President's Speeches & Writings

Letter to Denison Class of 2027

August 10, 2023

Dear Denison Class of 2027:

So many exciting opportunities await you at Denison! Our goal is for Denison to provide you with a life-shaping liberal arts education filled with intellectual and personal growth that launches you quickly and successfully into your life and career.

For this to occur, we are going to ask you to take advantage of three aspects of a Denison education:

  • Embrace the academic experience. Show up and be engaged in classes. Enjoy the books you read, papers you write, and discussions you have in class. Take a wide range of courses across the humanities, social sciences, arts, natural sciences, and interdisciplinary programs. There will be moments when academics seem strenuous, but remember it is all purposeful and will prepare you for a successful life. And lastly, take pride in your work and make sure all of it is your own.
  • Get involved across campus. Get involved and be engaged. Participate in campus life activities that you already enjoy while opening yourself up to exploring new interests and developing new passions. Take advantage of the intellectual and cultural life of the college by going to talks presented by visiting speakers and professors, concerts, art openings, and academic department events.
  • Take advantage of the Knowlton Center. We want you to have a great four-year experience. And we also want you to return to campus in 50 years and say that your life turned out better than you ever could have imagined, and Denison helped make that happen. For that to occur, visit the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration. Pay attention to the programs and opportunities the center has to offer.

That’s the easy part. Most of you chose Denison because you wanted a residential liberal arts college with strong academics and a vibrant campus life. And with an admissions rate of only 17%, we know you are all smart and talented. Every single one of you deserves to be at Denison. And every single one of you is capable of flourishing on The Hill.

Here is the harder part. To effectively maximize this opportunity, my advice is to commit to five ways of showing up and being at Denison.

  1. Be curious about everyone and everything. Curiosity is at the heart of a liberal arts education. As you join the Denison community, I ask you to bring your curiosity. Be curious about everything. Be curious about the people you meet, the classes you take, the books you read, and the person you are becoming. When selecting courses, be curious about academic disciplines and topics you have never heard of or thought about before. As you choose campus activities, be curious and try things you didn’t have time for or would have been too embarrassed to try in high school. Your curiosity is the key to succeeding in challenging classes, making new friends, understanding the world, and considering exciting possibilities for your future.

    Be curious, not overwhelmed, when you don’t understand something in a class. Ask a faculty member to help you understand it. If you are challenged by ideas presented by a faculty member or classmate, embrace the opportunity. See it as a gift and be curious about seeing something from a new perspective. Ask them. Engage them. The fear and anger that too often define our current moment makes the world small and stifling. Replace those reflexes with an insatiable curiosity about the world around you and your place within it.

  2. Keep your mind wide open. Consistent with our liberal arts roots, we are a place where people are expected to ask questions and challenge orthodoxy of all kinds, especially our own. A campus community isn’t expected to reflect or speak with one voice. At Denison, this is true about even the most pressing of issues that you may think have a clear “right” answer. The purpose of a university, and our goal as a Denison community, is to give ourselves space to explore and refine ideas, thereby adding to the world’s knowledge and understanding.

    We expect students to engage with and test ideas. Keep your mind open. Resist the impulse to judge others and instead find ways to learn from their perspective and them from yours. Develop intellectual humility, which means being open to the idea that you might be wrong (or at least not entirely right). Develop the habit of constantly seeking out alternative views that allow you to challenge yourself to think broader, deeper, and differently.

    These habits of an open and curious mind are not just important for our campus, they are also crucial for you to leave Denison prepared to work productively with other people and build a productive and satisfying life in a challenging world. To remind yourself of the commitment that we make to each other, make sure you read Denison’s Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom.

    The most important learning takes place at the intersection of challenge, discomfort, and curiosity. For this to happen, you must keep your mind wide open and be curious about the people and ideas you engage with across campus.

  3. Develop a wide range of relationships. Denison is filled with exceptional faculty and staff who want to support you. Get to know them. The relationships you build at Denison are the key to everything else in this letter.

    Start by making it a point to introduce yourself to every one of your faculty members during the first week of classes. Go to their office hours. Ask faculty out for coffee! Our faculty care about our students and want to unlock your intellectual potential by provoking, inspiring, and challenging you. Getting to know faculty is a core part of the academic experience at Denison.

    Then develop relationships with your peers. Typically, students start by developing friendships with people who have similar life experiences and enjoy similar things, but that should only be the beginning. You will get the most from your Denison experience when you seek out and form friendships with people who have a different set of life experiences and world views from you — the wider your network of friends, the more you will learn from your peers. Denison students are awesome. Get to know them.

    To do all the above, scale back on social media. Spend less time on your phones and more time interacting with people across campus.

  4. Learn to perform at a high level. Remember, we only learn to do hard things by doing hard things. You are coming to a college that encourages you to take on challenges and achieve your goals. We want you to learn to perform at a higher level than you know you can perform. This will start in the classroom. Our faculty will push you hard because we believe in you and want to help you develop intellectual talents and confidence in yourself. The same will be true on athletic fields and every other part of campus. Show up motivated, engaged, ready to fully commit, and excited to be pushed by people who believe in you. You will probably stumble and maybe even experience a few failures along the way. That is normal and good. We want you to learn to fail forward by finding a way to see the inevitable stumbles as an opportunity for growth and to allow it to become motivating. If you show up motivated and if you are willing to be pushed hard, there will be remarkable growth and successes both at Denison and after you graduate.

  5. Ask for help early and often. Everything is not going to go well all of the time. When things don’t go well, avoid the temptation to believe that everybody else is succeeding at every aspect of their life while you are not. No matter what you might see on peoples carefully curated social media posts, it’s not true! College is about growing as a person, which can be hard and messy as well as fun and exhilarating. You will grow as you challenge yourself at a high level and in new ways. But no one is asking you to do this by yourself. When things don’t go well, seek out faculty and staff who can help you learn from experience. Remember, our campus is filled with people who want to help you grow and flourish.

I realize this letter is long and it contains a lot of advice. I will repeat these messages on your first night on campus at the Induction Ceremony. Keep this letter and read it every few months during your first year. Each time, you will read it slightly differently in a good way!

You are coming to a college that will ask a lot from you because we want a lot for you. Everybody on this campus is focused on giving our students opportunities to figure out who you are and what kind of life you want to build. In return, we ask that you show up motivated and ready to dive into your classes, make a wide circle of friends, and make an effort to be engaged across campus. Enjoy the moments that go well and don’t be surprised when some things don’t go as planned. Ask for help. Work hard. Have fun. Embrace all that it means to be a Denisonian.

This is a great college, and we are very excited to welcome you to Denison.

Adam S. Weinberg
Denison University




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