Stephanie Larson

Associate Professor, Stephanie Larson
Department of Classics
Friday, August 20, 2010

My name is Stephanie Larson and I am a professor of Classics. On behalf of my faculty colleagues, I am excited to welcome you to Bucknell University tonight. I am also sure that there are a multitude of things spinning through your mind right now. Right off the bat here you are sitting with a whole bunch of wonderful new people, all of whom, like yourself, managed to achieve the excellence required to get into Bucknell. So first of all, I'd like to congratulate you on getting here.

Now that you are here, you are excited to see what your new life at college will be like. As a professor, my job tonight is to give you a taste of what a Bucknell education can be, and so I'd like to take just a few minutes to reflect on some of the things that I'd like you to start thinking about this minute, and tomorrow too, as you have your first meeting with your academic advisor and as you begin this four-year adventure. And I hope that you'll keep thinking about them throughout this journey.

So here goes. First off, I'd like you to consider the following quote: "when was Corruption more rampant? When did the mouth of Greed gape wider? . . . All Corruption is today at its acme!" Does this sound familiar? Of course, I'm a Prof of Classics, so you can tell where this is heading, and you're right - someone said this about two thousand years ago: namely, the poet and satirist Juvenal writing in Rome in the late first century CE - but he said these foreboding and doomsday sentiments almost 300 years before the fall of the Roman Empire. Point being: he wasn't right. When you think about the rhetoric surrounding us today, we are hearing similar things incessantly, and people are kind of panicky. This jitteriness, whether we vocalize it or not, affects all sorts of things in our daily life, probably including the kinds of choices you will make here at Bucknell about your education.

So I am going to challenge you for the next four years to try to forget about what society tells you to be afraid of, and instead do what another Roman poet urged in the first century BCE (and this is a Latin phrase you've all heard): "carpe diem!" Horace said this, but we often don't think about the rest of the poem in which this sentiment appears - Horace used the phrase "Carpe diem" to urge people to act today, since we do not know what tomorrow will bring. In other words, if we don't know about tomorrow, then we should focus on what is practical and efficacious for us today. Now, this poem has often been misread as an excuse to throw wild parties, but that is not what Horace was really talking about. He was referring to each person's inner knowledge of him or herself and each person making decisions based on his or her current experiences and making the most of the opportunities that lay right in front of them.

I suggest that we apply this logic to our education here at Bucknell. And so, for the next four years, and especially for the next two, I want you to ignore doomsday scenarios and focus in on searching for and cultivating your passions - maybe you know what some of these are already, and that's great, but I assure you, for the rest of your life there will be new passions to be found. Take the chance of finding something new here at Bucknell: we have experts here in such a huge variety of subjects: American politics, Inuit peoples of northern Canada, ancient Greek poetry, bats, chemical polymers, piano performance, Rennaissance Art, meteorites, acid mine drainage, Arabic, and the behavior of baboons in resolving conflict, to name just a very few.

So among this wealth of experts and subjects, I want you to take academic RISKS, but not just any generic risks. I want each and every one of you to seek out the empty spots in your matrix and fill them. And I want you to do this because I do not believe people saying that nothing new or interesting is going to happen in the future, or that the world is going downhill. What we can say for sure is that the jobs and careers that you will find upon graduation are not necessarily jobs and careers that you or your parents or your professors can predict right now. So, how do you best prepare for something that you do not know to exist? The answer is to take a bunch of different courses widely in a variety of fields, and some that you know absolutely nothing about. Please do not be afraid of this. I can guarantee you that all of the classes you take in some way are related, and it will be you that learns how to be the most innovative you can be by articulating the links between seemingly different fields of study. And many of you are going to find a new passion in a class that you never even suspected! And seizing these opportunities to expand yourself and to learn how all of the things we teach here communicate will be the best way you can prepare for your new future. This is called the liberal arts education, and this is what we are proud to offer you. We want to see you take this chance, seize these risks and call them opportunities, and we want to talk to you about them and help you with them. So, welcome to Bucknell and carpe diem.

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