Academic Convocation & Matriculation – August 29, 2020

Allegheny College Office of the President

Academic Convocation & Matriculation – August 29, 2020

It is a privilege and pleasure to welcome each of our incoming first-year and transfer students and your parents, families, and friends to this Academic Convocation and Matriculation Ceremony in Allegheny’s two hundred and fifth year.

What complex, painful, challenging and uncertain times in which you are beginning your Allegheny education! I so wish that you were all sitting before me in Shafer Auditorium, and that you were able to be surrounded, in person, by all of your new classmates, faculty and staff who will mentor, teach, partner with, and inspire you in the coming year and beyond. You ARE surrounded by them, but under very different circumstances from what you or we might have hoped.

Just the fact that we are gathered here, whether you are physically on campus or joining remotely, is a moment to pause and celebrate, and a moment to give thanks. Under normal circumstances, I would use this moment in my speech to thank all of those who have worked so hard to make move-in and the events of Welcome Weekend a success. Last year, I said, to my many colleagues: “In all you have done, you have demonstrated again and again the genuine warmth and inclusivity of our campus community.” This year, those words are even more true and even more poignant. I want to thank from the bottom of my heart each and every member of our campus community who worked tireless, challenging, and at times back-breaking hours, days, weeks, and months to make it possible for today to even happen.

I extend a particular welcome to the parents, families, and friends joining us in viewing our ceremony today…I know that this is a moment filled with many emotions for you—it would have been so under normal circumstances, and my guess is that it is even more so today, whether you are sitting alongside your student or not. As the mother of three sons, the oldest of whom left home 10 days ago to return to his school far away, I can imagine how proud you must be, how excited and also how worried—not just for your student but also for the state of the world right now. These are challenging and overwhelming times—for COVID and the health issues and immeasurable loss of life and impact on families it is having worldwide, for the racial unrest and the protests against historical injustices that many have participated in, for the economic troubles hitting so many, for the sense that without drastic change we will lose the battle against climate change, for the political divisiveness of our nation, and for the loss of hope that seems to have settled across our nation. And yet, for your students this IS a moment of hope and empowerment and optimism and beginning. As they begin this life-changing journey, how marvelous it must be to see them on the threshold of great adventure, engagement, friendship, and more. The reality is that we NEED your students and ALL Allegheny students to take this life-changing journey so that they can become the inspiring leaders the world needs and that we know they can be.

Students, whether you are living and learning on campus or elsewhere, know that Allegheny will give you the tools, the opportunities, the contacts, the research experience, the mentoring, and the sense of self to become such a leader. To be someone who understands different modes of thinking and living and learning and being. To be someone who stands up to do what is right and has the skills and experience and knowledge to lead others to do the same. Your Allegheny education will transform you, as it has done for our tens of thousands of alumni since we opened our doors back in 1815.

This is a place that will push you to meet and to learn alongside others who come from vastly different places, experiences, identities, races, ethnicities, faiths, cultures, and political viewpoints. For some of you, you will meet people truly different from you for the first time—that is a large part of what college, and Allegheny, is all about: getting out of your comfort zone and learning to see and process the world and its complex problems from viewpoints other than your own.

You cannot know it now, but I promise you that some of the people in this (virtual) room will end up being lifelong friends, people who change your lives and thanks to whom your lives will be richer and fuller. Those may not be the people you immediately think of—and some you may not even have a chance to get to know for a couple years. The shared experience here, coupled with the tremendous personal growth you will experience together, will bond you to each other and to this place forever. But please be patient—with the people around you, with yourself, with your expectations.

This will not be the semester any of you imagined, but it will still be the semester you make of it. For those joining us remotely, I urge you to engage beyond classes, to connect with each other, to get involved remotely as much as you can, to know that you are as much a part of our community whether you are here or across the world. And for those of you who are in residence, I urge you to do the same—to engage in the classroom and beyond, to make friends with people from all walks of life, to follow the Gator Pledge you signed and make the health and well-being of yourselves and our entire campus and local community, a highest priority.

Allegheny’s Statement of Community represents the expectations we hold of each other and the responsibility every one of us shares to bring its values to life. This is now your community—embrace it and bring your unique talents, interests, and experiences to the joyous work of making it even stronger and even better because you are here. And for those of us on campus, being part of the Allegheny community means being responsible for the Allegheny community, and for each and every person in it. So help us demonstrate that we can be smarter than other larger schools that have not managed to remain on campus safely; help us demonstrate that the caring community of Allegheny College can work together to be safe and well together. Wear your masks, keep physical distance, wash your hands, use common sense. Do not think any one of you is above getting sick or getting others sick—we cannot risk any violations of what we are asking from you. We know that may not seem as fun, but because you have been accepted to and chosen to come to this College, I know, in my heart, you understand that sacrificing something that seems carefree, fun and reckless for a short time, is well worth the long-term gain of preventing the spread of COVID and keeping our campus open.

A few moments ago, you joined that proud legacy of thousands of Allegheny alumni in promising to abide by the Allegheny Honor Code. There is powerful meaning here—the Honor Code is a commitment not only to yourself and your classmates—it is a commitment to every Alleghenian who has graced this campus for more than two centuries; it is a commitment to the values of integrity and rigor that have framed our history. Think of the Gator Pledge you signed in the same way.

Our College’s original Statement of Purpose, adopted on June 20th, 1815, speaks of providing students with “such an education as will enable them to become an honor to their country and a blessing to the world.” It was a bold proposition—to found a college devoted to the liberal arts and such high purposes on what was then the American frontier. It is our very location that has, in a sense, allowed us to proceed with reopening the College for in-person living and learning for those who wish; and for that we should all be grateful.

As the College’s first woman president in its 205-year history, I want to share with you a citation from a book I read recently, Citizen Reporters, about the life and work of Ida Tarbell, Allegheny class of 1880 and often referred to as America’s first great woman journalist. In 1913, Ida gave the College’s commencement speech, in which she spoke these oft-cited words: “Imagination is the only key to the future. Without it none exists—with it all things are possible.”

Stephanie Gorton, the book’s author, notes that, “Before giving that speech, Ida had wondered at the renewed landscape around the college, now cheerful and green with little trace of the Oil Region’s oil-smeared beginnings. A bright-eyed new generation of men and women looked to her for wisdom, and she liked what she saw. ‘I believe,’ she wrote to a friend, ‘that we are passing on in all this jumbled effort of ours, a better equipped youth than we have ever had before.’”

Well, Ida’s words could not resonate more with what we are seeing today. You are that next generation of “better prepared youth,” and we are looking to you to lead through the jumble and the challenges our world faces, today and beyond. And Ida’s faith was well-founded: Allegheny continues to give students the tools and the opportunities to develop the intellect and passion to become difference-makers, however you might define that. But it is up to you to seek those out and embrace them when you can. I, and so many others, will be cheering you on and supporting you from the sidelines, and I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish in the coming years, here at the College, wherever you are today, and beyond.