Good evening, Jayhawks! It’s a pleasure to welcome you to Convocation, and to the University of Kansas.
If Traditions Night is where we celebrate all the different ways that history and tradition bring us together as Jayhawks – and I had a great time with you there last night – Convocation is where we officially kick off the academic year.
Coming in tonight, you were welcomed by the deans. You couldn’t have missed them – they were the ones dressed like wizards.
I want to join them in welcoming all the new members of our academic community: First-year students, transfer students, graduate students, faculty, and staff.
We may even still have some parents here. Parents and family an important part of our KU community, too. But parents, I do need to let you know: You will need to go home eventually.
I also want to welcome back our continuing students, our current faculty and staff, and our friends from the community.
But I want to speak tonight to all of our new Jayhawks on the eve of your great adventure. And college is an adventure, in that it is a bold undertaking with the outcome still to be determined.
There is no predestination at work here. You made choices that enabled you to be here tonight. You committed yourselves to studying when I’m guessing you probably could have been doing something else. You were involved in your high schools and hometowns. You prepared yourself for an education at a flagship research university. You did that – not fate, not destiny – you.
Your success will then continue to be defined by the choices you make. Will you challenge yourself to seek out a professor whose work inspires you, and join in her research? Will you be able to block out the many distractions of college life when it comes time to study? Will you at the very least take a full class load so you stay on track to graduate on time?
That last one wasn’t really a question.
We – the deans behind me, your professors and instructors, the staff of KU – all want you to succeed. And we are ready and eager to provide you with the resources and support you need to succeed.
You each bring your own experiences and perspectives with you to KU. You each know what is important to you – what you value. Cherish those values, because they make you who you are. But also recognize that the experiences that others have had in their lives have shaped their values, as well.
We have students here from across Kansas, from every state, and from more than 100 nations. There are students here who grew up on farms and those who grew up in skyscrapers. Students whose hometowns have fewer people than are in this auditorium this evening, such as Longford, Kansas, population 79. Well, 78 right now. And students from some of the largest cities in the world, such as Shanghai, population 24 million.
Learn from them and their experiences. Use what they’ve learned to shape your views, and vice versa. What you value isn’t threatened by those with different values. Only you can determine what is important to you, and only you can turn those values into priorities that shape your actions.
Finally, and this is something I want everyone – new to KU or not – to remember:
You are not alone.
This is a large university. That means there are opportunities here that are available only at university like this. Do you want to start a charity or serve others? We have people who can help you do that. Is there a question you really want to study, but need some money to do so? We have awards that can fund your research.
You can do just about anything here as part of your education. And if you’re going to do it, we want you to be successful.
But the size of KU may also be daunting. However, that size also means that, for every challenge you’re facing, there’s at least one other person, and probably more, who has gone through or is going through the very same thing.
Ask for help. And don’t let setbacks become failures. Not doing well on one test doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be at KU. Being anxious about what is a huge life change doesn’t mean you don’t belong here.
If you don’t understand something in class, don’t just assume you’re the only one, because you’re probably not. If you’re facing depression, or anxiety, or any other mental or physical illness or a disability that poses an extra challenge, don’t be ashamed. You don’t have to face those challenges alone.
Similarly, if you see someone who needs help, don’t just be a bystander. Jayhawks step up.
If someone has had too much to drink, help him or her get home safely. If you’re worried someone may hurt him or herself, seek out help. If you know something, say something.
It really is a model for how Jayhawks should look out for each other, and I urge you to do the same. You are not alone. You are part of the Jayhawk Family.
You really are about to embark on a great adventure. At graduation – and I expect to see you all at graduation – you will look back on the coming years with amazement at all that you did, and learned, and saw, and experienced.
You will work one-on-one with professors who are leaders in their fields, learning not just in the classroom but in laboratories, libraries, field studies, and more. You will study abroad, adding to your education through programs offered in dozens of countries. You’ll give back to the community here, and around the world, through service learning.
Each of you, in your own way, will make your own mark on this university. And each of you will contribute to KU’s noble mission of educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.
There really is no opportunity like the one you have achieved. Make the most of it, so that you will be able to go out into the world and be proud to say: I’m a Jayhawk.
Welcome home, Jayhawks!