Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Remarks to the 145th Opening Convocation of the University of Kansas

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good evening, Jayhawks! It is my pleasure to join you for the 2010 Opening Convocation.

Tonight marks the 145th time the university community has come together to celebrate the beginning of a school year. It is a time when we reunite with our colleagues, as well as welcome new students, faculty and staff to the university.

And this year, we also welcome three new academic leaders: Provost Jeff Vitter, Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Robert Walzel, dean of KU's newest school, the School of Music.

Convocation is a fitting time to talk about what it means to be part of the university community — to be a citizen of what we call the Jayhawk Nation.

Just like citizens of a country, we each have certain rights and responsibilities as members of this very special nation. There is no formal oath of citizenship to join, unless you count the Alma Mater and the Rock Chalk Chant.

But just because there is no formal oath does not mean we should take our membership in this community any less seriously.

As faculty, staff and administrators, we all have a responsibility to our students, our colleagues and the people we serve, here in Kansas and around the world.

This university was founded to pursue, and then share, knowledge for the benefit of all. You carry out that mission every day in your classes, in your work with students and the support you provide them so they can achieve their academic goals.

But you also carry out that mission through your commitment to scholarship. Your dedication to the research and creative work that informs and inspires is at the heart of our mission because it enables our students to learn from individuals who are actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.

That is what makes a research university special and it is what makes KU attractive to current and future scholars. While our research and creative endeavors are already well-known for their ability to attract graduate students, your excellence in these areas also brings undergraduates to KU.

Often these are some of our most talented students. They come here because they want an opportunity to put their intellectual abilities to the test, such as by submitting an article to a professional journal in collaboration with a faculty member or by participating in the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

As a result, your commitment to scholarship is also a commitment to our students. Our work as scholars and our work as teachers are two sides of the same coin, and they both enrich the academic life of our university.

Of course, we should not be mistaken in thinking that a commitment to students is made only by faculty and staff who work in academic areas. It is one that is shared by every employee of KU.

Let me give you an example. How many of the students here were unsure about coming to KU until you set foot on campus for the first time?

I have heard from many students and alumni that seeing campus is what sealed the deal for them, ensuring they would be citizens of the Jayhawk Nation and not join some other group, perhaps one following a feline mascot.

They said the beauty of campus showed them how much people here care about the university and that made them want to be a part of our community.

As a result, with every flower planted and building constructed, the men and women in Facilities Operations and Design and Construction Management are playing an active and important role in the recruitment and retention of our students. Not to mention making it possible for us to teach classes and conduct research.

This is just one example. There are many more that also demonstrate how the work of every faculty and staff member at KU is important because it helps us fulfill our university's mission of discovering and sharing knowledge.

I want to thank you for dedication to this university and, more importantly, your dedication to our students.

Now, as fellow citizens of the Jayhawk Nation, the students here tonight also have certain responsibilities. And I'm speaking to both our returning students and those of you about to attend your first college classes tomorrow.

Of course, your primary responsibility is to be successful in the classroom. That will require more than just going to class. I am sure everyone has been telling you that college is different from high school. That's because it is.

There are many wonderful distractions here. This is a great university in one of the best college towns in the country. You could spend every night doing something fun and different here on campus or in Lawrence and some of them you would even be willing for your parents to know about.

But even though you could do something every night that does not mean you should. I say that because those of you who will be successful will be the ones best able to set aside some of the distractions of college life.

Your predecessors have not always been able to do so. There are far too many people who last year were sitting right where you are but who are no longer at KU. So you can spend a semester or maybe even a year having a whole lot of fun. Or you can spend four years having plenty of fun and getting the degree you came here for.

Now in addition to the responsibility you have to yourselves to succeed in school and earn your degrees, as citizens of the Jayhawk Nation you also have a duty to each other.

There is a saying, often misattributed to 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

We could update that to say: All that is necessary for something tragic or life changing or even life ending to happen is for a good friend to do nothing.

When something bad happens on this campus, all too often alcohol is involved. And all too often the tragedies that ensue — the accidents, the assaults, even the deaths — could have been avoided if a friend, a buddy, had stepped forward to help.

Of course, it is not just situations involving alcohol. It could be a friend having trouble making the adjustment to college or one who suffers from depression or one who is falling behind academically.

As a citizen of the Jayhawk Nation and as a friend, I hope you will take action to help your fellow Jayhawks if they are in trouble. Jayhawks look out for each other.

One final responsibility you have as citizens of the Jayhawk Nation is to get involved. What will you do to make KU a better place because you have been here? That's what we ask of you: that you have the experiences you need to prepare for your future and to become a better person and that in the process you make KU a better place.

Use your opportunities here to make your own original contributions to our world. Conduct research as your discover knowledge and solve problems. Express yourself in writing or create original artworks. Design, compose, perform or compete.

In your own way, you will each contribute to the life of our university and our world. Oftentimes that will be through some of the hundreds of student groups and activities on campus.

I encourage you to find ways to personalize and maximize your time at KU. And by "maximize your time" I do not mean taking a fifth, sixth or seventh year.

I am excited for you because I have had the opportunity over the past year to see just how vibrant this campus community is.

Taking part in KU Hillel's Rock Chalk Shabbat and celebrating Diwali with the Cultural India Club.

Seeing students dance and sing for charity at Rock Chalk Revue and touring the beautiful arts center in Greensburg that was created by Studio 804.

Watching the University Dance Company express creativity through dance and seeing our students excel in academic competitions in every discipline imaginable.

Learning about the dedication of the students who take part in Alternative Breaks. And, of course, hearing the Rock Chalk Chant echo throughout Allen Fieldhouse after yet another Jayhawk victory.

All of these are a part of the KU experience. Even a simple walk across campus can be an adventure, with the art — some of it formal, some of it in chalk — and the people you encounter along the way all reminding you what a special place we call home: this capital of the Jayhawk Nation.

Being a citizen of that nation opens countless doors for you here on campus and after graduation when you will join a network of hundreds of thousands of Jayhawk alums.

I encourage you to take advantage of the opportunities you will have in the coming days, months and years. But also remember that being a citizen of the Jayhawk Nation comes with responsibilities to yourself and to your fellow Jayhawks.

This is a truly special university because of the faculty and staff who work here, the alumni who have graduated from here and, now, because you're here.

Thank you for choosing the University of Kansas! Best of luck on a successful start to the school year! And Rock Chalk, Jayhawks!



One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

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.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.