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Opening of the Academic Year

by George Bridges, president of Whitman College

August 28, 2009

Opening remarks

Good morning. Please be seated.

My name is George Bridges, and I am honored to serve as the 13th president of the college.

On behalf of the governing boards, faculty and staff, I extend a warm welcome to you as we launch Whitman's 127th opening as a liberal arts college. Our ceremony celebrates the incoming class of students – that is the graduating class of 2013 – and the beginning of the academic year.

Before proceeding to our ceremony, let me first acknowledge the musical contributions of Professor of Music Lee Thompson and his spectacular organ prelude and processional.

Let me now make some important introductions:

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

On behalf of the faculty and staff of Whitman, I express our delight in finally having you here. Please know that we carefully selected and deeply wanted each and every one of you – we celebrate your achievements and your new beginning with us.

You may be seated.

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

We are delighted that you too have become part of the Whitman community. Thank you for entrusting your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, your grandchildren and your close friends and relatives to us.

As a community, we accept and take seriously the task of educating your daughters and sons. And we will need your help. Each of you must remain – as we know you will – a source of loving encouragement, a patient listener, and a supportive family member and friend.

Let us all acknowledge this devoted group of Whitman family members with applause.

You may be seated.

Will the esteemed faculty of Whitman college please rise?

Since its inception as a college, Whitman has accorded primacy to the relationship between faculty and students. The Whitman faculty are innovative, creative educators and accomplished scholars who understand that Whitman's mission has, as its single focus, our students.

Parents and family members: the Whitman faculty offers each student a challenging, personally engaged, undergraduate learning experience. Faculty will know these new students by name within the first week. They will mentor each and every one in a way that encourages creativity, fosters leadership, and promotes the flexibility of heart and mind needed to succeed in an increasingly complex world.

Colleagues, you may be seated.

Lastly, on stage with me this morning are several individuals who I wish to introduce-some of whom will share their own words of welcome and advice. Please hold your applause until I have introduced all of members of the platform party

On the front row:

Convocation speaker and Clement Biddle Penrose Associate Professor of Latin and Classics Elizabeth Vandiver.

Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osborn.

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tony Cabasco.

President of the Associated Students of Whitman College Nadim Damluji.

Chair of Faculty and Associate Professor of Astronomy and General Studies Andrea Dobson.

Convocation Marshal Katie Suzanne Higgins.

On the second row:

Chair of the Division of Social Sciences and Education, Deburgh Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology Bill Bogard.

Chair of the Division of Humanities and Arts and Professor of Religion Jonathan Walters.

Chair of the Division of Science and Mathematics, Associate Professor of Biology Kendra Golden.

Vice President for Development and College Relations, John Bogley.

Chief Technology Officer Keiko Pitter.

Treasurer and Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey.

Dean of Students and member of the sociology department Chuck Cleveland

Associate Dean of the Faculty, Professor of Eduation and College Marshal Tom Callister


Laura Deering, class of 2010.

Jacqueline Kamm, class of 2010.

As you join our community, you become part of the remarkable history of this college.

Whitman opened its doors as a liberal arts college in the fall of 1882 and was chartered by the State of Washington in 1883. In the ensuing years, the college has become one of our country's preeminent institutions of undergraduate education, emphasizing the arts, humanities and sciences, and a culture and a curriculum that accord highest priority to demanding, personalized and supportive student learning across the many disciplines that comprise the liberal arts and sciences.

Today's event, Convocation, is, as those of you who recall your Latin may remember, a calling-together. Today we call together our new students, their families and their friends along with current students faculty and staff to celebrate the beginning of college education, the academic year, and to welcome you into membership in our campus community. By calling all of us – students, faculty, families and friends – together in this place we are underscoring a point of cooperation and mutual commitment. You – students and your parents and relatives – are now members of the Whitman community.

Whitman is a place where free and orderly thinking is cultivated, one where every idea is tested in the crucible of analysis and critical reflection. For this reason, above all, it is the natural, and the most productive place to begin the thoughtful and arduous process of advancing knowledge by embracing complex problems, rejecting preconceptions and pursuing important questions in lieu of accepting conventional answers.

You enter a community comprised of individuals from many different backgrounds, cultures and life experiences. Many of you are the first members of your family to attend college, collectively you represent many different ethnic, racial and religious groups and many of you come from families where the financial resources are quite limited.

Let me be clear – you enter a community in which we respect and celebrate our differences. No one who enters Whitman must hang the cloak of his or her background outside our door of entry. We expect you to join our collective journey to a better, safer, more tolerant, and more understanding world.

It is therefore with great pleasure that on behalf of the governing boards, the faculty and the staff I warmly welcome and invite you to accompany us on this exciting path.

Closing remarks

Early in 20th century, per ardua surgo, served as a motto of Whitman college.

Translated from its original Latin, the motto means: "through adversities I rise."

In many ways this motto symbolizes much about the path on which you will travel these next four years.

At points, you will coast comfortably along, enjoying stretches of spectacular success. At other points, will find the path steeper than you expected and the demands greater than any which you have encountered in your previous schooling.

As the motto states, you will rise.

You can and will succeed here. We would not have recruited you if we thought there was any chance you would fail.

In the months and years ahead, I urge you to consider two personal imperatives I have drawn from professor Vandiver's eloquent and didactic discourse on traditions.

The first is that you seek courses and programs of study that utterly disrupt and disorient your intellectual habits and routine lines of reasoning.

We will challenge you to re-think many of the ideas that you bring to our college.

We want you to find satisfaction re-thinking – interrogating – the ideas and in pursuing important questions even if it means discovering no immediate answers. The process of intellectual inquiry, in and of itself, matters imensely here.

One of our visiting speakers this coming year, Bethany McLean (a writer for Fortune magazine), describes her education at a liberal arts college just like Whitman as training her not to answer questions but rather to question answers. From your very first class we want you to develop and refine your capacity for asking questions.

The second imperative is that you engage and embrace your education at Whitman with all of the energy and excitement that you would bring to a grand voyage of discovery.

Think of Dottie Metcalf Lindenberger – Whitman class of 1997. Next year, as a NASA astronaut, she will serve as an officer and educator on the space shuttle. Imagine the excitement of her journey.

Your enthusiasm and effort here at Whitman will profoundly shape the significance of the discoveries you make.

Like most of the experiences you will face later in your lives, there are few guarantees about what you will learn or how you will change in the next four years. We can make predictions, based on historical data and the experiences of thousands of students before you.

But we cannot ensure that you will leave as a truly educated person. No school can.

Only you can guarantee that the experiences you have here – the journey you follow and the learning you enjoy – actually refine and enhance your knowledge, advance your understanding of yourself, your understanding of others and the complex problems we face in our country and world.

Only you can ensure that the college's traditions advance your life as they have advanced the lives of thousands of Whitman students before you.

Only you can choose to participate in and shape the evolution of these traditions as members of the Whitman community

Only you can rise each day and take up the journey. The possibilities are tremendous, and we believe you are equipped to seize and profit from them.

There will be challenge and adversity.

But through adversities you will rise.

Per ardua surgo.

Professor Vandiver, the faculty and I urge you to seek disrupting and disorienting academic experiences, favor questions over answers, and journey with us on this exciting path of tradition and transformation.

As is our tradition at Whitman, I end my remarks by giving you your first homework assignments for the year: there are three.

Be prepared this afternoon to meet with your faculty advisor to discuss your courses, interests and programs of study.

In tomorrow afternoon's sessions, come prepared to learn from three of our faculty about the summer reading, The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen, and to discuss this text in groups led by your resident advisers and student academic advisers.

When classes begin next week, you should come to your Encounters class having read and studied the first six chapters and the glossary (p. 155-162) of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the greatest philosophical and religious texts in world history.

It is, therefore, with great pleasure that on this 28th day of August, 2009, I declare Whitman College officially open for the 127th academic year!

Thank you all.

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