Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Pavilion at Ole Miss
Greetings! Thanks to all in attendance. Thank you to everyone who had a hand in organizing this wonderful event.
Welcome, Class of 2020! 2020 is a year that looms large in the imagination. Here are some predictions that people and news sources have made about what the world will be like by the year 2020:
- China will create a high speed train that travels all the way from Beijing to London!
- 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road
- And we’ll be able to harness brain waves via implanted microchips, and use them to control computers, televisions, and cell phones.
Will these predictions come true? Only time will tell.
But one thing we can say with certainty is that it is an exciting time. Much will change over the next four years. You will change — college does that to you, or certainly should! It’s an exciting personal change that will open many doors.
I wish I could go around the room and have you all introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about you and how you’re adjusting to life on campus. But. . . there are just too many exits in this building to risk it! So I’m just going to do a quick show-of-hands survey:
- Raise your hand if you have already greeted someone with a “Hotty Toddy”!
- Raise your hand if your parents decorated your room!
- Raise your hand if you’ve tried the chicken on a stick from the corner gas station!
You’ll learn lots of great things about Ole Miss and the people here who make it so special. During your four years here at Ole Miss, you are going to learn what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel. Your four years here will change you. But more than that, you will change this university, make this university better. And even more than that, you will go out and change lives, change your communities, and change the world. At the heart of this change is the transformative power of higher education that you will carry in you for your entire life.
Sitting here tonight, it might feel a little daunting to you to think how all that can possibly happen. So I want to share with you three things. I want to share how you go from the beginning of your journey here tonight to four years from now when you are transformed by
- the power of the higher education
- the power of the University of Mississippi
- the power of being an Ole Miss Rebel
The three things I want to share are these:
- Listening is the key to success — both in the classroom and outside of it.
- Every voice matters — find yours and use it.
- Be respectful — of one other, our place, and yourselves.
First, let me talk about listening and why it’s important. Our great university is a microcosm of the world, meaning it encapsulates in miniature the characteristics of the entire world — not just Mississippi, the South, and the U.S. All you need to do is look around you. When you’re out walking, staying present in the moment, fully exploring new places, you will be surprised by the many different things you find.
The University of Mississippi is a community made up of many kinds of people, from many different places, taking part in many different activities.
- We have over 100 majors and academic programs here.
- We have over 250 clubs and organizations.
- There will be over 300 service events this year.
- And thousands of class meetings . . .
- In this incoming class, we have students from nearly every state in the country (44 states).
- 43% are from Mississippi and 57% from out of state.
- Including 1 from Alaska and 404 from Texas!
- Our student population overall represents 90 countries.
- Including 21 from Nepal here tonight!
I especially urge you to study abroad. In fact, start planning it now. It can be short term. . . or even better, an entire semester during your sophomore or junior year. It will be a life-changing and life-expanding experience. It will position you for the increasingly global world that you will live and work in each and every day.
Here on campus, our university provides the diverse environment to expand your mind, challenge you, and introduce you to new ways of thinking. Embrace this opportunity. Make an effort to get out of your comfort zone. Expand your horizons. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes… as long as you learn from them!
Listen carefully to the points of view of those with whom you disagree — you may change your mind on some issues. Challenge the point of view of those with whom you agree — you may strengthen your own view.
If you cannot persuasively argue for another point of view, you don’t really understand or fully appreciate your own.
A big part of your college experience will be learning how to listen to other voices. You will learn how to engage in civil discourse, how to think critically, and how to challenge assumptions. But you can only do these things if you listen first.
I know it takes dedication to really listen to others. I know that fact because back in late January I started a 100-day listening and learning tour called the Flagship Forum. I interacted with over 200 groups on this campus and around the state and nation.
Every day I saw firsthand evidence of the greatness of this university. All great institutions share one element in common: They always seeking to get even better.
And so during the Flagship Forum I asked and talked about several questions:
- What does it take for our university to go to the next level of excellence?
- To go from great to greater?
- What should we preserve about the essence of the university that is important for excellence?
This coming year we will be exploring as a community how this university can become better than ever.
In this microcosm of the world, you — and only you — can bring your unique perspective and experiences to our community. You each play a big part in keeping this place great and making it even greater for all our future students — for those who will join us next year and the year after that, even long after you’ve graduated and gone on to your successful lives and careers.
After all, it’s important to remember that all of you have one thing in common: you chose Ole Miss. You share a common bond now that can never be broken. Over the next four years, you’ll share experiences that will be unique to your class. Tonight is the first step in your shared experiences. Keep that commonality in mind even as you embrace your differences.
The second point I want to emphasize is that every voice matters.
I’m excited to be speaking with y’all tonight. However, I’m not the speaker originally scheduled. Traditionally that honor goes to the author of the Common Reading Experience book.
In the Common Reading Experience, we all come together and read one text, so that we can discuss it together.
Think about a movie you saw with your parents. Or a time you learned exciting news in your hometown and discussed it with your family and friends over dinner. That’s the purpose of the Common Read — to get us all on the same page and have exciting discussions about something we read together.
This year, the Common Reading Experience book is a collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians, by Sherman Alexie, a poet and a writer. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Some of the stories touch upon what it means to be a college student in our wonderfully diverse country.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Sherman Alexie with us tonight. He was scheduled to come, but cancelled in protest of a new law, H.B. 1523, that Mississippi passed in April.
A bit about this law: It allows religious officials, circuit clerks, and private businesses to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community. Because many people feel this law is unconstitutional, it is being challenged in federal court. It was struck down in June by U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, but since then it has been appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Therefore, whether or not it can be legally enforced is still in the process of being decided — and it may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I made clear last April that here at the University of Mississippi, we will always respect the dignity of each person — ours is a free, open, and inclusive environment of intellectual inquiry.
The passage of this law led many people throughout the country to protest the state of Mississippi. People and institutions are in effect boycotting Mississippi. Governors of New York, Washington, Vermont, and Minnesota issued executive orders banning nonessential travel to Mississippi. Included in this group was Sherman Alexie.
While the motivation of these boycotts is to encourage Mississippi to repeal the law, Sherman Alexie’s cancellation is an unfortunate loss. Boycotts isolate Mississippi’s people from broader perspectives and ideas. They discourage corporations from bringing business to our state. They challenge our ability to attract the best and brightest. In particular, they are unfair to you, as you are just now beginning to participate in civic life.
Even so, there is a small silver lining to these boycotts. The boycotts give us an opportunity to embrace our voice — to be a part of the discussion of what makes this place unique and great. It is a reminder that each of you is what makes this place unique and great, and it is an opportunity and responsibility to reaffirm our commitment to inclusion.
This commitment leads me to the UM Creed and to my third point, Respect each other, this place, and yourselves.
You will soon be hearing the Creed read aloud in its entirety by ASB president Austin Powell. It is one of the most important things we can talk about on the eve of your journey into college. If we think about the University of Mississippi as a microcosm of the world, then consider the UM Creed to be our shared pledge to one other. Essentially, it asks us to commit to
- Respect for the dignity of each person and all that it entails;
- Fairness and civility;
- Academic honesty;
- Academic freedom; and
- Being good stewards and setting a positive example.
The Creed guides our institution and has recently influenced several pivotal decisions on this campus, including the removal of the state flag last fall in the Lyceum Circle and the creation of a committee to contextualize some of our historical sites on campus. Last week we just kicked off the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context.
Our Creed also gives us a way to process and understand troubling and upsetting events that occur on our campus, so that we can learn from them. Events such as the one last spring, when our campus community was shaken by a troubling event. This troubling event occurred during a fraternity-sponsored event that was, in spirit, intended to be philanthropic.
Philanthropic — let’s parse that word together. The origins are Greek. “Philia” means “love.” You likely know that “Philadelphia” is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” “Anthropos” means humanity. For example, you likely know that “anthropology” is the study of humans, past and present. Putting Philia and Anhropos together, you get “Philanthropy,” which means the love of humanity — and giving of yourself and your resources to help humanity.
My point is that this event was a philanthropic event — to promote goodness and charitability. Ironically, it instead became the setting for the unacceptable sexual harassment of female students.
The values in our Creed are plainspoken and clear. Our Creed emphasizes respect for the dignity of each person and our belief in fairness and civility. The unacceptable sexual harassment of female students at this event stands in sharp contrast to the values that are stated in absolute terms within our Creed.
I wish I could tell you that this occurrence was an outrageous outlier. But the truth is that things like this do happen. They have happened here, and they happen at other colleges and universities. In many ways, these events are symptoms of larger cultural issues.
However, I am not suggesting that because these things do happen, it means that they inevitably will happen, or that they have to happen. On the contrary, these things do not have to happen; they must not happen.
Because Ole Miss is better than that. We are all better than that. Because there is a medicine that can treat these larger cultural issues. That magic pill is called respect — the first element of our Creed. It’s a resource that can be found within all of us.
Tonight, I charge you to aspire to the tenets of our Creed. We have great role models at Ole Miss to guide you.
Be like the leadership of our fraternities and sororities, who are working together to make our campus better. They have stepped up bigtime and have pledged to change the culture that allows such incidents to happen. They have pledged to educate their members and re-focus their efforts on making a difference in the community. The entire fraternity system at Ole Miss is making great strides forward.
Be like Elizabeth Romary. Elizabeth, an Ole Miss senior, was among 28 students chosen nationally for the It’s On Us Student Advisory Committee. Launched by the White House, the program is a grassroots, student-led approach to combatting sexual violence. Elizabeth will help organize students to encourage bystander intervention and support survivors.
Be like our African American student leaders. They are working with our university police dept. to develop strong relationships and build trust between students and law enforcement — to increase awareness and understanding of all perspectives.
Be like Connor Edwards. Connor, a recent Ole Miss grad, was transformed after spending two summers abroad — teaching in Thailand and Japan. Connor found a way to connect with others, embrace differences, and be a great servant leader and Ole Miss ambassador. He helped start the “Global Café” on campus to bring international students and American students together to meet and foster friendships and share cultures.
Be like our Olympic medalist Sam Kendricks. Sam, a member of the Ole Miss track and field family, has garnered national attention beyond his bronze medal-winning pole vault performance at the Olympics. What could be more impressive than winning an Olympic medal? Well. . . how about Sam’s displays of respect and sportsmanship — not just once, but twice: First, when Sam was running during a practice jump at the Olympics, about to start his jump, he stopped dead in his tracks and stood at attention when he heard our National Anthem being played. Later, you probably saw on Twitter his celebratory and selfless reaction to the Brazilian pole vaulter winning the gold medal.
Follow these great Ole Miss Rebel role models as you go venture out into your freshman year, and as you continue all of your years at Ole Miss. You have great privilege and great responsibility within our community: You are now part of the Ole Miss Family. There is no better word to describe our community than as a family.
You will be called to act upon your responsibilities to uphold the UM Creed as individuals and as part of that family. By following the Creed, we can have the difficult, but respectful discussions we must have as a family and as a community.
You might think, “I’m just one person!” And indeed, our university is a big and growing place. Yet the truth is that. . . what you do matters. Your voice matters.
In conclusion, I would like to offer some of my own predictions about 2020:
- I predict you’ll become passionate about a subject that today is a total mystery to you — perhaps something you’ve never even heard of before.
- I predict you’ll make a friend who is unlike anyone you’ve ever met before.
- And I predict that you will embrace the transformative power of being a Rebel, of being at Ole Miss, and a citizen of the world.
Go! Experience! Keep your head up, and your eyes open. Sharon and I will see you often around campus and at various university events. I want to hear from you. And please follow me on Twitter @UMchancellor and check out the blog on my web page so you can hear from me!
Some of you may know that I took a panoramic view of my first graduation and tweeted it. So, tonight I’m starting a new tradition as chancellor. Class of 2020, you’ll be my first panoramic of our newest Rebels!
So, REBELS, fins up and smile!