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Welcome and Introductions

Welcome and Introductions
Whitman College Convocation 
August 28, 2015
Kathleen M. Murray

Good afternoon. For many of you, this is the first formal gathering since your arrival on campus, 
so before we begin this afternoon, I think it is important to take a moment to acknowledge that 
our community has suffered a tragic loss with the death of junior Tom Zbyszewski while he was 
fighting the wildfires near his hometown of Carlton. Like many of you, I never had a chance to 
know Tom, but in talking with his mother, I learned that he loved Whitman, and I have heard 
from many of the faculty and staff present about what an exceptional young man he was. Please 
join me in a moment of silence in memory of Tom. Thank you. We will have more information in 
the coming days about a campus memorial service for Tom.

Please join me in thanking Kraig Scott for opening our celebration with his wonderful organ 
prelude and processional, and please be seated. [applause] For those of you I have not yet had 
the privilege of meeting, I am Kathy Murray. Last November, I had the great honor of being 
named the 14th President of Whitman College, a position I assumed on July 1. Class of 2019 and 
incoming transfer students, we are "new Whitties" together. We will go through our extended 
orientation together and share many "firsts" during the next few years. Your class is very special 
to me as we embark on this great adventure together. On behalf of Whitman's faculty, staff, 
continuing students, and governing boards, it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the 
134th opening of the academic year.

There are many important rituals that colleges like Whitman embrace. This convocation marks 
the beginning of your academic career, and it will be bookended by commencement four years 
from now. Today's rituals involve greetings, introductions, charges to the new students, 
reassurances to the parents, and lots of excitement about future possibilities. There will be 
many similarities when we get to commencement. Let's begin today with the greetings and 

Will the members of the entering class, first-year and transfer students, please rise? You are at 
the center of our work over these next few days and years. Your presence here today is a 
reflection of your high level of intellectual and artistic curiosity and the extra effort you have 
expended as you have begun to satisfy that curiosity, all of which resulted in impressive 
academic success during your high school years. We reviewed each of your files very carefully 
and are confident that you have the potential to be successful here. It's OK if you're a little 
nervous right now. Just know that we believe you have what it takes to be strong contributors to 
this intellectual community.

Many people in this auditorium, most especially your parents and family members, worked very 
hard to make it possible for you to be here today. Please join all of us in showing appreciation 
for their efforts.

The rest of the people in this auditorium, the faculty and staff of Whitman, have been looking 
forward to your arrival and are anxious to get to know you and to work with you. We love the 
rhythm of the academic calendar and the energy and excitement that comes with late August. 
We applaud your arrival on the Whitman campus. [applause] Please be seated.

Your most important resource over the course of the next four years will be your faculty, an 
extraordinary group of scholars and artists who are dedicated to your learning. Will the faculty 
of Whitman College please stand? Get to know this group of people. Don't just learn their 
names. Don't just show up for class. Go to their offices, have conversations outside of class, 
invite them to have lunch with you and your friends. They will push you beyond what you have 
ever imagined you were capable of accomplishing, and they will provide the support to make it 
possible for you to achieve at that very high level. But you will have to put forth the effort; they 
will not do the work for you. They have dedicated their professional lives to student learning, 
and they want you to succeed. Please join me in applauding the work of this faculty. [applause] 
Please be seated.

I am joined on stage by several other important members of the Whitman community. Their 
names and titles are in the program. I think you will find that most people at Whitman, including 
me, have an "open door" policy. My door is open unless I am in a meeting, and I encourage you 
to stop in and say hi. Tell me what's going on around campus that excites you or concerns you. 
And, get to know the campus leaders that are up here with me. 

Now that we have all been introduced, I want to share just two things with you as you begin 
your career at Whitman. Now I realize that if every person you meet in the next few days shares 
with you even two things, you will be overwhelmed, so I'm actually only going to ask you to try 
to remember the second thing. The first is a story from personal experience that I hope will give 
you some confidence over the course of the next couple of days. You need to know that many of 
us who are gathered here this evening, even those of us who are more than a few years out of 
college, have pretty vivid memories of our first days on campus as undergraduates. I remember 
arriving, a very nervous and shy 18-year-old, at another small liberal arts college, with my 
parents. This was a big day for all three of us because, since I am a first-generation college 
student (meaning neither of my parents had the opportunity to go to college), none of us knew 
exactly what to expect. And, we were pretty sure we were the only people on that campus who 
didn't know the insiders' rules of the game. We were wrong, of course, but we certainly weren't 
going to betray our discomfort by asking any questions. I know that a number of you sitting here 
this afternoon are having that same experience, and I just want to make sure you know that you 
are not alone and that you should ask your questions, both now and as you navigate your way 
through your Whitman career. Now back to my story.

That college, like this one, had a tradition of having parents and students on campus together 
for the opening of orientation. My parents and I were together at a reception - I, of course, was 
hoping against hope that nobody would notice us - when the president of the college walked 
up, introduced himself, and, just to make small talk, asked my father what he did for a living. 
Convinced-like any normal teenager-that my parents, more specifically my father, would do 
something to embarrass me that day, I breathed a sigh of relief, believing it was a safe question 
and that my dad would simply tell him that he managed a small printing shop. Well, without 
missing a beat or cracking a smile, my father announced that he didn't like to work, had never 
worked, and didn't really see the value of work. Now that particular college president, unlike 
your own, did not have anything that resembled a sense of humor or even a small amount of 
compassion for the teenager melting into the floor in front of him, so he pretended to catch the 
eye of someone else and excused himself. I stand before you today as absolute living proof that, 
no matter what happens before they leave campus, your parents cannot embarrass you to 

The second thing I want to share with you - and this is the one I'm counting on you to 
remember - I borrow freely from a very important mentor in my life. I heard him give this sort 
of address to new students many times during the early years of my career, and I've never 
forgotten his main message. It came through almost as a mantra throughout the talk: "Your 
business here is to learn. Your business here is to learn." You are extraordinarily bright and 
talented, you bring a wealth of diverse experiences to our community, and you are about to be 
challenged in ways that you have not yet imagined. Don't ever forget that your business here is 
to learn. You may be the first in your family to go to college, or both of your parents might be 
college professors, but all of you will face uncertainties and doubts during your career here. 
Seek out and get the support you need so you can stay focused on the fact that your business 
here is to learn. You are about to enjoy a level of freedom and personal choice that you 
probably have not experienced in your life. You will be faced with choices that could be life-
altering. Don't forget that your business here is to learn.  You come from different regions of the 
US and many different countries around the globe. Work to understand both what is different 
across geographic boundaries and what is universal, because your business here is to learn. You 
have arrived at Whitman with strong views about politics, religion, music, sports, and did I 
mention politics? You will be invited to express those views in productive and sometimes 
unproductive ways. If your views are not challenged during your time here, and if you don't 
learn how to meaningfully express your views, we will have failed you, and you will have failed 
to remember that your business here is to learn. Colleges like to distinguish between a 
curriculum and a co-curriculum, but you have a single life at Whitman, and you will have 
opportunities to learn both within and beyond the classrooms. Take advantage of all of those 
opportunities and always remember that your business here is to learn. Now, my mentor would 
have gone on at some length until the fact that your business here is to learn was imprinted on 
your brain, but he was a college president for 25 years, and that longevity carries with it certain 
privileges. I'll simply encourage you to take advantage of everything this special place has to 
offer you in the next four years and remember that your business here is to learn. 

Now it is my pleasure to introduce to you the president of the Associated Students of Whitman 
College, Jack Percival. Jack has been actively involved with student government for the past 
three years, was a former Student Academic Advisor and also served on the Presidential Search 
Committee.  Jack is a senior history major from Stateline, Nevada, near Lake Tahoe.

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