Good evening, Jayhawks!
I want to thank David Murfin, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents and a true Jayhawk, for joining us tonight. I want to thank all my colleagues for coming out to kick of the new academic year – including those from KU Medical Center. And I want to thank our speakers and performers for sharing this evening with us.
I want to welcome back our returning students, faculty and staff. I hope you enjoyed your summer and you are rested, energized and ready to begin another year at KU!
I especially want to welcome our newest Jayhawks on the eve of your great adventure. This is a special and important moment for you. A KU education is an extraordinary opportunity to transform yourself and prepare for a productive career and a meaningful life. And beginning now, I expect you to take full advantage of this opportunity.
Now, I suspect most of you are excited to begin classes tomorrow – and perhaps a bit nervous. So let me confess that I’m a little nervous myself! This is my first year as chancellor, and I’ve been on the job for less than two months. So I have an idea what you’re feeling.
But while I’m new to being chancellor, I’ve been a Jayhawk for 23 years. So I can tell you from experience you’re now part of a special family — the Jayhawk Family. This means you are surrounded by fellow Jayhawks who are committed to helping you succeed.
You’ve heard some great advice tonight from our previous speakers. If I may, I’d like to share one more piece of advice for our new Jayhawks, followed by a prediction.
Here is the advice: Don’t think your time at KU will be – or necessarily should be – a straight line.
Over the next few years, your studies and experiences will take you in all kinds of directions. You’ll become interested in new topics, new academic fields, and new causes. You’ll meet new people,which will help you see the world differently.
Now, some of you have clearly defined your path for the years ahead – but likely not most of you.
So here is the prediction: You’ll likely change your major. And probably change it again.
What I want you to know is — this is normal and good. In fact, it’s the reason you’re here. To explore and define your future.
Certainly my own personal path was anything but straight. As a high school student, I was a good student, but I was more interested in racing motorcycles. In fact, I planned a career as a professional motorcycle racer.
But a few blown engines and big crashes convinced me that I probably needed another plan. The computer industry was just taking off, so I thought I might want to be an electrical engineer. A few days after high school graduation I put everything I owned in my car and moved to California, to the Silicon Valley, where I had an uncle in the business.
I found a job and enrolled in night classes at the local junior college. My first job was with a company called Atari. I was assembling the first home video game consoles for a game called “Pong.”
I lasted four days at that job before taking a position manufacturing memory players that held – get this – 20 megabytes of data and were the size of this lectern.
And while the industry was changing rapidly, I soon knew that engineering was not for me, and I decided to pursue medicine – which is whole different story.
Ultimately I became a surgeon, served in the Navy along the way, joined the faculty at KU and eventually became the executive vice chancellor of the medical center. And today I have the honor of being your chancellor.
The point is, my education and career were anything but linear. But at every step of the way, I worked hard, learned from every opportunity and was open to new ideas and challenges.
What I learned from my experience is, there are multiple ways to get from Point A to Point B. While a straight line may be the shortest path, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best path for you.
Over the next four years, you’re going to learn and try new things every day, both in the classroom and in your experiences. That’s the beauty of attending a university like KU, where you can study medicine and Mozart, physics and finance, engineering and evolutionary biology. You can intern with major corporations or non-profit organizations, or join one of our 600 student groups. You can learn a new language, or study abroad.
Again, this is a special moment in your lives. You will never again have the time and freedom to explore so many areas of interest. Take advantage of this opportunity.
You freshmen are coming to KU at a terrific moment in the university’s history. KU has been on a remarkable trajectory — and we have opportunities to do even more.
As chancellor I would like to focus on three areas: improving the student experience, expanding our outreach across the state of Kansas, and growing our research enterprise.
That first area – the student experience – is especially important to you freshmen. We have done great work to provide you opportunities to learn and develop. We’ve recruited some of the best faculty in the country to guide you. We continue our efforts to ensure campus is welcoming and inclusive. And we’ve added spectacular new facilities to provide you some of the best learning and living spaces in the nation.
In other words, we’ve transformed this university for you. And now it’s your turn to take advantage of these resources to transform yourself.
I want to leave you with one last thought. You freshmen are beginning college during a challenging and turbulent time in our society.
Just in the past month, concerns about a growing confrontation with North Korea have emerged.
And last weekend, we were appalled at the sight of white supremacists marching on a university campus, resulting in violence and loss of life. It was a harsh reminder of how much work we have left to do as a society.
These are complicated issues. And I am challenging you to use your time at KU to begin addressing these issues.
Don’t think for a moment these are easy topics. They aren’t. Engaging with these topics will at times make you uncomfortable, and make the people around you uncomfortable. And that’s good. You will find no better time to deal with these questions than here at KU.
Take advantage of this opportunity to get off to a great start.
Study hard. Get involved. Meet new people. Volunteer. Have fun. Do things that make you better. Do things that make KU and society ever better.
If you take full advantage of your time here, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish while at KU or in your lives and careers.
Welcome to the University of Kansas. I’m delighted that each and every one of you is here.
Rock chalk, and let’s have a great year!