Season's greetings! On Saturday, 262 undergraduate, graduate, and law students will become Drake alumni at our December Commencement. I always look forward to commencement as an opportunity to reaffirm the values and purpose of our University, while inspiring our graduates as they begin a new chapter in their lives.
This year, I have framed my commencement remarks around our Statement of Principles, which affirms our commitment to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. The free flow of ideas is a core function of any university. If we at Drake have done our job right, our students are exposed to a plethora of new and diverse views, opinions, and facts. They've had engaging discussions in the classroom; read books by people who look different from them or who follow vastly different belief systems; and they have tackled tough issues with roommates, classmates, and mentors. How our students respond to new and sometimes opposing views and the emotions those ideas engender in them—whether positive or negative—is what develops their character. I would argue that the most valuable part of any education is being exposed to opposing viewpoints; it is what helps to clarify our values and beliefs, and enables our intellectual and moral development. Listening—actually listening—to opinions and beliefs different from our own creates the space for real civil debate and compromise, and creates a community where shared purpose transcends difference, and respect for human dignity transcends conflict.
As in any community, there are rare occasions when members of our community do not rise to this challenge. As you may know, November was a challenging month at Drake. Early in the month one of our students had harassing and discriminatory messages tacked to her residence hall room door. We as a University do not tolerate statements that demean, denigrate, humiliate or express hatred toward others, and action was taken in line with this stance. This incident and subsequent conversations reminded me that we still have work to do to strengthen the inclusive environment we strive to create and sustain.
This incident also showed me the power of what this University can accomplish when we come together as a community. Staying true to our Statement of Principles, our students did not let this violation of our values go unnoticed. Productive, eye-opening conversations were had among students, administration, faculty, and staff in ways that needed to happen and, I hope, laid the foundation for growth and change.
So, what does this all mean for Drake's future?
As an institution, we will continue to be committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will continue to be a place of opportunity and support for all. My recent acknowledgement that Drake is committed to doing what we lawfully can to support undocumented members of our community supports this core feature of our mission. This is particularly true for our undocumented and Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) students. There is nothing new to this practice; I have simply reaffirmed who we are as an institution.
Institutions like ours must play a crucial role in charting a path forward for the nation, and those graduating on Saturday—and in the future—are our most important contribution. By building an environment where substantive dialogue occurs and inclusivity is a way of life, our students will leave ready to be leaders in the world beyond Drake.
There is work to be done. I look forward to doing this work in partnership with faculty, staff, students, and you, our loyal supporters. If you have any concerns or suggestions, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, but especially during this holiday season, thank you for all you do for Drake. I hope you enjoy the holidays with family and friends, and I wish you a happy new year.