President James H. Mullen, Jr.
October 17, 2008
Madame Chair, Members of the Allegheny College Board of Trustees, President Emeritus Cook, President Broad, Reverend Clergy, the elected officials and members of government who honor me by their presence this afternoon, Delegates, Alumni, Colleague Faculty, Staff and Students.
It is the highest honor for me to officially join the 193-year-old tradition that is Allegheny College – a tradition born of our founder Timothy Alden’s vision and a tradition carried forward by generations of women and men of faith, character and persistence; women and men whose unyielding commitment to academic excellence has built one of America’s great liberal arts colleges.
It is that tradition and those who shaped it – many of whom are sitting among us – that we celebrate this day: a tradition that embraces the full and complete person and invites students to explore the complexity of the world and the complexity of what it means to be human in this world.
This moment is made even more special in that I share it with Mari, Franki and James, with my mother-in-law, Mary, my brother-in-law, Mark, and with family, friends and colleagues who join us here today. Each is a blessing in my life.
It is also made special by the remarkable kindness that the people of Allegheny College and Crawford County continue to extend toward our family.
From the students who invite me to join them at their tables for lunch or to throw a football or to watch them at their games or performances – or who simply stop by my office to check up on me – to the faculty and staff who have reached out to me as a colleague, allowing me to be part of a shared governance built on trust and mutual respect, to our new neighbors and friends in Meadville who have welcomed the Mullens in the most warm and genuine way – to each and every one of you, we extend our thanks for making our family feel so very much at home.
This inaugural ceremony is the most formal reminder of the responsibility that comes with being of Allegheny. It is the most formal reminder of the responsibility each of us shares to steward a college whose history is inextricably tied to the best of liberal arts learning. And it is the most formal reminder of the responsibility that each of us shares to build a future for our college that is worthy of its history; a future that is worthy of Timothy Alden and a future that is worthy of every Alleghenian who has followed him.
Ours is to insure that on the eve of its bicentennial, Allegheny will remain in Alden’s words, “…with smiles from above…a blessing to many yet unborn.”
History has granted us a unique moment. It has afforded us the high privilege of setting the foundation for Allegheny’s third century. This privilege will come to only one generation of Alleghenians. And as that fortunate generation, each of us who know and love this place; each of us whose life has been framed by this place; each of us who is a better person and a more fully engaged citizen because of this place – each of us owes our full measure as we define a future for Allegheny College that is at once relevant and powerful and true to our tradition.
So it is with deep appreciation and fidelity to those who have preceded us that we today join in a promise to the generations of Alleghenians who will grace this campus in decades to come – that they will inherit a liberal arts college that is widely known and deeply respected as one of the nation’s very best; a college community that in their time and their place will call them to their full promise as students and as citizens of the world.
We promise them, as we promise all who have come before us, that we shall be good and faithful stewards of all that is great in Allegheny.
That stewardship begins with a renewed commitment to all that has given Allegheny such a place of prominence in the educational landscape – and in the hearts of its alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends. That prominence, that distinction, extends beyond Allegheny’s age and its beauty and is reflected in the strength and breadth of our programs – and in the ability of our students in their four years here to put together unusual combinations of classes and co-curricular activities that reflect the entire person, in all of his or her passion for life. It is reflected in the extraordinary commitment that the college has made to important issues such as diversity and environmental sustainability. It is reflected in the warmth and selflessness of faculty, staff and students such as those who tomorrow will join in Make A Difference Day across our region. It is reflected in our extraordinary alumni who across the decades have made a difference for the good, who have led as professionals and as citizens.
We live in uncertain times – with events at home and around the world moving at light speed and often without apparent reason.
It is in such times of challenge that great institutions move to the fore. They do so because they rest on a foundation of wise and prudent stewardship. They do so because they recognize that even when uncertain times make it difficult to see the future, it doesn’t diminish our ability – through informed judgment, commitment, passion and hard work – to shape the future. And great institutions lead because they possess a clear and refined sense of self.
Allegheny is strong and ready to engage the challenges of this moment – and to set the foundation for its third century of leadership.
Allegheny is poised for greatness because of the hard work of so many here today and because this is a place that knows who and what it is, a place that seeks excellence without elitism, a place that expands horizons and takes students further faster than they ever thought possible, a place that is confident without arrogance, a place that always seeks to be better and stronger and more attuned to the needs of its world, a place where rigor and excellence in the classroom constitute more than rhetoric, they represent our core values – values built and sustained by generations of teachers and scholars.
In the third century we build, we will be true to those core values. Ours will remain a faculty of the first rank – leaders in their disciplines, powerful teachers and inspiring mentors. It is in the company of these remarkable women and men that we shall define our place and be recognized as one of the nation’s very best liberal arts colleges.
From opportunities for undergraduate research and creative achievement, to interdisciplinary cooperation, to finding new ways to set the lessons of our classrooms to the service of our community, we will lead. And we will do so with the confidence that comes with excellence.
The third century for Allegheny will include new ways of educating the complete person, inviting all of our students to explore the breadth of interests and talents that define their promise and their potential.
We will define new and compelling ways to inspire our students to set their extraordinary talents to the timeless values of citizenship – values grounded in a deep sensitivity to the dignity of the individual; values that grow from a disciplined mind and a selfless heart, from a passion tempered by reason, an ambition leavened by humility, a love of country animated by the pursuit of justice and a dedication to service that is framed by the awareness of something larger than themselves.
And we shall continue to find new ways to extend our commitment to excellence beyond our campus boundaries. If we are to inspire our students to lives of citizenship and service, we as a college must renew our commitment to the people of Meadville and this region; a commitment so magnificently asserted by my distinguished predecessor and now good friend, Richard Cook.
Allegheny College is not and never will be an island, aloof and apart from this community and its needs. To the people of Meadville and Crawford County, and to the world beyond, I promise that service will always be integral to the identity of our campus. And as we shape the future of Allegheny we embrace our responsibilities to the future of this region. We will live the lessons we teach and in doing so work in humble partnership wherever and however we can serve.
This is the future that we shall define: a future at once guided by careful stewardship and illuminated by a bold and confident vision; a future that is worthy of those who have preceded us – and those who will follow.
And if I might in conclusion speak directly to those students who honor me by your presence here today and through you to every student on our campus: You have already become a special joy for my family and for me. You have inspired me by your passion for life; by the energy you bring to service of your campus, your community and your world; by your limitless potential to achieve mightily and do good.
In so many ways, this day is about you – because you are the most visible bond between a proud history and a powerful future. Look around you and you will see the men and women who have made possible all that you enjoy as part of this community; men and women who have loved this place and all it represents; men and women who have sustained and strengthened Allegheny not for themselves but for you and all who will follow you.
How is it possible to repay them for their loyalty, their foresight, their love for Allegheny and the care they have taken for your future? You can thank those who have come before you by being true to what they have built. Be true to what Allegheny is and always will be – that place that challenges us to be our best, that place that is ever determined to be the best, that place that invites us all to be fully engaged and complete citizens of the world we share.
On the eve of Allegheny’s third century, you have the responsibility and the privilege of carrying on the work of those who have come before you.
So get up every morning, put on your blue and gold, and set your remarkable talents and promise to the joy of learning and to the work of citizenship; and in doing so help Allegheny define its greatness today, tomorrow and in all the tomorrows yet to come.
In that great journey that awaits us, may we enjoy God’s blessings and the prayers of every Alleghenian who has preceded us.