Opening Convocation 2016
Lied Center – August 21, 2016
Good evening, Jayhawks! Welcome to Convocation, and to the University of Kansas!
I’m glad you’ve chosen KU as your home for the next few years.I use the word “home” because this place will soon feel like home, and the people here will soon become your Jayhawk Family.
Convocation is our official kickoff to the academic year, and a celebration of the work you’re about to do as a scholar. A KU education is an extraordinary opportunity. And beginning tomorrow, I expect you to begin taking advantage of this opportunity.
Now, you’re probably excited – and maybe a bit nervous –to begin classes tomorrow. But here’s something that might put your mind at ease. ... When KU had its first opening ceremony in 1866, not a single student was ready for college-level work.
It’s true! Back then, Kansas had not yet created high schools, so every KU student was academically unprepared for college.
Now, I happen to know that this year’s freshman class, the Class of 2020, is absolutely prepared to be here. I know this because your ACT scores and high school GPAsare among the highest in KU history. I know you’re prepared to be here because of your past achievements and activities. And I know you’re prepared to be here because I joined many of you earlier today for group discussions about this year’s Common Book, titled “Between the World and Me.” I must say, I was very impressed by the insights you shared during those discussions. And I’m excited to think about the many additional conversations you’ll have about complex topics as you work toward your degree.
Following that first opening ceremony in 1866, KU enrolled 55 students for the first day of class. Today, we have a first-year class of 4,000, as well as 1,200 new transfer students, and students from all 50 states, and more than 100 countries. What started as a small college on the hill has become a multi-campus, international research university. And now each of you is a part of it.
Tonight we welcome back our returning students, faculty and staff. But I especially want to welcome our newest Jayhawks on the eve of your great adventure … an adventure that begins this week and culminates when you walk down the Hill with your degree on graduation day.
Now, I want to be very, very clear about something: I have high expectations for you. The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world. And it’s my expectation that each of you will contribute to this mission.
First, I expect each of you to graduate on time — in four years, for most of you.
I also expect you’ll be active members of our community, which includes our “academic community” — our community of scholars. You are now surrounded by people who choose to be here because, like you, they want to learn, discover, and make a difference. We expect you to take advantage of this community by learning from it, and contributing to it. And I expect you to seize this opportunity.
This is an exciting time to be at the University of Kansas: We recently launched a new Core Curriculum designed to provide you the skills and experiences you need to succeed when you graduate. We’ve recruited some of the best faculty in the country to educate and guide you. And we have added spectacular new and renovated facilities across campus to provide you some of the best learning and living spaces in the country.
In other words, we’ve transformed this university with new programs, new faculty, new buildings and spaces. And now it’s your turn to take advantage of these resources and this opportunity to transform yourself.
And I promise, if you take advantage of all KU has to offer, this will be a transformative experience for you.
Now, part of taking advantage of this opportunity means being open to new ideas and challenging yourself with difficult topics. And as we continue to be reminded, one of our nation’s most pervasive challenges continues to be race, and the related issues of social justice and inequality. That’s why we chose “Between the World and Me” as this year’s Common Book.
When I read the book the first time, I found it upsetting. It made me profoundly sad, then angry, and then hopeful.
How many of you found the book challenging or upsetting? How many of you thought the book made some good points? Or some terrible points? How many of you loved the book? How many of you hated the book?
It’s possible you thought all of these things while reading the book. And that’s good, because it means you’re thinking critically, and you’re willing to engage on complicated issues.
The past few years have seen a magnification of some of our nation’s toughest challenges. Every day it seems, the news touches on issues like wealth disparity, gun policy, climate change, the need for new sources of energy and water, immigration, safety and security. These are complicated issues. nd they reflect the many disciplines that you will study at KU.
And so this is where you come in: My wish for you is that you use your time at KU to begin addressing these challenges. Seek them out and confront them, both in your coursework and your experiences outside the classroom.
Don’t just sign up for the class that you think will give you an easy “A.” Sign up for the class that will challenge you and move you from your comfort zone.
Don’t just hang out with the classmates from your hometown or your home country. Also seek out people who don’t look like you, talk like you or think like you.
Test new ideas. Get involved. Have discussions. Have disagreements.
Jayhawks, I do not want you to be the same person four years from now that you are today. And similarly, I don’t want the university you leave to be the same as you found it when you arrived. What can you do to improve this community? Figure that out, and do it.
When you walk down that Hill and graduate, I want you to have transformed yourself into the person you want to be.
Now is your time to begin that transformation.
A KU education is an extraordinary opportunity. Seize it.
So … tomorrow begins your great adventure.
Adventures are exciting. And often intimidating.
But it’s OK to feel a bit intimidated, because there’s an entire network here to support you.
The faculty up here on the stage? They’ve got your back.
Your classmates here tonight? They’ve got your back.
The incredible KU professors, staff members, mentors and alumni you’ll begin meeting tomorrow? They’ve got your back.
And so do I.
You are now part of the Jayhawk Family. And families look out for one other.
Welcome to the University of Kansas. I’m glad that each and every one of you is here.