OWU President Rock Jones’ Convocation Remarks
Thursday, August 16, 2018
Thank you, Stefanie, for your wonderful introduction of this talented group of new students. My warmest welcome to you, students, to your family and friends, to you, Stefanie, and to the faculty and staff who join us today to celebrate the memorable occasion of the matriculation of these students at Ohio Wesleyan University.
We gather this afternoon in this historic auditorium where for more than 12 decades students, faculty and staff have gathered, and on a campus where those gatherings date back nearly 18 decades. Students, today you take your place in space previously occupied by students who went on to become pioneers and leaders in every sector of our society – public servants, including members of Congress, federal judges, and a vice president of the United State; entrepreneurs and corporate leaders who led some of the largest and most influential companies of their time; educators who have taught students at every level and in every place, who in turn have made their impact on human society; ground-breaking scientists whose discoveries have led to the cure of disease, and a Nobel laureate who first understood the impact of human activity on the Ozone layer and thus on our planet’s climate; religious leaders and community activists who have worked diligently to improve the human condition; and social pioneers who, like Branch Rickey, have literally changed the face of American society.
These alumni of this great university once sat where you sit today. And one day, with the benefit of the education you attain here at OWU, you will join them in shaping the future of our democratic society and preserving the values of civility and humanity on which that future depends. I am thrilled to welcome you here today.
Many of you heard me speak when you visited campus last year. I want to return to questions I asked on those occasions, asking them again today as you contemplate what lies ahead for you here at OWU.
What do you care about? What are the passions that drive you, that energize you, that spark your intellectual curiosity and your social engagement? What do you care about?
Where do you want to go? If you could go anywhere in the world to explore those things you care about, where would you go?
Who do you want to be? That is a big question, and you may not have the full answer today. But deep down you have a sense of who you are, and it seems appropriate to ask the big question: Who do you want to be?
Here at OWU, you have access to an education that allows you to contemplate these big questions in ways that ultimately connect you to a meaningful and fulfilling life beyond college. Your education begins in the classroom, laboratory, studio and performance venue, where you will be guided by faculty who, as Stefanie has noted, have chosen to be here because of their deep commitment to undergraduate education and to the values of a liberal arts education. The relationships you develop with members of this faculty will shape the remainder of your lives.
Your education extends beyond the academic program to playing fields, residence halls, dining rooms, student organizations, Greek life, and more, where you will become leaders, learning to work with fellow students in shaping programs of excellence that benefit this campus and often enhance the community in which we live.
You will do all of this through what we call the OWU Connection. In the OWU Connection, you will be challenged to think big, go global, and get real.
Think big. We want you to ask big questions. We want you to look at complex issues from multiple perspectives, to take classes in subjects you have not considered before, to develop the capacity for interdisciplinary understanding. We want you to explore challenging topics by considering the other side, listening to those with experiences and perspectives quite different from you own. We want you to think big in the classroom, and we want you to think big in life.
Go Global. We want you to develop a global and diverse perspective. Many of you will do this through travel to other parts of the world. Travel-learning courses, semesters abroad, interfaith service trips, international internships, and theory-to-practice grants will prepare you to be global citizens, people who live in a global society and work in a global economy. But you don’t have to leave campus to develop a global and diverse perspective. The curriculum is full of courses that introduce you to other cultures and other ways of being. More importantly, our campus includes students from all over the world. Ten percent of this entering class comes from outside of the United States, representing 25 countries. With returning students, 34 countries are represented on this campus. Every day at OWU you can go global.
Get Real. We want you to put theory to practice, to take what you have learned in the classroom and apply it in the real world. Internships, service learning, undergraduate research, and student leadership all provide ways in which you develop the capacities that complement your academic work and prepare you for a rich and meaningful life. You will be supported by the emerging Career Connection, as well as by thousands of alumni who stand ready to provide guidance and counsel. We want you to get real.
Think Big. Go Global. Get Real. This is the OWU Connection.
The foundation of all of this is our historic commitment to a liberal arts education, an education designed to liberate the mind from old ways of thinking in order to spark creativity, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship that lead to new discovery and that advance our human society. While the content of the curriculum is fundamental, we also want you to develop certain capacities that prepare you for lifelong learning. Here you learn to communicate persuasively, both with a pen and with your spoken voice. Here you will learn to listen carefully and critically, understanding that you do not always have the full story or even the right answer. Here you will learn to work in teams of people who bring a diverse array of experience and perspective. Here you will learn to value diversity in every form, celebrating the rich kaleidoscope of our campus and our world. Here you will develop the capacity for empathy that ultimately drives the ability to work with others and to achieve success in life.
These are the virtues of a liberal education. And it is these virtues that have led alumni of this institution to achieve the prominence I noted as I began. You will be no different.
To the parents and friends of these new students, we are pleased to welcome you to the OWU family as well. You have spent nearly two decades preparing yourselves and these students for this moment. It is not all easy, nor will the coming four years be all easy. But there is much to celebrate at this moment, and there will be even more to celebrate in the years that follow. We honor the trust you have placed in this university, and we look forward to sharing this journey with you.
We live in perilous times in the larger world. Hate movements gain momentum. Division is profound. Conversation is more heated than rational. Ethics are too often forgotten. Open minds are increasingly hard to find. In such a world, it is easy to become discouraged.
On the other hand, when we gather in this place, reminded of the legacy of this historic room, and reminded by the faculty’s regalia of the centuries of benefit to our society that has come from the enterprise of higher education, I find great hope. The education you receive here will prepare you well for all that is to come. Most importantly, it will prepare you to make a difference in the world, or as we like to say at OWU, to be moral leaders in a global society.
What do you care about?
Where do you want to go?
Who do you want to be?
I can’t wait to find out.
Welcome to Ohio Wesleyan, and Godspeed in all that is ahead.