At this afternoon's Convocation ceremony, 392 new first-year and 18 transfer students heard Whitman President Kathleen Murray, sociology professor Keith Farrington and AnnaMarie McCorvie '18 stress the college's commitment to academic inquiry, diversity of opinion and community.
"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," Murray said in her opening remarks. "If your views are not challenged during your time here, and if you don't learn how to meaningfully express your views, if we do not make you uncomfortable at times, we will have failed you."
Murray then restated some of the college's core beliefs to a crowd that also included families of the Class of 2021 and Whitman community members.
"Racism and bigotry, hatred and violence are antithetical to our values as a nation and as a Whitman community and will not be tolerated or ignored," she said, emphasizing the importance of empathy.
Murray then introduced politics major and president of the Associated Students of Whitman College McCorvie, who delivered a seriocomic address on analagous themes. She called college a time for self-discovery, quoting two personal inspirations—poet E. E. Cummings, who said, "it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are"; and cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, who opined, "If I've learned anything, it's that you are who you are."
"If we are even going to begin to consider tackling global climate change and growing wealth inequality and a whole host of other overwhelming issues," she said, then understanding ourselves is vital. It is also exhausting, she added—so her new classmates should take as many naps as possible, McCorvie advised.
Farrington told the incoming class, who form part of a student body of around 1,500, that Whitman fosters diversity of thought, tolerance and academic rigor.
"We always want you to think, but we'll never tell you what to think," he said. In an age of "fake news" and "alternative facts," continued Farrington, the Laura and Carl Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences, Whitman and its faculty remain dedicated to the pursuit of true facts and real knowledge. "These national and international events and realities are important, and they will be shaping the world in which you live and into which you will graduate in four short years."
After a musical interlude featuring music major and mezzo-soprano Olivia Caldwell-Nepveux '18 performing Mozart's "Alma grande e nobil" aria, Murray officially opened the academic year with some final words of wisdom:
"Explore multiple paths in order to identify your passion, seek out advice from different perspectives [and] recognize that your passion will likely take you in many different directions throughout your life."
Class of 2021 by the numbers
392 first-year students
50 first-generation college students
33 states represented, with the most from Washington, California and Oregon, respectively
24 percent students of color
18 transfer students
18 countries represented, with the largest contingent from China and others from Albania, Australia, Belarus, Botswana, Canada, Guyana, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Mongolia, Rwanda, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and Vietnam.
The class includes 1 Ebola researcher, 1 tiny house builder, 1 published novelist and 1 competitive Irish dancer.