August 17, 2012

Provost Michael "Mick" Smyer, Matriculation 2012Preparing for the Whitewater of Life: Bucknell & You

Thank you, Vice President Conley. It is my honor and privilege to formally accept the Class of 2016 into Bucknell University.

To each new student, on behalf of my faculty colleagues, administrators, and staff members in academic programs and student affairs, welcome to Bucknell. We are delighted you have joined us.

Tonight I want to talk with you about a simple topic. I call it Preparing for the Whitewater of Life: Bucknell & You.

My mother-in-law is almost 95 years old. When she was turning 75, we asked what she wanted for her birthday. “I want to go whitewater rafting,” she quickly answered. And that’s how I started whitewater rafting.

If you’ve ever gone kayaking or whitewater rafting, you know there are several steps to success. You don’t just hop in and go. First, you get a dry bag- a bag to keep the things that are essential dry while you go through rapids and streams. Secondly, you decide who will be in your boat, and what roles they will play. Some might be really well suited for power paddling up front; others will excel at reading the rapids and the streams; others might prefer to follow directions. Finally, you practice basic skills - getting in and out of the kayak or canoe; how to turn; how to stop; what to do when (not if!) you fall in. After all of this preparation, you are ready for both the calm and the rapids of the river.

In many ways, coming to college is like preparing for whitewater rafting - only here you are preparing for the whitewater of life. Over the next four years, you will be deciding what is essential to you, what belongs in your dry bag for life: What are your core beliefs and what are your personal, non-negotiable priorities?

You will also be deciding whom you want in your boat for the journey. In this chapel tonight are people who will become some of your best friends in your life; for some, your future spouse is among that group! You may not have met them yet, but get ready to make life-long friends.

You are also entering a community that will help you practice the skills you will need for the journey of life: thinking critically; learning how to express yourself in writing and orally; learning to work in teams and get the best out of each member; learning from failures and getting back in the boat when (not if) you make mistakes.

YOU: You are at a unique time in your lives in a unique setting. Why unique time? As I thought about this evening’s session, I was reminded of that familiar quote from Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." It turns out that Twain’s instincts were right on the mark: You are in the midst of a period of great growth and development. For example, recent research in neuroscience has documented that the phrase young adults really is appropriate: The adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development until the mid 20s. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the development is uneven: The areas related to risk taking are well developed by age 17 or 18, while the areas related to control and problem solving develop more slowly.

What this means is that the context you’re in over the next few years matters a lot.

Here’s where the unique setting - a liberal arts university - matters. This is a place where faculty, staff, administrators, alumni and parents are dedicated to single purpose: educating you! In Bertrand library, there is a quote from John Zeller, a beloved alumnus and administrator at Bucknell: “We are all teachers here.” What John meant was that our entire community is here to help you learn and prepare for the whitewater of life.

We have put in place everything you will need to succeed at Bucknell: from small classes (like your Foundation seminars or Engineering 100 sections) and close contact with your faculty to great RAs, Orientation Leaders and Assistants, to clubs, sports and other co-curricular activities.

We know that one of the best predictors of success in college is getting involved—in the classroom and on the broader campus, and we know that you will take advantage of the great opportunities available. In short, we know that you will come to be important members of the Bucknell community.

Before you know it, we will have finished four years and we will be meeting again at commencement! But instead of worrying about how to meet people and how to find your way, you will be leaving with a network of Bucknell friends of all ages, ready for the smooth water and the whitewater of life.

So, class of 2016, Congratulations and welcome to Bucknell.


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