more bluntly. Sociologist Erving Goffman reminded us that a basic human drive is fear of embarrassment. Learn to live with it. Take risks. Accept failure and embarrassment as part of the path towards a life worth living.
And finally, embrace community. You are fortunate to be a part of a very small minority that gets to experience a residential college. I wish that I could make this experience available to every young person in the world. They all deserve it. But, I can't. So I ask that you take advantage of it. This community is special. It has wonderful traditions, it is steeped in all kinds of diversity, and it is both comforting and challenging at the same time.
The future will belong to people who can thrive in diverse environments, embrace change as a daily reality, think outside boxes and across categories and who possess humility, confidence, creativity, and conflict negotiation and communication skills. Student development, athletics, the arts, and residential education are central to acquiring these attributes.
Try new things. Meet new kinds of people. See the residential part of your education as crucial. You will learn as you constantly find ways to contribute to this community. Bring yourself to it, and allow yourself to be reshaped by others. Learn what it means to live in a vibrant and diverse community by learning to respect others. Learn the fundamental skill of the 21st century- the ability to understand others even if you don't like their views- so that you can effectively learn to live and work alongside them.
Most importantly, remember that communities are the sum total of the people who live in them. The decisions you make, or don’t make, about how to live with each other will define who we are collectively.
Be a person of integrity. This community has temptations. Many are good and some are not. Take actions that represent yourself well. Own and learn from your mistakes.
Academics, experiences, and community. Take full advantage of the academics, seek out challenging experiences both inside and outside the classroom, and embrace this community and the residential education that comes from it.
So, my final word of advice-take care of yourself. Manage your time. You can't do it all. Reflection matters. And your time here will go quick. Take a few minutes each day- stop, think, reflect, and enjoy. As my Vermont friends taught me, “live in the moment.” If you don't know what that means- google it.
Enjoy your time here. College is hard work. It is also fun and fulfilling. As our Learning Guide says, “Do what makes you happy, healthy, and moving towards a promising future.”
I am excited to get to know you. I am also new to Denison! If you see me in the dining hall, please don't be shy. Sit with me. If you see me walking across campus, let me know how things are going. And if you walk past Monomoy House and you see my family sitting outside, come say hello and meet our awesome puppy- Ellie!
Let me end with a personal reflection. For the last eight years, I ran an organization that worked with young people across the world who are working to address critical global issues. They are on the front lines in Egypt, Ethiopia and Ecuador working on human rights, global warming, and poverty eradication. They all shared one thing in common- the knowledge, ability, vision and resolve to bring coherence to a complex world. This will be the defining attribute for your generation. The academics, experiences, and community of Denison will help you develop the capacity to do so.
Class of 2017, welcome to the Denison family.