As they do each fall, college presidents welcome new students with words they hope will inspire, words that will impart some shared wisdom or enlightenment about the journey on which they are about to embark. For example, Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College (Ohio), cautioned students to make sure they were, in fact, on the right journey. "Many of you may have had the experience of sitting on a plane about to take off, when the steward says, 'If Columbus is not in your travel plans, you should get off this airplane...' Well, Kenyon is kind of like that. If civil engineering, or hotel management or marketing is in your (immediate) travel plans, you should probably get off this plane; that's not where we're headed here," she said. "We don't offer tickets to a job. We offer roadmaps for plotting a life."
Even in the face of the report from the Commission on the Future of Higher Education that, in part, calls for greater accountability and outcomes assessment, Nugent's words were echoed in welcome speeches across the nation. Richard Wilson, president of Illinois Wesleyan University, told new students, "You should resist the pressures to define your undergraduate experience as preparation for a job when the more compelling reason is preparation for life. We hope that you will indeed approach your years here with this thought in mind. ... If you do this, you will find your life transformed."
Welcome speeches are also a time to remind students that their college experiences will go far in helping to shape them as people. While many have drawn inspiration from Robert Fulghum's book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Colgate University (N.Y.) President Rebecca Chopp says she can distill all the advice a freshman needs to what she learned from being on crutches after foot surgery. "While it is always best to stand on your own two feet, the really important point is keeping your balance," she said. "We expect you to be tolerant of others in this community. You will learn a lot more if you take another step (or hop, in my case) and try to imagine what other people are experiencing."
Gerald Jakubowski, president of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (Ind.), reminded students that their college years could shape them as people. "Remember that a college education is much more than what you learn between the covers of a book. Get involved in extra-curricular activities including athletics, and the visual and performing arts. Immerse yourself in everything that Rose-Hulman has to offer. There is a smorgasbord of activities to choose from, but it is up to you to help yourself."
The food metaphor was continued with (if you'll pardon the pun) this "sage advice" from Jeanne Neff, president of the Sage Colleges (N.Y.): "Make the most of these college years. One way to do that is by considering your major an entree, not the whole meal. What I mean by that is you should explore all possible ways to be involved during the time you are here. Consider adding a minor or second major, participate in internships, and look into studying abroad. College is a chance for you to truly reinvent yourself. Think of this time as a fresh start at becoming the person you want to be now and as you grow into your future."
All good words to live by, and if even a fraction of the class of 2010 takes them to heart, the world might be a better place.
Write to Tim Goral at firstname.lastname@example.org.