OWU President Rock Jones’ Convocation Remarks

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Good afternoon and welcome to the glorious occasion of the opening of the 175th academic year on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University. I am pleased to welcome faculty back from a summer of research, creative work, travel, and preparation for the vocation of teaching that first drew you to OWU and that brings you back each year. Our staff have been working throughout the summer to prepare the campus for a new year and to enhance our ability to serve our students in every way possible. Our faculty and staff join me in extending the warmest and most enthusiast welcome to the newest members of our community, the OWU class of 2020, and transfer students who join the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019. We are thrilled that you are here, and we are pleased that you are joined by family and friends on this most important day.

Students, today you sit beneath a canopy of trees surrounded by historic buildings that remind us of the enduring values of Ohio Wesleyan University. This University was founded in 1842. From the time of its founding, OWU has been devoted to educating citizens who provide leadership in every sector of our society and who answer the call to a life that serves the common good and seeks to make the world a better place. Our charter, written by our founders 174 years ago, speaks of the value of liberal education, affirms the importance of diversity by indicating Ohio Wesleyan serves all students regardless of religious affiliation, and states that this education is designed for the benefit of citizens in general.

Here at OWU, our education is grounded in the tradition of the liberal arts. Here you will be challenged to think deeply, to explore a variety of disciplines that give you a breadth of perspective, to communicate persuasively through the powers of your pen and of your spoken voice, to develop empathetic understanding of those whose life experiences and world views vary drastically from your own, and to make sound judgments that separate that which serves our common interest from that which threatens the fundamental values of a democratic society that affirms the dignity of every human being. Our education begins in the classroom and is shaped by faculty who have chosen to be at OWU because of their deep commitment to undergraduate education and their desire to spend their professional lives with you. Your education will be enriched through participation in varsity athletics, student organizations, and the performing arts; active engagement in a residential community; and a host of other opportunities that await you as you stand on the threshold of some of the most formative years of your life.

Here at OWU, our education is shaped by The OWU Connection. The OWU Connection is liberal arts for the 21st century. The OWU Connection is voracious learning and passionate teaching. It’s global experience and personal attention. It’s broad-based understanding and real-world connection. It’s our commitment to help you find your passion and build your pathway to meaningful work and a rewarding life.

The OWU Connection challenges you to think big. The OWU Connection, along with our entire curriculum, is designed to prepare you to confront the biggest and most complex problems facing our society. We want you to become a global problem-solver. To that end, we want you to learn to explore complex problems from multiple perspectives and to integrate knowledge across the disciplines. The challenges your generation inherits will not be solved in silos of narrow, individual thinking. They will require people who understand the connection between physics and poetry, or more practically, for example, between social justice and a strong economy. We want you to think big.

The OWU Connection challenges you to go global. We want you to develop a global and diverse perspective. You will have amazing opportunities to experience other cultures through international travel and through experiences right here in central Ohio. We want to prepare you for life in a global society and for work in a global economy. We can’t introduce you to every culture. But we can help you gain the capacities for cross-cultural literacy and for leadership in a diverse world. We celebrate the diversity of this campus, and we celebrate the beauty of rich cultural diversity in the larger world. We want you to go global.

The OWU Connection challenges you to get real experience. We want you to practice the application of knowledge. During your years on campus, we will be rethinking and expanding our approach to career planning and development, with much greater focus on supporting you in practical experiences outside of the classroom that prepare you for graduate study or for the world of work. Internships, apprenticeships, research, and field study are available in extraordinary ways. Nearby Columbus offers one of the most dynamic cities in 21st century America, with extraordinary opportunity awaiting you. Seek out opportunity and put yourself in the real world. We want you to get real.

The OWU Connection supports our commitment to prepare moral leaders for a global society. Never has this objective been more important. Recent months have surfaced deep divisions in our society. Many of these divisions are laced with fear and suspicion that translates all-too quickly to abject hatred. The stain of racism, religious intolerance, violence, and prejudice based on gender identity are all-too present. Here at OWU, we will not shy away from deep and at times difficult conversations about these and other topics of contemporary importance. Drawing on our roots in liberal education, we will seek to place these conversations in historical context; to identify the philosophical, social, and anthropological foundations that give rise to the conversations; and to help chart a better course for a more hopeful future. At the heart of our conversations will be a commitment to the dignity of every human being and a commitment to create a campus that is safe, welcoming, and hospitable, especially to those who have been marginalized or who may be victims of inhumane words and actions because of their identity.

We celebrate the diversity of our campus. I suspect that every person in this class will have the opportunity on this campus to become friends with individuals whose life experience, cultural heritage, religious tradition, and world view are unlike any you have ever experienced. Your horizons will be broadened, and you will help broaden the horizons of others. This is an extraordinary opportunity that will serve you well far beyond your years at OWU.

To that end, I offer a few bits of counsel:

  • Keep an open mind. Nothing is more important nor more conspicuously absent in too many of today’s conversations than an open mind. It is the foundation of liberal education. Every improvement to the fabric of our society, every invention that led to a better quality of life, and every entrepreneurial moment that created a new business or a new organization resulted from an open mind. Keep an open mind.
  • Engage in the conversation in a civil way. Our world needs individuals who are willing to engage in thoughtful conversation that respects differences of opinion. Growth does not happen when we all think alike. Our country was founded on the premise that engaged citizens who value civil conversation can shape a just and democratic society. Engage the civil conversation.
  • Put words into action. Or in the words of OWU, put theory into practice. It is one thing to talk. It is another thing to walk. Use the next four years to think about how your life will reflect your values and how you will make the world a better place. Put this into practice by taking action as a student. Engaged citizenship is a way of life, not just a way of thought. Put words into action.

Over the next four years, and indeed over the course of all of life that follows, you will be faced with a myriad of decisions. Some will be large and momentous, some will seem small and uneventful. But even the apparently small decisions can lead to consequences that have dramatic impact, positive or negative, on the trajectory of your life. I challenge you today to commit yourself to thoughtful and wise decision-making. I challenge you to challenge one another to thoughtful and wise decision-making. Hold one another to the highest standards of self-respect and respect for others. Be willing and have the courage to intervene when those standards or the safety and well-being of a fellow student are at risk.

A word for parents – this is a momentous day for you. You have spent nearly two decades preparing for this moment. And now that it arrives, I know it comes with a range of feelings that evoke joy and pride accompanied by a touch of sadness and sense of loss. Today you entrust to this campus that which you cherish the most. We honor your trust, and we pledge to do our best, knowing that the results of the coming four years require the best efforts of all of us – faculty and staff, students, and the families who stand in support of all that happens. We look forward to your presence on campus from time to time and to the relationship we establish as you take your place in the OWU family.

I mentioned earlier our founders’ statement that says an Ohio Wesleyan education is designed for the benefit of citizens in general. An OWU education is not just about you. It is about the impact you will have on the world and the role you will play in shaping a more just and civil society, envisioning a better future through entrepreneurial activities that bring new ideas to life, and preserving the planet that gives and sustains all of life.

Dr. Ben Arneson taught at Ohio Wesleyan for 36 years before his retirement more than 60 years ago. His impact on this campus now spans nearly a century. Dr. Arneson understood the social impact of an OWU education. To that end, he challenged his students to sign a pledge in which they committed themselves to a life of service to the common good. The Arneson Pledge read as follows:

“With a view to serving the public interest and regardless of the nature of my future vocation I pledge that, upon leaving college, I will devote a portion of my time to active and definite participation in public affairs.”

I encourage you to embrace the Arneson Pledge as you begin your time at OWU.

Welcome to Ohio Wesleyan University. May the coming years be rich in opportunity, profound in growth, and lasting in influence as you prepare for moral leadership in our global society. We are proud today to welcome you as Bishops and to look forward to all that is ahead.