August 26, 2009

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President Brian C. Mitchell
Aug. 25, 2009

Welcome, everyone, as we gather to celebrate a journey that begins tomorrow, the first day of Bucknell University's 164th academic year.

For more than 16 decades, this campus has welcomed its newest class of students to an amazing network of intelligent, successful people. We call them Bucknellians.

One-hundred sixty-four years encompasses 34 U.S. presidencies. It takes us from the birth of Buffalo Bill to the 200-mile-per-gallon electric car. It takes us from the telegraph to YouTube, and from the empire of Great Britain to the rise of China.

Economic upheaval
Since Bucknell was founded, the world has witnessed social and economic upheaval and transformation, profound cultural shifts and about six generations of human beings on this earth. The economy has gone global. Technology has transformed the way we live, from scientific advances that save lives to the art and music that inspire us. As a result of these rapid shifts, new challenges confront us every day.

The seminal 1960s artist Andy Warhol once said, "They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

This truism is a reminder as we celebrate the dawning of a new academic year. History does not happen on its own. Change is not a given. Rather, it is a product of ideas — of the ideas of the young men and women here today — and the ways in which we implement them.

Solve problems
We need educated people to bring about change: to solve problems — the obvious ones being poverty, injustice, war and economic turmoil, for example.

We need well-informed, well-rounded people to think about these problems, to dream, to understand, to put forth solutions and to defy our imaginations.

Class of 2013 and new transfer students, we are glad you have chosen Bucknell. You know by now that we expect you to become agents of change. Judging by your credentials, we are justified in our faith that you will do just that.

Here, you can cultivate your ability to think critically and discover new ways to live and work with both passion and compassion.

Lifetime of learning
Here you will engage broadly and deeply in topics spanning a range of disciplines. Here you will devote much purposeful study in preparing for a lifetime of thoughtful reflection, dialogue, discovery and learning.

In your studies with your faculty and fellow students, with books and laboratory experiments, field research and special events, at a level deeper than you might even have believed possible, the liberal arts await you.

Here academic life and life outside the classroom connect with and affirm one another as you strive toward larger goals and purposes. One of the most amazing aspects of Bucknell, actually, is how much is available to you. Your class work is, and must be, your priority. 

But there is also another world of learning opportunity available all around you — in the clubs, volunteer opportunities, artistic and cultural programs, and leadership programs waiting for you. Besides that, Bucknell has no shortage of special guests visiting to discuss timely issues and provoke your thinking as much as your imaginations.

Semester preview
Allow me to give you a preview of just some of the opportunities you will have this year.

• Niall Ferguson, the renowned scholar of empire, money and economics, will kick off this fall's continuing Bucknell Forum series, "Global Leadership: Questions for the 21st Century." His talk is titled "Is the United States an Empire? Should It Be?" The presentation, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session and book signing, will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 15, right here in the Weis Center.

• On Sept. 29, we welcome to campus John Edgar Wideman. He is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer and essayist. He will address campus as the 2009 Janet Weis Fellow in Contemporary Letters and will take questions afterward too.

• Two days later, experts from around the world will gather on campus to assess and evaluate the successes, challenges and goals of China at a conference called "The People's Republic of China at 60: Internal and External Challenges."

My hope is that you are beginning to get a sense of the breath-taking array of opportunities you have here. Let me go on.

• From Oct. 23 to Dec. 8, an exhibition in the Samek Art Gallery will feature large-scale paintings by six acclaimed artists. The paintings address many important issues confronting humanity in the 21st century, including issues of race, war, the environment, misuse of power, human conflict and sexuality.

• On Nov. 3, writer Cristina Hernandez will give a fiction reading as part of the impressive 2009-10 Stadler Center Writers Series. Ms. Hernandez was recently featured in Virginia Quarterly Review as one of "Fiction's New Luminaries."

• On Jan. 29, the Soweto Gospel Choir will return to Bucknell's Weis Center after a sold-out performance four years ago. The choir performs tribal, traditional and popular African and Western gospel in eight different languages.

• And on Feb. 2, internationally renowned environmental lawyer and best-selling author Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will discuss "Globalization and the Green Economy: A New Vision for American Leadership and Strength."

Learning opportunities
My point is that beginning tomorrow and through the month of May, you will have access to almost countless learning opportunities. These options will include Environmental Center programs and initiatives. Student research presentations. Engineering competitions. Lectures by esteemed scientists. And performances ranging from ballet to Bela Fleck.

It is probably fair to say that there will not be another time in your life when you will have more fascinating intellectual and cultural opportunities at your doorstep than you will as a student at Bucknell.

From here, it is up to you to seek out the opportunities that will fulfill you, along with the ones that will challenge you. Especially the ones that will challenge you.

To our new faculty and staff members, welcome. I am confident that in your interactions with students and with your colleagues, you will quickly discover why the University has remained so respected — and so beloved — these 160-plus years.

To our returning students, faculty and staff, it is great to have you back.

Contact: Division of Communications