July 22, 2009

President Daniel Weiss Welcomes Class of 2013 to Lafayette

“The next four years of your lives will be among the most special and precious that you will ever experience”

President Daniel H. Weiss welcomed the Class of 2013 today at the Convocation opening Lafayette’s 178th academic year.

On behalf of the trustees and faculty of Lafayette College, I formally declare you matriculated. Congratulations and welcome!

So what just happened? We are gathered here for the 178th time to welcome a new class to Lafayette College. And we do so in a way that relates very strongly to traditions that go back even well before the history of Lafayette. We entered ceremoniously to music, wearing these gowns. This in many ways may seem to be an anachronism, and it may be in your mind not clear exactly why we are gathered here this morning. You’ve been gathering all day long, yesterday and today, for one meeting after another, and this may seem like another one of those kinds of meetings. There is no doubt, none, that after all this is over it will all blur into one big meeting anyway.

But, this is a moment, and the reason we do this, the reason we gather in this way, is formally to welcome you into our community and to mark that transition from whatever you were before to what you became right now, which is a student of Lafayette College. We do this for two reasons: one, because we want to signal to ourselves and, especially, to you that something important has just happened, that you have entered a community that has a very distinctive purpose, that has certain obligations on your part and ours, certain responsibilities and enormous opportunities. And so, we wanted to signal that, so you recognize fully that something important has happened. This is a community that is very much dedicated to the purpose of advancing learning — your learning, our learning; everyone who participates in the life of this community is committed to that. To the opportunity to expand our knowledge base. To transform our lives. To provide service to others. And to learn from each other, as we grow personally and intellectually.

So that’s an important moment. Indeed everyone is going to tell you this (and it just happens to be important and true): The next four years of your lives will be among the most special and precious that you will ever experience, because all of your time will be devoted to these kinds of opportunities for growth. It is something very distinctive to be cherished.

I will not add to what Ashley so wisely called the “cascade of wisdom” — there’s no doubt you’ll have a lot to remember anyway — except by saying one additional thing: This community that we have is very fragile. Even though it has endured for almost two centuries and models like it have endured for a millennia, it is a fragile community, because it requires a partnership and the exchange of trust and respect among all for it to work. For example, academic integrity. For us to do the kind of work we do together, we have to trust you. We have to engage you as partners in this enterprise. You will have myriad opportunities, for example, to borrow work that is not your own, to download information off the internet that is not based on your work. There are many ways in which you can cheat yourself and in so doing diminish the community.

What I’d like to suggest is to think about the fact that this community is special. It is something that we all take great pride in, but we all have to work at making this community thrive. That requires us to respect you (and we do) and to give you the freedom to operate as adults (which you are), but with the expectation that you will participate in this community in all the ways in which you have been advised today with this in mind: that you have responsibility for how you proceed on your own. I will not add any more advice except to tell you that we think you are well prepared to thrive here. That’s why you have been admitted. You are surrounded by people who care about your well-being, who will work with you, who are available to you.

So avail yourself of their help. Engage yourself fully for the time of your lives. We are delighted you’re here, and we welcome you with great enthusiasm.

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