New Student Convocation

Address by President David E. Maxwell
August 27, 2000


Good afternoon, and welcome to the New Student ConvocationWe're here this afternoon to officially mark the beginning of your academic career at Drake University and - most importantly - to recognize and honor the most significant relationship that you will develop while you're here: the bond between students and faculty. Those people in front of you in the funny medieval robes who have given up a Sunday afternoon to welcome you, (and who probably have given up most of their weekend to help you get ready for classes) will - in a remarkably short time - become not just your teachers, but your guides, mentors, friends. The relationships that you will develop with them are the reason that all the rest of us are here at Drake - to facilitate and support the collaborative process of learning.Drake University is not an institution in which knowledge is simply a commodity that is conveyed in the classroom by an educated faculty to a less educated student body. It is an institution in which learning is a common endeavor, in which the activity of learning and discovery is a dynamic and on-going process engaged in by all members of the community.Drake is an institution that is committed to the notion that we should not tell students what we know, but guide them in learning it for themselves, in order that they will learn not only the material, but the process of discovery and understanding itself. It is an institution in which we expect our students to learn not only from us, but with us.We are an institution that recognizes that we have much to learn from our students, from their discovery of things in our work that we have never thought of before ourselves, from the richness of their intelligence, their insights, and the diversity of their experience.But it is precisely this commitment to shared learning that places a tremendous burden on you as students: it will not allow you to be passive receptors of the already-known, but demands that you be active participants in your own education.Now, I know you just got here, but I'd like you to jump ahead in your imagination to the day that you will be graduated from Drake. In four years (for most of you!) you will be sitting at the Drake University Commencement ceremony, anxious to get your diploma, go out to brunch with your family and friends, and get on with the rest of your lives. The only impediment to that goal will be me - and several of my friends and colleagues - who will first require you to sit through a few mercifully brief speeches in which we tell you that now you are superbly educated, wonderfully trained, and culturally enriched, your mind forged into a formidable machine capable of astounding feats of analysis, thoughtfulness, and creativity - we expect you to go out into the world and fix everything that's broken (and there's a lot that's broken) - we expect you to cure every disease, put an end to war, save the environment, end prejudice and discrimination, guarantee social justice, further the cause of beauty, advance human knowledge (did I leave anything out?)Actually, I'm serious-I do hope that you'll do that. I know that a lot of you are at Drake to prepare yourselves for a career that is both rewarding and lucrative, and I hope that you'll do that too - personal satisfaction and social responsibility are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, positions of professional responsibility and authority often give you just the platform that you need to effect social change. And, since a lot of my time is spent encouraging alumni to support their alma mater financially, I'll be thrilled if you make a lot of money.But beyond professional success, my personal aspiration - and one I suspect a lot of my friends and colleagues here share - my personal aspiration for you is that you leave Drake with a healthy sense of dissatisfaction - not with Drake, but with the world beyond our campus. By "healthy" dissatisfaction, I mean not whiny, grumpy, complaining dissatisfaction, but a productive and creative unwillingness to accept the status quo, and the drive to make things better-not just for yourself, but for everyone. It occurred to me last May, as I talked to the Class of 2000 about their responsibility to improve the common good, that they might be sitting out there thinking, "now you tell us! - just when we're about to leave, you give us all these assignments for the rest of our lives! Why didn't you tell us that four years ago, so that we could get ready for it?"So I thought today, as you begin your Drake undergraduate career, I'd deliver a very brief pre-commencement speech. I've just told you that when you graduate we expect you to go out and change the world for the better, and now I'm going to tell you what I hope you'll think and do in the next 4 years or so, so that you'll acquire the knowledge and develop the perspectives and the habits of the mind that will prepare you for the moment when we unleash you on that unsuspecting world out there to fix everything that's broken.I hope that you will transcend the task of learning, and discover the joy of knowing, the pleasure of ideasI that you will transcend the confines of narrow, career-related interests and commit yourselves to getting an education-to learning everything that you can in your years here at DrakeI hope that you will take responsibility for your own education, to immerse yourselves in the process of learningI hope that you will be critical and analytical learners; to question all that you hear and read, and to not be satisfied simply by the answers of othersI hope that you will recognize that you define yourselves as human beings by what you think and what you believe, and that you have a responsibility to act on the basis of your convictionsI hope that you will learn from each other, and to teach each other, and us, what you knowI hope that you will recognize that the many disturbing problems of our society have a direct bearing on your own lives; that you cannot hide from them behind the wall of middle-class suburbia or an academic institution, and to commit yourselves to doing something about these ills - starting now.I hope that you will understand the difference between smart and wise, and to endeavor to become wise (remember, Ted Kaczynski, the Unibomber, was "smart". . .he sure isn't wise) - the novelist Walker Percy once described one of his characters by saying, "he got straight A's in school, but flunked life." I hope that you will not play it safe in your choice of courses, in the assignments that you do, in the exam questions that you answer, in participating in class discussion-but to learn how to take intelligent, creative, intellectual risks that stretch your brains and catalyze new learning.I hope that you will be responsible citizens of the global community, and to keep yourselves informed of the events and issues that shape our world-read a newspaper every day.I hope that you will transcend the preconceptions and prejudices with which we are all encumbered, and to see the differences among us as virtues from which we can learn, and which can bring us together-to recognize that diversity should be enriching, not divisive.I hope that you will be good citizens of Drake University, respecting the rights, needs, dignity, and values of others, and the standards appropriate to a community of educated women and men-that you will treat others with courtesy and politeness, and that you will take care of the campus that is your home.I hope that you will be good citizens of the city of Des Moines, and of the Drake neighborhood; to realize that most of you are temporary residents in the midst of people who have made their lives here, and who have every right to expect that you will adhere to the standards of the community; to make a contribution to the city in which you will live for the next several years.I hope that you will think about who you want to be as a human being, not just what you want to be as a professional.I hope that you will avoid the abuse of alcohol and drugs; to realize that substance abuse deprives you of your dignity as a human being, and to recognize that you can "get high" on friendship, ideas, feelings, and physical activity. I hope that you realize that drinking 9 beers and hurling on your shoes is not an effective way to impress members of the opposite sex - and if your friends are impressed, you've got the wrong friends.I hope that you will take from Drake University all that you need, and to give back to this community all that you canMost of all, I hope that you will enjoy yourselves, that you will take advantage of this remarkable opportunity and immerse yourselves in the "Drake experience."I welcome you to Drake University, and wish you the best years of your lives. We are delighted to have you here.


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