Convocation Address 2008
Brian C. Mitchell
Bucknell University Convocation Address
Aug. 26, 2008
Class of 2012, welcome. It is simply great to have you with us at Bucknell University. Tonight we celebrate together the academic life of Bucknell.
This is the culminating event of your intensive five days of orientation and the beginning of your entry into life as a student at one of the finest liberal arts universities in this country. Gathered here are your fellow students, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Trustees and administration. Together we say to you this evening: It is your turn.
You have grown up in a world of profound global change, a world where cultures flow together more than any generation has known and where ideas and inventions in the arts, sciences, engineering and humanities can reach more people through the power of travel and technology.
At the same time, you have also grown up in a world confronted daily with war and conflict, intense political debate and even partisanship and deepening environmental and humanitarian concerns. New technologies have connected people in ways we could barely have imagined only a few years ago.
We can now all have the thrill of being “Googled.” Then there is texting, which has turned your generation into some of the fastest typists the world has ever known. And there is Facebook, which has turned the word "friend" into a verb. And it has also helped to connect many of you to your classmates before you even arrived on campus. Can you imagine what’s next?
Actually, we hope you, Class of 2012, are beginning to imagine what could be next in whatever area of interest you have – a more efficient form of energy, perhaps? Better medical devices? Or could it be the next great work of literature? Soon, and in fact, now, this world requires your knowledge, skills and leadership.
We who believe in the liberal arts believe there is no better preparation for the world than an advanced education in the liberal arts. We believe the liberal arts are the most potent education to inspire you, to challenge you and to awaken at night with an idea no one else has ever dreamed.
Tonight, we at your University assure you that you can find that education here. I say “can” and not “will” because, at Bucknell, learning is far from a passive enterprise.
Here, learning is an active enterprise. You will find yourself sifting through conflicting ideas and weighing evidence from the philosophical to the scientific. You will evaluate new insights against what you thought you knew. You will be called upon to distinguish between what is hypothesized and what is known as fact.
As you immerse yourself in this ocean of ideas, histories and possibilities, you can build your life around what is essential and not what is merely argued with passion.
To do so, you will have near at hand the extraordinary, and extraordinarily rewarding, capacity of Bucknell's faculty and its liberal arts education. Two weeks ago, a national study by a company called PayScale suggested that Bucknell graduates have the highest earning potential of all liberal arts college graduates.
On one hand, that is great. We know you may want your education to enrich you materially. On the other hand, so what? Because we want your first concern to be enriching your knowledge, your sense of possibility and your imagination.
Your fellow Bucknellians have paved the way for you. Not only are they succeeding in their careers, they have established a proven record of commitment to the highest ideals of compassion and service. Indeed, Bucknell can proudly say that it places sixth on the list of the top 25 small colleges and universities producing Peace Corps volunteers.
PayScale and Peace Corps. Success and Service. At Bucknell, we believe you cannot have one without the other. You cannot make a true difference in the world – you cannot succeed, I would even argue – unless you truly connect with people through understanding, respect and the broad knowledge that a liberal arts education can provide.
Around you sit representatives of the faculty of Bucknell who together stand prepared to guide you, work closely with you, challenge you, help you, and in fact, learn from you too. Here your academic life and life outside the classroom can connect with and affirm one another as you work toward larger goals and purposes.
Your University experience will be filled with seemingly non-stop guest speakers, performances, films and exhibits to enrich your college experience. Take advantage. Go to a talk on a subject you do not know about, even much care about. If you cannot explore new subjects at your doorstep in college, where can you?
Allow me to quickly give you several examples to suggest the rich experiences ahead.
This academic year, our Samek Art Gallery features an exhibit called “Peace and Resistance," presenting the work of bold, even brave, artists from America, Russia, China and Ecuador. All deal in some way with the topics of peaceful protest and rebellion, civil disobedience and terror.
Recent events suggest how timely this exhibit is. We wonder, can you find connections between this art and today's issues? That is the liberal arts.
On Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, you will have a special opportunity to hear from two of America's finest presidential historians, only weeks before the election. I know of no other university bringing to its campus in one semester both Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, let alone one week apart from each other.
What they have to say about presidents of yesterday promises to greatly inform our decision about who should be the next president.
Now, you may prefer subjects like chemistry or East Asian religions to history. But that is all the more reason to come hear these speakers, to stretch your boundaries.
That too is the nature of the liberal arts.
To give you a sense of the sheer breadth of opportunity awaiting you, allow me to briefly describe a few of the many other opportunities you will have this year to feed your desire for knowledge and creative thought:
- The Weis Center will host no less than 14 professional performances ranging from world-class pianists to musical comedy, jazz, dance, a Korean “tea music” performance and the Czech Symphony Orchestra.
- The College of Engineering will host a representative from the U.S. Patent Office on Sept. 17.
- The U.S. National Geographer, who also happens to be a Bucknell alumnus, will be here in late October.
- And scholars from across the U.S. and Canada will come to campus for the University Focus Year, titled Cultures at the Confluence. Eight events will turn the campus’s attention to the Susquehanna River Valley and environmental humanities.
You can expect events like these to be a great complement to your formal learning in the liberal arts.
In your engagement with your faculty and fellow students, with books and laboratory experiments and field research and special events, at a level deeper than you might even have believed possible, the liberal arts await you here in their completeness.
So let me leave you with this: Choose not whether you can, but if you should. Not whether you might, but if you will. At the center of these decisions, ask, What will I learn? And once you conclude that it is worthwhile, do not simply conclude that you can. Conclude that you will begin.
It is great to have you here.