Opening Remarks for Convocation 2016
2016 CONVOCATION | President’s Remarks | September 6, 2016
On behalf of the whole university community, I welcome all new members of the PLU community: students, faculty, staff, administrators, regents, and the voting members of the PLU Corporation. We’re all delighted that you are part of our family of Lutes. This ceremony opens our academic year and gives us an opportunity to welcome, especially, our new first year students, transfer students, and graduate students.
Now it is time, in this convocation, this calling together of the community, for you to be formally inducted into our academic community. This ceremony, with its ritual elements recalling the medieval ceremonies of the first European universities, welcomes you as worthy colleagues. In addition to your fellow students, seated around you are the faculty, staff, administrators, and regents of PLU, together with elected representatives of the 581 congregations in Region 1 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who serve in a body called the PLU Corporation, which confirms the members of our governing body, the Board of Regents. We assemble this distinguished company to welcome you to the serious and noble work of this University—and to pledge our commitment to your success.
It is a rite of passage inviting you to subscribe to the mission and common values of this place: Thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care – for other people, for their communities and for the Earth. The values that have shaped this university – and this region – are vitally present in PLU today. I hope you will reflect on these values in the months ahead and incorporate their principles into your learning—and your actions.
I’d like to delve a bit deeper into what we mean by “care for other people and for their communities.” I expect that all of you have left a community of love and support. But you will come to realize that this place will become a new community; one that challenges you, yes, but also supports you and helps you grow in ways that you can only imagine now.
You’ll become part of a community that includes nearly 50,000 alumni scattered over 64 countries around the world. You’ll also form community with your professors and advisers. You’ll have the opportunity to work in close collaboration with faculty members…some of you may even have the opportunity to do published research and creative projects with your professors. But perhaps the most important community is the one you will establish with your fellow students; you’re likely to make friends here that will last a lifetime. You are now a member of all of these communities – you will forever have a tie to PLU.
You will be challenged to examine and consider many points of view here. And, you’ll be encouraged to expand your community of care. I imagine that it’s not hard for you to empathize with your immediate family and close friends, but it can be a real challenge to understand and feel for people outside of your circle. At PLU, you will be encouraged to value, respect and understand another person’s views, even when you don’t agree with them. Empathy is a function of both compassion and of seeing from another person’s perspective, and it is the key to civil discourse and thoughtful inquiry.
We have all been witnesses to a political season enveloped by a cloud of racial, ethnic, and religious animosity – much of it poorly informed. The upshot is that this election year, we’re divided not only by political party and ideology, but also increasingly by identity. This history is being written not just in the nation’s capital, but also in small and large communities across the nation and etched in the lives of ordinary people.
I encourage you to listen carefully to people outside of your immediate circle; take this opportunity in your life to think broadly and take in multiple perspectives. I encourage you to talk about and speculate on the feelings of people who are particularly vulnerable or in need. Talk about, and think about, how those people could be helped and comforted, and then take action to do so. Our Lutheran heritage inspires us to build bridges, not to label people as “us and them,” but to recognize that we’re all part of the same family. Our community is a stronger place when we choose to look past labels and embrace others with love and respect.
Even when we do feel empathy for others, societal pressures and prejudices can sometimes block our ability to express concern. I encourage you to name those stereotypes and prejudices, and to talk about your anger, envy, shame and other negative emotions. Ultimately, I hope that each of you will model conflict resolution and respectful discourse in your own actions, and that you will not hesitate to seek out members of this community to help you work through any challenging feelings in your own life.
I hope that as you make your way through this place and become a worthy member of our Lute community that you, too, will find your own ways to contribute to our culture of care. As you do so in this particular time in our society’s life, please focus on ways to overcome our racial divisions, and help heal our communities, large and small, and to be kind and compassionate to one another. I hope that you will find caring faculty members and fellow students who are committed to doing the important work of – once and for all – righting the wrongs of our society and paving the way to a world where all are treated with respect and dignity. If we can create a more peaceful and cooperative environment in our own community, just imagine what we could accomplish in a world populated by caring and compassionate Lutes?
I wish you great success at PLU, and I look forward to hearing how your stories will unfold with us.