Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little's remarks to the 146th Opening Convocation of the University of Kansas

Monday, August 29, 2011

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Business and community leaders. Friends. But above all, Jayhawks.

It is my pleasure to welcome you, not only to the start of a new school year at the University of Kansas, but also to the start of a new ascent to excellence in academics, scholarship, and service to mankind. This is a journey that will test our commitment and fortitude, but during the course of the climb, will strengthen our future.

For our students, that climb will lead to graduation and the moment unique to Jayhawks when you cross through the Campanile and see your friends and family lining Mount Oread.

For our university, the climb will never truly end, but we will still feel that same sense of accomplishment when we achieve the higher aspirations we are now setting for ourselves and our institution.

This university exists to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that will change the world. We can only achieve this mission if we raise the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

Each of you – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends – has a role to play in this endeavor, and each will be called upon to be part of our team as we strive for the summit.

To our students, particularly our freshmen and transfer students: Welcome. We are glad you chose the University of Kansas, and we are excited to see what you will contribute to our community.

For you, coming to KU involves both a literal and metaphorical climb. You’ll experience the literal climb as you walk up the Hill to class tomorrow. But it is the climb you’ll make as scholars that I want to focus on tonight.

Each of you follows a path that has been carved out by the Jayhawks who came before you. But each of you will personalize it, and make it special to you through side trips and maybe a few detours.

KU has excellent guides to help you along the way. Talented faculty ready to mentor and inspire you. Caring staff ready to point you in the right direction if you get lost. Reach out to them, take advantage of their expertise.

Your professors and teaching assistants have tremendous knowledge and connections in their fields. Take the time to get to know them and to work with them as fellow scholars.

KU staff members, whether in housing, advising, our libraries or any other unit on campus, are devoted to your success as students and as individuals. Use their experience to help make your journey a successful one.

Ultimately, though, we can only serve as guides; we can’t carry you.

Each of you must live up to great expectations – from your instructors, your family, your friends, and most importantly, yourselves. The greatest expectation, one you set for yourself just by enrolling, is that you’ll earn your degree. You’re making this climb for a reason.

But beyond the expectation that you’ll graduate, I encourage you to think bigger. Set lofty aspirations for yourself. Do something you thought was impossible.

We have dance majors who are also seeking to unlock the mysteries of the universe by studying particle physics. Engineering students working on cars that will get hundreds of miles to the gallon. And researchers striving to end cancer. They have looked up at the summit and set their aspirations high. I encourage you to do the same.

I also encourage you to be part of something bigger than yourself. We live in a world facing immense challenges. You can take hope from knowing that here – tonight – sitting among you are some of the leaders who will help us overcome those challenges.

There are countless ways you can enhance your ascent by helping others during theirs, through alternative breaks, internships and service learning courses. These opportunities and many others will enable you to contribute to your local and global communities, all while adding immeasurably to your experience as you climb toward graduation.

Your journey as students will culminate when you become graduates and look out from the top of Mount Oread at Commencement.

For the university, the success of our ascent can be measured in many ways. In statistics like graduation rate and time to degree. Or in measures like grants awarded or books and journal articles published. And, of course, many will measure us by the rise or fall of rankings.

But our ultimate success will be measured in lives changed, and in lives saved. In jobs created and communities strengthened. In lifetimes brightened through art and science, and informed through the humanities. In the thousands of ways, big and small, that a research university enables our community, our state, and our society to thrive and prosper.

And just as our students have maps guiding them to their summit in the form of course schedules and curricula, our university, too, is charting a path to the top. A path we must now climb.

Our primary guides will be the university strategic plan, comprising the plan under development here in Lawrence and one completed earlier this year at the medical center. These are works involving hundreds of individuals from across our campuses, and I want to thank all of you who have contributed to their creation.

They set out the new, higher expectations we have for ourselves as a university, and the priorities that we will pursue. They will guide our decisions on everything from the creation of a vibrant new general education curriculum to engaging more faculty members in scholarship and research. Our university strategic plan will shape our budget priorities and guide us as we focus on our primary mission: educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

On our climb, we face a headwind from the economy. That’s why we’re undertaking the Changing for Excellence initiative, which is identifying ways KU can become more effective and devote more of our talent and resources to achieving our mission.

And thankfully, our ascent will be boosted by KU Endowment’s comprehensive campaign, which will harness the generosity of Jayhawks everywhere. Jayhawks who believe in our mission and in you.

Let me be clear: We will not be successful as a national research university if we do not make these changes and resume our climb. To stand still is to not only give up on our goal of achieving excellence; it is to let others pass us by.

As this state’s flagship institution, we have a responsibility to our students and to the people of Kansas to set high expectations for ourselves, and to live up to them.

We have a duty to help shape the high aspirations of our state, and to help Kansans achieve them.

And we have an obligation to recognize the need for elevated hopes in our world, and to help our society embrace them.

None of these aspirations are small. None will be easy to achieve. But all of them are worthy of our time and talent, and all of them are vital to our future as a university.

We make this climb because it is our duty as scholars, and as a university, to strive for excellence.

Of course, when you’re standing at the beginning of a journey – looking at your class schedule or the strategic plan for our university’s success – there’s a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

For you as students, your dream of reaching the summit, seemingly far in the distance, can at times seem daunting, and you wonder if you can make it. All you can see is the path ahead, and it can be tempting to give up. That’s when you turn to your companions for support, because while we each have to make the climb ourselves, none of us does it alone.

But when you reach the goal, and look at the horizon stretching out in front of you, that’s when you know the climb was worth it. In that moment of achievement, you know that your hard work has paid off.

We’re all still making our climb, but if we keep striving, we will reach our goal and together look out toward further opportunities that await us.

I’m proud to make that climb with you. Let’s go, 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.