Provost Welcomes New Students and Their Families at Orientation 2008

Welcome and congratulations. I see before me not just students, but families, friends, and loved ones; let's give particular recognition to our newest students. If you are one of them, please stand.

Today marks the first day of your entrance into a community of scholars. Some of you are carrying on a family tradition, others of you are hopefully starting one. You chose us, Saint Mary's College, to launch your college career, but we also chose you. We looked for authenticity in your applications, for people we thought were ready for the challenge of a Saint Mary's education. Your readiness is not based entirely on your test scores or grade point averages, however high and impressive those might have been. We also look for qualities of mind and character, for intellectual curiosity, compassion, and integrity. We see them in you. We see in you the potential to embody some of the things we value most – great ideas, personal transformation, collaborative inquiry. I'd like to talk for a moment about these values.

Great Ideas are in our programs, but they are also in our people. You will learn about our Great Books curriculum, trace the development of moral systems and philosophies of knowledge, and learn about the rich Catholic intellectual tradition that grounds our core curriculum. But you will also find great ideas in our faculty.

I'd like to talk to you for a moment not as a provost, but as a faculty member. You probably don't know what a "provost" is, and that's okay; few people do. The provost is the senior vice president of the college, in charge of ensuring our academic excellence. But before stepping into administration full-time, I was a faculty member for nearly 20 years. Most of the faculty here at Saint Mary's have a PhD, a Doctorate of Philosophy. To get one, you have to complete not only the four-year bachelor's degree, but an additional three to ten or more years of study. You also have to have a great idea, something unique, something important, something that advances knowledge in a particular area.

Our faculty have those great ideas. Some of the best faculty in the country are right here. They chose Saint Mary's for a reason. They chose Saint Mary's because they believe in the Lasallian mission, the power of education to transform you. Take advantage of them, and develop your relationships with your professors intentionally. Go to their office hours. I remember a first-year student in one of my classes a few years ago. I had said that developing relationships with faculty was important, and so during the first week of classes, he – his name was Anthony – showed up at my door. He said, "Hello, Dr. Dobkin," and I said, "Hello, Anthony." Then there was a long, awkward silence, while he just stood there and I waited. I said, "Is there something I can help you with?" And he said, "No, I'm just here to establish a relationship."

I said, "okay, that's fine, why don't you have a seat? Tell me about the first week of class." Talk to your professors about what interests you. Tell them what you don't understand. The world of learning will open to you. These are relationships that will live long past graduation.

Our faculty, staff, everyone here at Saint Mary's College is invested in your personal transformation. Who will you become? You will claim an identity – activist, writer, scientist, performer. What will you do? You'll find routes to all of the top career paths identified by the US Department of Labor here, such as archeology, environmental science, film editing, journalism, medicine, physical therapy, politics, religion, and teaching. You will be given an outstanding education; remember, "Those to whom much is given, of them much is required"

What you will do isn't just a question upon graduation; you'll be wrestling with that one now and forever. You will have many little decisions, like where to eat and whom to text, and bigger ones, like choosing your major. Plan for your future now, in little ways. For instance, start a wellness plan now that you can keep up with in September. Tour the campus, and decide where you might want to study. Check out the College services, and don't be afraid to use them.

And plan for your future now, in big ways. The Saint Mary's College experience is not just about joining clubs to pad your resume, getting a great internship for a lucrative job, or learning how to "work" the professors. It's about learning how to think, understand, synthesize, and create. You may not remember all the details needed to pass a multiple-choice test, but you are likely to learn the limits of multi-tasking. You will learn how to focus, be present, do things well instead of just getting things done. You will have a foundation of knowledge and a way of learning that will serve you the rest of your life. You will be transformed, and you will be prepared to transform the world.

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. We will offer you diverse and powerful learning opportunities, but you have to take advantage of them. And they won't always happen between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You have to make some sacrifices, some adjustments, some good choices.

You've already made some choices about your relationships here, particularly if you've been on Facebook lately. But we've also already made some of the choices for you. You'll almost certainly be sharing a room with someone, and hardly anyone coming to college has done that. There are plenty of opportunities for learning in that situation! We've probably picked your classmates, teammates, roommates, perhaps even your soul mate – all with a mind toward choosing the diverse people and talents that will make this a rich learning community. You will need to learn from others, respect them, build friendships, and learn from the difference in our community.

You will make choices about how you will interact with others. We expect you to care for and respect others, and we will not tolerate intimidation or threats. We expect you to affirm the rights of others to express themselves openly, without fear or ridicule. We expect you to honor the dignity of others. We expect you to facilitate both your own learning and that of your peers. Faculty have particular expectations about the ways you need to behave in the classroom behavior, such as using electronics appropriately (or not at all), and about respecting the scope of their work and lives. Your professors are here for you, but they also lead rich professional and family lives. Your first lessons may be in the way you manage the impression they have of you. We expect these considerations of each other, so that we may all learn and grow in this community.

We will also collaborate so that we can learn. Let yourself be challenged. Above all, and I'll only say it once: Do the reading. We will push you to your limits, so that you can know your potential. Your best moments will be when you discover something for yourself, about yourself, for the first time.

I'd like to share an image with you that a faculty member gave me a few months ago (Elaina Rose Lovejoy). Think about yourself as occupying one spot on a circle, and at each point, each degree of the circle, is another spot. 360 in all. At the center is Truth, and we're all looking at it, trying to understand, but from different spots on that circle. If Truth is like the moon, then I might be looking at the bright side, and someone else is looking at the dark side of the moon. As I move to a different spot, I see the moon from a different perspective, and while who I am, what I value might not change, my ability to see, to understand, to know from different points on that circle might just transform me. As you move through your Saint Mary's education, you will reach new points on that circle, and when you do, you'll remember it forever. You will be able to "renounce all of [your] attachments to one narrow spot."

Finally, a word to the parents, friends, family members who join us today: thank you for trusting us with your loved ones. Know that you've done a really good job. The students here are ready to grow, to learn, and to be independent. We talk a lot about students making choices; let them. Let them choose the path that engages their minds, and empowers them to change themselves and others.

All of you will leave here with something of value, but the more you invest, the greater your return. Take advantage of all that is Saint Mary's College, and prepare yourself to change the world. Once again, a very warm welcome to SMC.

(And now, I'd like to introduce Brother Michael Sanderl, who will talk about our unique Catholic, Lasallian mission.)