Convocation Welcome and Introduction

by George Bridges
President of Whitman College
Friday, August 27, 2012 

Good morning. Please be seated. For those of you who haven’t yet met me, I'm George Bridges, 13th President of Whitman College.

On behalf of our faculty, staff, and governing boards, I welcome you to the 130th year since Washington chartered Whitman as a liberal arts college. Today’s ceremony celebrates our incoming students – you who will be the graduating class of 2016 – and also the beginning of the academic year.

Before we begin, let me first acknowledge the musical contributions of Whitman Instructor Kraig Scott. It was his triumphant organ prelude and processional that opened our celebration today.

Let me also make a few other important introductions:

First and foremost, will members of the entering class – first year and transfer students – please rise?

We are honored to have you here at Whitman College. Each of you brings a unique perspective and set of talents, and you will become an integral part of this campus.

We – the faculty and staff – have been anticipating your arrival for months, and we are thrilled that you are finally here.

Convocation and Commencement are the two ceremonies that will bookend your time at Whitman. In just four short years, I will be standing before you again, congratulating you on your graduation. The time will go by more quickly than you imagine.

Let’s all take a moment again to recognize our new scholars with applause.

You may be seated – but I ask that our new international students remain standing.

We are particularly grateful for the cultural perspectives and backgrounds you bring. Many of you have traveled great distances, and will be undertaking your studies here in a second language, while also navigating an entirely new educational system. We recognize that this is not easy, and we want to extend a particular welcome to you. Whitman is a richer place for your presence. We are excited and delighted you have chosen Whitman.

[Applause.] You may be seated.

Will the parents, family members, and friends of the incoming students please rise?

We are also honored that you have become part of the Whitman community. Thank you for entrusting your children, grandchildren, siblings, friends, and relatives to us.

We, the faculty and staff of Whitman College, take seriously the task of educating your loved ones. And we know that you take seriously the task of continuing to encourage and support these students as they begin their journey here.

Let’s take a moment to show our appreciation to this dedicated group of Whitman family members with applause.

You may be seated. (Pause.)

Will the esteemed faculty of Whitman College please rise?

Whitman is an institution that sincerely values the relationship between faculty and students. We are deeply proud of our dedicated, innovative, and accomplished faculty.

Our college is known for the quality of its teaching and mentoring – and these are the people who have built and now sustain that reputation.

New students, I encourage you to get to know these individuals: take advantage of the many opportunities you will have to learn from their wisdom, to work alongside them, to join them in interrogating ideas and taken intellectual risks.

Our faculty devote themselves to the education of our students. They are the primary reason you are here.

Colleagues, you may be seated.

Lastly, on stage with me this morning are several more people I wish to introduce. Please hold your applause until I have introduced all members of the platform party.

In the front row:

Faculty Convocation Speaker, and Professor of English, Roberta Davidson.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Timothy Kaufman-Osborn.

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Tony Cabasco.

Student Convocation Speaker, and President of the Associated Students of Whitman College, Kayvon Behroozian.

Chair of Faculty, and Robert Allen Skotheim professor of history, David Schmitz.

Vice President for Development and College Relations, John Bogley.

Convocation Marshal, Cassandra Baker.

In the second row:

Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Education, associate professor of history, Brian Dott.

Chair of the Division of Humanities and Arts, associate professor of philosophy, Rebecca Hanrahan.

Chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics, professor of physics, Mark Beck.

Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer, Peter Harvey.

Chief Information Officer, Dan Terrio.

Dean of students and member of the sociology department, Chuck Cleveland.

Associate dean of the faculty, Lisa Perfetti.

(applause)

Now that we’ve all been introduced, let me take a moment to share an idea that serves as a preface to today’s presentations.

Students, in your summer reading, The Warmth of Other Suns, author Isabel Wilkerson documents the journeys of three Americans who, in leaving the Jim Crow south as part of the great migration of African Americans in the 1930s, sought freedoms that neither they nor any of their relatives or ancestors had experienced.

Wilkerson chronicles each person’s odyssey, one to the north, one to the mid-west, and one to the far west.

Although their individual journeys did not yield all of the opportunities and freedoms they had so desperately sought, their flight – and the flight of millions of others like them – transformed our country in profoundly positive ways – building America’s cities, transforming America’s music and arts, and making pathways to new professions and communities for all the seekers who followed them.

In a much less harrowing way, and yet in a transformative way, today you begin an odyssey of your own here at Whitman. As you journey, you will learn things about yourself, and things about the world – about your own culture and about other cultures, ideas from long ago and discoveries of today. You will not only cultivate new knowledge, but also discover interests, passions, and opportunities for your life after you graduate.

Our primary purpose is to assist you in developing habits of thinking and respectful engagement with others and their views. Developing these habits requires that you participate in what social psychologists refer to as altercasting. That is, relinquishing your pre-conceived ideas in order to see an issue from the perspective of alter – the other being able to see things from multiple perspectives creates uncertainty and tension, but this discomfort marks the beginning of wisdom.

The process I'm describing – the pushing and pulling of competing ideas and perspectives – will occur throughout your time at Whitman – in interactions with your professors and staff members, in dialogue with your peers, and in silent conversations with yourself.

Education is about questioning –about cultivating a curiosity to see what the world looks like from opposing perspectives. To do this, you must always be challenging yourself to dig deeper.

When it comes down to it, only you can guarantee that your experience here refines your knowledge, strengthens your understanding, and cultivates respect for others. Push yourself to always ask the next question, always take your thinking to the next level.

If you do this throughout your time at Whitman, you will ensure that this odyssey – your odyssey – leads you to a lifetime of learning.

(pause)

Now it’s my pleasure to introduce Kayvon Behroozian, your 2012-2013 president of the associated students of Whitman College.

Kayvon is a politics major starting his junior year here, and in case you haven’t already guessed this, he is extremely active on campus. In addition to serving as your president, he is involved in greek life as a Phi Delt, where he served as treasurer last year. He also participates in the Model United Nations club, a club he helped to revive during his first year here. When asked for an interesting and little-known fact about himself, he told us that he’s terrified of seaweed. (Oh dear, Kayvon – I hope this doesn’t inspire any practical jokes or pranks in your honor.)

His speech today is titled, “Welcome to the corner of Boyer Ave. and Memory Lane.”

………

For our musical interlude today, we have the distinct pleasure of hearing flute music performed by Kristi von Handorf and Minseon Song.

Kristi von Handorf is a junior from dallas, texas majoring in music performance and psychology. She is a member of four musical groups here at Whitman: the wind ensemble, orchestra, chorale, and chamber singers. She made her solo debut with the Whitman orchestra in 2012 as a winner of the concerto-aria competition.

Today she will be playing Burton’s “sonatina – iii”. Jackie Wood, senior lecturer of music, will accompany her on the piano. Following that, we will hear Schoenfield’s “ufaratsta” performed by Minseon Song.

Minseon is a junior majoring in music performance and mathematics. A Higley music scholar, Minseon is involved in music ensembles and Tae-Kwon-Do club on campus. She grew up in South Korea, before moving to Portland, Oregon – and eventually here to Walla Walla.

She will be accompanied by music assistant Kristin Vining on piano.

……………..

Thank you, Minseon and Kristi, for the beautiful gift of your music.

Thank you, Kayvon, for your welcome to new students and your enthusiastic encouragement of their involvement in Whitman’s many opportunities for leadership.

And thank you, Professor Davidson. I appreciate how you were able to discuss 21st century scientific advances by using lessons from medieval literature. That’s the embodiment of the kind of fruitful, but unexpected combinations a liberal arts education can yield.