As student body president Owen Crum shared his advice with the Class of 2022. All first-year students can learn from his experience.
My name is Owen Crum, I’m a history/religion double major from Charlotte, N.C. This year I am the Denison student body president.
Members of the Class of 2022, on behalf of the student body of Denison University, it is an honor to welcome you to The Hill. At Denison we believe in working across difference to honor our democratic principles.
The Denison Campus Governance Association is an elected forum that advocates for the student body and strives to create a meaningful community on our campus. In the coming weeks, you will elect your own representatives and join this tradition of student governance.
But as of today, each and every one of you is a member of the Denison community, and I’d like to take a moment today to talk about what that community has meant to me, and what I hope it will come to mean to you.
Make no mistake, you are about to take a significant step. Community here at Denison is something more than a passive sense of membership in an organization. Today you enter into a trust, a promise that how you care for those around you will and should matter. I think this point is best understood through a story.
I spent this past summer working as researcher in the religion department here at Denison. The project I worked on focused on the religious history of a small town in western North Carolina called Gastonia.
Like so much of rural America, Gastonia has suffered the consequences of rapid globalization. The textile mills that were the town’s largest employers closed up years ago. Even before the mills closed, the town’s history was marred by labor conflict and racial violence.
The world seems to have forgotten about Gastonia. As I examined that history and the sacrifices people made, I found myself wondering “How have people here endured? What holds this community together?”
Gastonia isn’t far from Charlotte, and while I was at home over the Fourth of July weekend. I had the opportunity to visit the town and to interview local religious leaders. As the interviews drew to a close, I decided to ask a preacher a version of this question I had been asking myself throughout the summer. “Why do you stay here?” I said, as we gathered our things to leave.
At first, I thought I might have phrased the question offensively, but the preacher wasn’t upset. With quiet determination he simply said, “work yet undone.”
What did he mean? I don’t think he was just talking about his work in the church. He was talking about his place in a community. As an outsider, I had been trying to understand the incredible loyalty the people of Gastonia had for that place that had not always been kind to them. In three words this man had told everything thing I needed to know.
The preacher understood that community isn’t automatic. It requires commitment, sacrifice, and hard work. It requires individuals to seek out opportunities to care for each other, to look for “work yet unfinished” and pursue it together.
What does this story from rural North Carolina mean to you as you become Denisonians? Your college career presents you with a clear choice. You can be complacent. You can choose to focus on your own needs and goals and only invest in those around you when it’s easy. You can choose this because it would be easier not to care.
Or you can choose to buy in. You can choose to care about how we treat each other. You can choose to go the extra step to support a peer, to organize your fellow students to advocate for a worthy cause, or to contribute to worthy work in Granville, Licking County, and beyond.
In these fractious and uncertain times, we must affirm that our shared values are worth defending and that there is value in the hard work of building community. Being a Denisonian gives you an opportunity to collaborate with others to build and sustain that kind of community here on The Hill. This chance, your chance, is an incredible gift.
Class of 2022, I challenge you to care. To believe in community involvement. I challenge you to be the autonomous thinkers and discerning moral agents that our world urgently needs… I ask you to join your fellow students in recognizing that there is work yet undone. Even here, even at a thriving liberal arts institution with unmatched resources and a remarkable concentration of minds, we can go further, we can make a difference.
There is work yet undone. I look forward to continuing this work alongside you in the coming months and years.