Convocation Remarks by President Lewis E. Thayne,
August 21, 2014
Good afternoon. I am very happy to see all of you: students, parents, grandparents, families, faculty, and staff—our dedicated trustees. This is a big day.
To the Class of 2018—Welcome. We are so glad you are here. I look forward to getting to know you; and Mrs. Thayne and I will greet you individually at Kreiderheim on Sunday.
To the parents of the Class of 2018, thank you for sending your sons and daughters to Lebanon Valley College. Rest easy. They made the right decision to come here. Now, please enjoy being part of this amazing educational experience and journey.
I could not process this afternoon and had to change my usual routine of walking through the residence halls this morning. I really enjoy “move-in”—seeing roommates talking with each other, making decisions together, families consulting over details and placement of furniture.
I had to change my routine because two weeks ago, while hiking with my son and daughter in Maine, I slipped on a boulder, turned my foot under my leg, and broke two bones. Thus, the crutches and the boot.
A team of 18 park rangers and volunteers carried me out of Acadia National Park. After strapping me onto a litter, shifts of seven proceeded to carry me down a trail to a carriage road where an ambulance met us.
During the carry-out, I lay there, immobilized, and intensely alert to my surroundings. I observed the carry-out team at very, very close quarters. It was a diverse group of people and I want to share some observations that I hope you will appreciate. What I noticed in that hour was that teamwork is really difficult. Some members of a team are stronger than others. Some people outperform at times, and underperform at others. Some combinations of team members work really well. Other combinations do not work well at all. Talking to each other kept the team focused on progress, not on how hard it was to carry me. Talking to me, focusing on my injury, was a distraction to the team. There were men and women on the team. Forget stereotypes of gender. They are practically meaningless. Forget stereotypes of all kinds. They are a distraction. Forget trying to figure out motivations. Forget small slights and moods.
When we reached the carriage road, I mentioned to a park ranger that I was not able to thank everyone because a meeting related to the next day’s duties had started. “Are you kidding?” he asked, “You made their day. This is a Search and Rescue Group. This is what they live for.” This was interesting to me. I was not a burden. I was a vehicle for the team members to express their desire to help others, to connect to the park (which they loved), to connect to each other, and to connect to the rewards of service and accomplishment.
My lesson: Whatever you think of as your burden is really just a vehicle for your aspirations. Whenever you think of yourself as a burden, in that moment you are gift to others. Let others carry you for a while. Hopefully, I will remember this and hopefully you will also.
I want to share with you three narratives about Lebanon Valley College that I think of as defining narratives, that is, part of our DNA.
The first is about our founding in 1866. This College was not created from privilege. Actually, it was created from risk. None of the founders attended College; and none of them were wealthy. All of the founders believed that to have a place at the table in American society, their children and their children’s children would need an education. Further, they believed that education could truly provide a better life. This sounds so obvious, but at the time it was anything but obvious.
In these beliefs, the founders encountered fierce opposition from those who were more than skeptical about the value of higher education. But, by calling on their courage, by studying what others had done, by risking their livelihoods, the founders persevered and developed a set of goals for a thorough and practical education; and they founded a college.
The first catalogue of the College states confidently, “All human knowledge begins in experiences.” Not dogma or books alone, or theories or ideologies, but experiences. A liberal education is a radical American notion, tested for 148 years here in Annville and still evolving. Here at Lebanon Valley College, it is an immersive experience, gathering into it and relevant to every aspect of your work and life. It is an education for a lifetime.
Such is the confidence we have in you—each of you—and such is the confidence your families have. We believe there is greatness in each one of you and that it is through education that your greatness will be realized in the world.
The second narrative pertains to seeing the College in a global perspective. Only a tiny percentage of the world’s population will have the benefit of the education you are about to experience. You have yet to attend a class, but simply by being at a residential college, on a 340-acre campus, and in our gymnasium, you are in revolutionary space. Your fellow students around the world in a global generation attending university have no campus and do not test their abilities in athletic contests. They have no gym. There are no teams. They do not “move in” because there are no residence halls. There is no band, no service or social organizations. They do not expect to collaborate with their professors or even with one another. For most of the globe, their beliefs about education do not include the elements that are essential to ours.
Here we believe that to achieve a thorough education every dimension of your humanity must be involved: mind, character, and body. Here we hold as primary the idea that education can change lives, that the education of the individual can have a profound and transforming effect on a family, a community, a society, and even on the world.
And, finally, a narrative about shaping your own experience. This summer, I attended a Coffee Hour in Neidig-Garber where science students presented their ongoing summer research work. Fifty students in chemistry, biology, and physics gathered together weekly with five or six faculty members. The format is simple: students make interesting presentations on research in progress. The presentation is followed by tough questions and respectful suggestions from faculty and fellow students. My point is this: the Coffee Hour had the character of a group of people having fun learning from each other and shaping each other’s experience.
Responsible students have always shaped their own experience at Lebanon Valley College and shaped our history as they have done so. This cannot and should not change. This is your College for the time you are here. We count on you to make it better during your undergraduate years and, eventually, to do so as alumni. We count on you to find joy in shaping your experience, to have fun in learning.
This beautiful campus itself will be a well-head for you, a place of beauty and comfort while you are here, a place of continuous renewal and refreshment for you throughout your lives.
We all have high expectations for the next four years. You should each expect an individual experience. You should expect to be treated as an individual and to have an experience different than anyone else’s.
We have expectations of you as well. We expect that you will take full advantage of this extraordinary opportunity and achieve your full potential, as you can, during your time here. As I have said to my own children: Become an interesting person.
My charge to all of you in the Class of 2018 is to find common ground among your peers, especially with those who are in some way different than you are. Having found that common ground, I charge you and all of us here at the College—students and faculty and staff—to find a common ceiling.
I charge the Class of 2018 and all who are here to make sure our common ceiling is high enough to contain our personal aspirations and our shared hopes for the work we are engaged in—educating a new generation of leaders and making a better world.
Now let’s get started with a great year. Go Valley!