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Opening of the Academic Year

George Bridges
President, Whitman College

Thank you Carson Burns for your thoughts and very compelling and eloquent description of why students might love Whitman – you captured some of the many reasons why all of us here find inspiration and joy at this remarkable institution

And thank you Professor Hutchison for taking us on the journey of Telemachus and for eloquently and humorously describing the relevance of his odyssey to the journeys that our students will take in the years ahead. Your reputation for encouraging and supporting students in their journey is quickly becoming Whitman legend.

Students, in the months and years ahead, you will find your unique place at Whitman.

This journey is among the most important endeavors you will undertake as you develop into adults. You will advance your proficiencies in reasoning, in communicating, in collaborating with and understanding others, and in knowing yourself.

With every course you take, every relationship you develop, every moment on this campus and in every experience you have with us you will learn.

What does this mean?

First and foremost, we expect you to learn by discovery. An education at Whitman is not a commodity acquired from professors. Rather it is a byproduct of a responsible agreement between intellectually inspired and curious adults: the faculty and each of you. This contract, if you will, calls for the faculty to instruct, guide, even to goad and at times to irritate you by challenging your pre-conceptions, stretching the limits of your confidence, and disrupting your modes of thought. It also calls for you to engage and embrace unfamiliar concepts and perspectives by discovering – on your own and with your peers – new ideas and new questions.

Yes, questions. At Whitman we believe you must learn the value of pursuing questions even if doing so means discovering no immediate or compelling answers. Intellectual inquiry, in and of itself, matters deeply here.

Second, we expect you to use what you learn at Whitman to lead lives of consequence.

Think of Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Whitman class of 2001. Born in Kenya and raised in the U.S., having earned a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, and now as a professor of politics at San Francisco State University, the reach of her influential life extends back to her native Kenya where, through a foundation she single-handedly launched, she is supporting the next generation of African women leaders. Her foundation, Akili Dada, provides secondary school scholarships, mentoring and leadership training for young Kenyan women from impoverished families. And this past spring, Akili Dada was identified by the United Nations as one of the most innovative organizations in the world promoting intercultural dialogue.

Like most of the experiences in our lives, there are few guarantees about what you will learn at Whitman, how you will change in the next four years or even whether you will, like Wanjiru Kamau Rutenberg, have a profoundly positive effect on hundreds or thousands of others.

While our hopes for and expectations of each of you are high, we cannot foresee with clarity who or what you will become. But I am reminded of the great French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In La Citadelle he wrote: “Your task is not to foresee the future but to enable it.”

Your task is not to see what your future holds, but to enable it.

Together we can shape your future. We stand committed to challenging and supporting you academically, to providing a campus culture that is open, respectful and replete with opportunities to learn and grow, and to welcome you into our engaging community of people and ideas.

But only you can put to use the opportunities that Whitman offers

And only you can embrace the journey of becoming educated.

Professor Hutchison, President Burns, the faculty, staff and I urge you to embark on this odyssey with us, to develop a new understanding of self and others to use what you learn to better the lives of others.

We know that you will.

Now, as is our tradition at Whitman, my final message is to give you your first homework assignments for the year. There are three:

  1. Tomorrow morning, come prepared to register for classes at your appointed time.
  2. Tomorrow afternoon, you are expected to attend a gathering lead by three of our faculty about the summer reading, “Zeitoun,” and to discuss this text in groups with your resident advisers.
  3. When classes begin next week, you should come to your Encounters class having read the first four chapters of “Odyssey” by Homer.
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