Provost Kasimatis Welcomes Incoming Gaels

Good morning, and welcome, class of 2023! You are now officially Gaels.

Many of you are among a group called “Gen Z.” The national studies I’ve read suggest that members of your generation value individual expression and avoid labels. They mobilize themselves for a variety of causes. They believe profoundly in the efficacy of dialogue to solve conflicts and improve the world. And given that the Internet has been accessible on portable devices for much of your life, you tend to interact with information differently from previous generations and thus have different learning styles.

But those are generalizations. Each of you is different, and you all bring unique talents and dreams to the Saint Mary’s community. And each of you is here for a slightly different reason—some of you came for a particular program or career path, others of you wanted the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects and find your passion, and others were attracted to the mission and feel motivated to change the world. That’s OK—we embrace your different talents and motivations. In fact, at Saint Mary’s, we meet you where you are—wherever that is—and empower you to become your very best self. I’ll talk more about this in a minute.

Despite your differences, one thing that unites all of you is that the experience you will have at Saint Mary’s will be unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

For one thing, you will have far more choices on a day-to-basis than you’ve ever had before. You will be able to choose which classes to take—and whether or not to show up to those classes. You will choose which clubs or activities to get involved with, how many hours you spend studying, and who your friends will be. While those choices may seem liberating, they also come with responsibilities and consequences. So, choose wisely.

Another distinguishing feature of the Saint Mary’s experience is that you are now a part of a nearly 1,000-year-old tradition of Catholic higher education. But what does it mean to be at a Catholic university?

For one thing, it means that you will learn to think deeply and seek the truth. But to think really well, you’ve got to assume you don’t have all the answers. You’ve got to take chances. You’ve got to hear some things you might not like. The richness of being at a Catholic university requires the engagement of all learners, of all faiths. At Saint Mary’s College, you’re becoming part of an age-old conversation about the meaning of human existence and the relationship between the spiritual and the intellectual. You will be trying to answer not only the question of “Who Am I,” but also, “Why Am I Here?” “What Does the World Need?” and “How Ought We to Live?”

Saint Mary’s is a special type of Catholic university—it’s Lasallian. The De La Salle Christian Brothers were founded more than 300 years ago with the mission of providing quality education to young people who might not otherwise have that opportunity. But it wasn’t just any kind of education.

The Brothers believe that education transforms—it opens minds and touches hearts, and unlocks the potential in each student. From this perspective, great ideas aren’t just in the great books, they’re in you. Here you will have the opportunity to share those ideas in great conversations, and those great conversations will require you to think deeply and speak well.

But at Saint Mary’s, we will teach you more than thinking deeply and speaking well—we focus on the education of the whole person. Yes, we help you develop your knowledge and cognitive skills, but we also attend to your spiritual and social development as well.

At Saint Mary’s, you will also learn how to be in community, working collaboratively and learning from difference, from each other. We call this collaborative inquiry. With you, we are building a community of people with whom you will share your thoughts, aspirations, joys, and struggles. 

We think you will thrive here, but it won’t be easy. You will be challenged—by your professors and your classmates. You’ll have to answer difficult questions. And sometimes, you will be expected to learn material on your own. We will offer you diverse and powerful learning opportunities beyond the classroom, but you’ll have to seek them out and take advantage of them. You will have to make some sacrifices, some adjustments, some good choices. 

But don’t worry—we will also support you. You know, it used to be the tradition at some universities to tell new students, “Look to your left and right—one of those students won’t be here at graduation.” The implication was that they’re so rigorous that many students won’t make it.

That’s not how it is at Saint Mary’s.

Your professors are there to mentor you—go to their office hours. We have incredible professional staff in academic support offices and student life to help you—reach out to them.  You can also learn and get support from other students, including your student body President, Dante Fregoso. He and all of the Associated Students have made it their goal to include you in building the Saint Mary’s community.

You’ve been listening to me for a while now, and I know that some of you are thinking, “OK, fine, but how will all of this get me a job?”

Before I answer that, let me tell you this: For some of you, the job you will get when you graduate doesn’t even exist yet. That means the most important thing you will learn here that will help you with your career is how to learn. And all of the other skills I’ve mentioned that you will learn here—how to think, how to speak effectively, how to work in diverse teams—those are the skills that the top employers say that they need in their employees.

Most importantly, you’ll discover yourself and your place in the world. 

So, you’ll end up not just with a job, but with a life guided by a purpose.

You are entering into a life of the mind and soul with people who are different, in a spirit of collaboration. I hope that you fully embrace the opportunity and make the most of it. 

I wish you Godspeed, and go Gaels!

Margaret Kasimatis
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs