Jump the navigation

August 29, 2022: Convocation Remarks

Remarks by President Sarah Bolton at the Whitman College Convocation ceremony held on August 29, 2022:

Students, staff and faculty and guests, I am delighted to add my welcome to the start of our year together. Thank you to our wonderful speakers—Provost Alzada Tipton, ASWC President Gabby Rose, Professor Janet Davis, Power and Privilege co-chair Merry Cocroft, and Andrew Harter, student chair of the academic theme—for your thought-provoking and inspiring remarks. Thank you also to our musicians for the wonderful music, and a special thanks to Dean Helen Kim and everyone in the Provost’s office and facilities team who have made this event possible.

Convocation means a calling together. And the start of the year is our opportunity to reflect on the work we are called to do, as individuals and as a community. And at this particular convocation—our first in person since 2019—I am particularly aware of the gift of moving from isolation back into community with one another, and of the potential that Whitman’s brilliant, diverse and intentional community holds.

Students: As you start this year, I invite you to think about who you are, the strengths and wisdom you hold, the truths by which you navigate, and the ways—both large and small—that you might act for the good of others in the year to come.

Faculty and staff: I hope that hearing from our speakers today reminds you of the power and importance of the work that you do. I thank you for your devotion to these remarkable young people and to the futures they are building.

We come together today in a time of rapid change and great disruption. We are experiencing dramatic technological, societal, environmental and economic shifts, and of course, several historic pandemics. Nationally and globally, we are facing deep division and overt racism, sometimes backed up by violence. Martin Luther King’s final book of 1967, “Where do we go from here, Chaos or Community?” seems remarkably timely.

In such a moment, we may reasonably ask whether the actions of one small college community matter. I say they absolutely do, because of the ways that students learn and grow here, and the futures that they build, and because of the knowledge that is created here through scholarly work. Whitman’s mission is tremendously important, because Whitman graduates—ethical leaders with a broad and global perspective, people ready to ask hard questions and solve complex problems can make a powerful impact in every community and every kind of work—an impact that is part of creating the just and thriving future society we want and need.

When we reflect on our current moment, and look ahead, it seems clear that we need to redouble our commitment to the heart of our college. Whitman must continue to be a place where students engage deeply with a broad range of subjects and ways of knowing, and a place where the community of learners—from across the country and around the world—is strong.

The challenges of our time—and the challenges that students will address in decades to come—will demand the capacities developed in a liberal arts education—an understanding of arts, literature, science, history, human expression, critical analysis and effective communication—and they will also require collaboration and connection. Progress in addressing our most important issues will depend not just on deep knowledge of one subject, but on the ability to bring together multiple methodologies and ways of knowing, as Whitman students do every day.

And it’s not just connection across ideas that matters. Connection among people matters just as much. A diverse college community is both a moral imperative and a necessity for an excellent education, preparing leaders ready to make an outsize impact in the world. But simply bringing people together is not enough. Ours must also become a genuinely equitable and inclusive community, so that people of all nationalities, genders, races, ethnicities, sexualities, abilities and faiths thrive. Equity and excellence are inextricably linked, and we will stand up for our values and work relentlessly to address bias and discrimination, to create a space that is genuinely and deeply welcoming for all.

So: students, as go out into the bright sunshine to embark on your first day of classes, what are YOU called on to do? You will each have your own answers, but here are mine.

  1. Learn broadly—for real—with your whole heart and mind. Perhaps you think that some of your classes will matter to your professional success, and others are just for requirements or for fun. I’m here to tell you that every course you take, every perspective that you gain, every way of thinking that you learn, will have an impact on who you are and in the work you do in the world. So: invest yourself fully in all of these subjects—the ones you know you love as well as the ones you didn’t like in high school, or were afraid of or even landed in by accident. It’s when you bring them together that you gain the most unique—and perhaps the most groundbreaking—insights; ones that will allow you to go where others have not gone before.

  2. And, invest yourself fully in the people around you—not just the ones with whom you have a lot in common or those with whom you immediately agree, but with everyone. This is one of the best ways to learn, and one of the best ways to make the most of Whitman’s most extraordinary resource: our people. Snap Chat will always be there, but the most important thing to you can do while you are here is to recommit to this lived, in person, face-to-face, intentional community of learners. It’s the reason we are all here, living and learning together in one place.

Learning across many fields and connecting deeply with others may seem optional, or incidental to reaching your goals as a college student and in your life. But they are not. They are bedrock, because they allow us to understand our history, one another, and ourselves, and by doing so to face the future and our own responsibilities with new eyes.

Students and colleagues, we have a sacred opportunity to undertake this transformative work together, and to use the understanding we gain to create a more just world. I wish each of you a wonderful start to the semester, and thank you for all that you each bring to our community, now and for the future.

I hereby declare the 2022–2023 school year open! I wish you a marvelous year, and look forward to our journey together.

beaker duck hiker icon-a-to-z icon-arrow-circle-down icon-arrow-circle-up icon-arrow-down icon-arrow-left icon-arrow-right icon-arrow-up icon-calendar-no-circle icon-calendar icon-camera icon-clock icon-cv icon-dot icon-down-triangle icon-email-circle icon-email icon-external-link icon-facebook icon-flickr icon-generic-blog icon-google-plus icon-home icon-instagram icon-library icon-link-circle icon-link-inverted icon-linkedin icon-lock icon-magazine icon-map-pin icon-map2 icon-menu-hamburger icon-menu-mobile-a icon-menu-mobile-b icon-menu-x icon-mywhitman-cog icon-news icon-phone icon-pinterest icon-play icon-quote icon-search-a icon-search-b icon-search-mobile-a icon-search-mobile-b icon-share icon-snail-mail icon-tumblr icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube logo-whitman-nc-flat logo-whitman-nc-stacked logo-whitman-no-clocktower slider-category-arrow-2px slider-category-arrow-no-line slider-category-arrow-solid slider-category-arrow slider-category-line-2px slider-category-line-solid slider-category-line tc_icon-filmstrip-fl tc_icon-filmstrip-ln tc_icon-play-fl-closed tc_icon-play-fl-open tc_icon-play-ln-closed tc_icon-play-ln-open wifi