Welcome to Denison University, Class of 2019! It is official, you are now Denisonians. To the family members who are here with you today, welcome. You, too, are now part of the Denison family. It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to this beautiful campus, to the Village of Granville, to the greater metropolitan region of Columbus, and to this important ceremony, marking the beginning of every new student’s Denison experience.
It is so fun to sit on this stage and look out at you. This class represents our largest number of applications for admissions in the college’s history. You bring a range of talents, backgrounds and passions. One out of every five students is the first one in your family to go to college. One out of every three students comes from a multicultural background. You come from every corner of the United States and region of the world. You grew up in cities, suburbs and rural communities. You are athletes, artists, community builders and all of you are strong students. The Class of 2019 will take its place alongside the great Denison classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 as a fantastic generation of Denisonians.
Let me start with the obvious: you are about to experience a type and caliber of education that every student in the world deserves, but very few receive.
You have chosen a college where relationships run deep and endure. Students make lifelong friends here. They develop close relationships with faculty and staff members. They follow their interests while also discovering new passions. At graduation, Denison students look back with pride on what they have accomplished and with nostalgia about how meaningful and fun it has been. And they look ahead with excitement, because Denison has prepared them to lead great lives. This is the nature of the Denison experience. And this is the experience that lies ahead of you now. If you take full advantage of it, Denison will open opportunities and ways of being that you cannot even imagine.
As you start your journey, I want to define for you what success in college looks like. There are three components to a Denison education: academics, co-curricular, and community.
First, academics. A liberal arts education seeks to develop the whole person by preparing you to think critically, understand profoundly, and connect broadly. It will prepare you for success personally, professionally, and civically. And it will allow you to adapt as your life unfolds.
Take full advantage of the intellectual life of Denison. At our core, we are an academic community committed to learning. We expect everyone to contribute to the intellectual life of the college. To do this, it is important that you take a wide and adventurous mixture of courses. Throw yourself into your classes. Tap into your sense of wonder and your creativity. We ask students to push themselves in the classroom. Learn to communicate effectively, especially to write well. Work with numbers and data. Weave disparate ideas into new ways of thinking. Frame questions. Argue. Create. Do research. A Denison education will help you identify the kind of life you want to lead. And it will help you develop the skills, values, and habits to take on that life and be successful.
Do not make the mistake of coming to a place with so much to offer and then locking yourself on a narrow path. Expose yourself to a wide array of course and disciplines. That is the beauty of the liberal arts! My biggest piece of advice is get to know your professors. Our faculty are among the best scholars and educators in the world. They are master teachers who came to Denison because they believe in the power of the student-faculty interaction and the magic of the liberal arts. They are amazing. And they care deeply about our students.
The second major part of your Denison education is the full range of learning experiences that happen, not just inside our classrooms, labs and studios, but also in co-curricular life on campus, off campus, and perhaps in other parts of the world.
Many of you have interests that you are passionate about. You play a sport or have a passion for music, theatre, art, or you love to do community service. Denison will give you amazing opportunities to follow those interests. At the same time, be sure to try new things. Join a club or try an activity that is totally new for you—something you never would have done in high school.
Do not be afraid to fail. The Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho wrote, “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” The athlete Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six 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.” Persistence is a valuable life skill.
And the third major part of the Denison experience is community. A residential college is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We expect you to be part of the campus community, to contribute to it actively, and to be shaped by it.
To do this, focus on getting the relationships right. You will make a close group of friends. That is a Denison thing. But do not narrow yourself to a small group of friends. Make it a point to seek out the person in your residential hall whose background is the most different from yours and become friends. Enjoy your differences, and find out what you have in common. You will be expected, not just by us, but also by your peers, to engage the range of people at Denison in all of your relationships. It is part of who we are as Denisonians.
Values are important here. There are some values that we demand at Denison, including integrity, respect for one another, and respect for difference. And we disagree on some values. That kind of difference is what makes Denison interesting and fun. By getting involved and making all sorts of friends, you will give yourself the opportunity to develop who you are. Use your classes, co-curricular pursuits, and experiences living with others to develop your own set of very clear values, commitments, and guideposts. They will guide how you think about yourself and how others perceive you.
We all have something to offer—and something to learn. When I arrived here two years ago, someone said to me, “In our best moments, members of the Denison community provoke one another. We inspire, demand and challenge one another to get out of our comfort zones, move away from our myopic views of the world and take a chance on believing we might have more to offer to ourselves, each other and the world than we think we do. We do self-discovery and excellence well.”
Your Denison experience will be shaped by how you treat each other. My charge to you is to be a great Denison class that always shows care and respect for one another. I want you to have a college experience that is exciting, rewarding, and fun.
To make that happen, I ask you to remember that this is a place where people make smart decisions for themselves, and where we intervene when we see other members of our community getting ready to make a bad decision for themselves or for others. This is a community where people genuinely care for each other, and we do not stand idly by when people make decisions that negatively impact others.
All of the data we have about college in the United States suggests that these principles are most critical during the first few months of your college experience, especially as they relate to issues of alcohol and sexual assault. It is imperative that you do your part to make sure the Class of 2019 gets off to a great start. Be a first-year class that looks out for one another. If you see a classmate struggling, step up by stepping in. Ask for help when you see that someone is getting ready to make a mistake. Sit with someone who is sitting alone.
Put most simply—you are talented and amazing people. Be a good friend, early and often. See one another as friends, even the people you haven’t met yet, and treat each other as such. This is how a great community is made.
So let me end where I began. This is a remarkable college, with generations of alumni who have succeeded in life. We are 100 percent committed to making sure you do the same. To do so, we ask that you embrace all three parts of a Denison education—academics, co- curricular, and community.
Allow yourself to be guided by a simple set of principles:
- Take full advantage of the intellectual life of the college. Learn from it and contribute to it, by diving into your classes and getting to you know your faculty.
- Follow your passions while developing new ones.
- Be part of this community by stepping up and stepping into it.
I am excited to get to know you. If you see me walking across campus, let me know how things are going. And if you walk past Monomoy Place and you see my family sitting outside, come say hello and meet our awesome dogs, Ellie and Scooter.
This community is special. Be part of it. Love it, and it will love you back. Embrace the hashtag, #DenisonProud.