Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We Have Work to Do, You and I

Convocation took place at 11:00 this morning. Compared to the previous two convocations, each of the respective speeches (student body president, guest speaker, and President Wright) was the best yet.

Travis Green, Dartmouth's new but already outstanding student body president, led the way with a speech that struck a very different tone than that of Noah Riner '06 and Tim Andreadis '07. The previous speeches were both prescriptive. Noah spoke about the need for character among Dartmouth students (infamously arguing for the importance of Jesus) and Tim discussed the need for action and awareness about sexual assault. Both speeches left a bitter taste in the minds of many. I remember listening to Noah's speech as a freshman and witnessing the sense of shock, both personal and all around the audience, as Noah said this line:
He gave His life for our sin so that we wouldn't have to bear the penalty of the law; so we could see love. The problem is me; the solution is God's love: Jesus on the cross, for us.
Tim's speech, on the other hand, wasn't offense or controversial in content at all, but seemed starkly out of place for convocation. Convocation is about the renewal of the academic year and the welcome of the new class, but Tim simply listed a series of statistics.

Travis, instead, gave a call-to-arms for freshmen to challenge their assumptions about themselves and to change and mold Dartmouth into the place they want it to be:
Class of 2011, it might not seem like it, but today, each of you has the same opportunity, along with a few advantages. Unlike those novices, you have a lot of people here to help. You also have two hundred forty attempts’ worth of experience to draw from. Unlike those white, male, preaching New Englanders and their founding Native American counterparts, you have potential friends from all walks of life, from all ranges of experience, and from all over the world.

Here, you’re freed from your past. Your roots are gone. You can choose which to grasp back on to, and what new ones to lay down. You don’t have to conform to what you were in high school. Jocks, nerds, goths, those segregations can disappear. You can make new friends, find new interests, reveal inner passions. Be who you want to be, while you make this College what you want it to be...

As [your Dartmouth spirit] grows, you will begin to answer questions integral to Dartmouth’s soul: Should there be a typical “Dartmouth man” and “Dartmouth woman”? Why do we have the cluster system? Does cutting-edge research enhance liberal arts teaching? Should Dartmouth value the Greek system? Does diversity matter to us? Is the D-Plan effective? Do athletics enhance the Dartmouth experience? What defines this Dartmouth? What defines your Dartmouth?
It was a very solid address and was warmly received. Rather than telling students what they should think or how they should act, he encouraged them to find the answers for questions about Dartmouth through personal exploration.

Bruce Duthu '80, a Vermont Law professor, a visiting professor at Dartmouth, and a former administrator of the college, spoke about the importance of humility and its connection to a liberal arts education. Though it sounds like a strange topic, it was a really great speech.

James Wright spoke eloquently about the role of affirmation action at Dartmouth. He began by discussing Dartmouth's historical commitment to diversity. The president then said that he agreed with the principle of race neutrality - that is, ideally people should not be considered or judged for better or worse on account of their race or heritage - but that Dartmouth and other colleges do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, affirmative action must exist to counteract fundamental differences in opportunity.

Wright then spoke about Robert Putnum's concept of social capital and its relation to diverse communities. He discussed a study which found that diverse communities actually have less social capital than homogeneous communities. But Wright refuted the study on the basis that a diverse communities is absolutely essential for the intellectual exploration that Dartmouth seeks to provide:

So, it is essential that we ask ourselves on this September morning whether all of this-the legal, constitutional, political, and cultural challenges of our time; the pessimism suggested by the Putnam research-whether all of this means that Dartmouth should back away from its historic principles and assumptions?

Having raised the question, I shall take the opportunity to provide an answer: No, to me it surely does not. This College's legacy and responsibility are richer than the cycles of politics. Our commitment to the nature of this learning community is older than the formation of this Republic.

The fundamental principle underlying this College and the liberal arts in general is to examine assumptions, to respond to new ideas, not stubbornly to hold to what we once thought to be true. The Putnam research makes more, rather than less, urgent our historic purpose. The appropriate response to these new findings cannot be to strive for homogeneous communities, which may, in the short term, have more social capital, but will surely not, in the long term, provide the intellectual excitement, the general stimulation, and the preparation for a lifetime of learning that Dartmouth seeks-as it has always sought to engender.

Wright ended his address with his usual closing phrase:

As has been my yearly custom, I would close this ceremony by reminding you, and myself, that now we turn enthusiastically to our task. We have work to do, you and I - and it is time to begin! Welcome to Dartmouth.


Anonymous said...

Sure "We Have Work to Do, You and I", but what work is he talking about? After nine years, how about a few details?

All hot air and no ideas this guy.

Anonymous said...

What work? The work of studying (for students) and presiding (for the President). Do you need it spelled out for you?

Truth Be Told said...

Geez Anon, you have such a way with words. Do you always see the world in such simple, literal terms?

Though in fact, you are correct that all Jim does is "preside": he looks over the Green and sees that all is well (because he is Pres.) and then goes back to raising money. But does he have any plan? Any priorities? Or is all perfect and therefore in need of no change?

For a response to these questions, talk to faculty members, who lament the total lack of leadership and initiative at Dartmouth.

Anonymous said...

Anon should really think of attending college, though he might have trouble getting in, given the seemingly poor quality of his high school. I bet that he thinks that George Bush is doing a good job "presiding" over the country.