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New Student Convocation 1999

Address by President David E. Maxwell
August 22, 1999

Good afternoon, and welcome to the new student convocation.

We'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.

I must admit to being rather envious of my colleagues on the faculty, because they will have the opportunity to interact with you on a regular and frequent basis in the pursuit of learning -- the activity that I have found to be the most enjoyable and rewarding throughout my academic career.

So I hope you'll forgive me if I cannot resist the opportunity to indulge myself and deliver a lecture (which, admittedly, is not the best of pedagogical approaches) -- but I promise you it will be only 8-9 minutes -- not 50!

I read a fascinating document recently -- the text of a baccalaureate sermon delivered by Charles S. Medbury, chaplain of Drake University, to the graduating class of 1916, entitled The Gift of Every Life.

Drawing on the biblical story of Peter, who gave a crippled alms seeker the gift of health, saying "silver and gold have I none, but what I have I give to you." Dr. Medbury asked the class of 1916, "What are you going to give to the world?"

His exhoration to the class of 1916 is moving and powerful (and I quote): ". . . What I have, I give to you. This is your obligation to the varied needs of the world. You, individually, are to give your life's gift. You may not have what others have. You may not have what the world asks. You may not have what you yourself would like to bestow. But none of these things define your obligation. The duty is absolutely clean cut. You are to give what you have [emphasis mine -- d.m.]."

Dr. Medbury then issues three challenges to the graduating students:

  • In the first place let it be noted that you are not to give merely as others do
  • . . . You are to give your gift. None shall have preeiminence because he does a certain thing, but only because he does what he does preeminently well.
  • It is to be noted further that you are not to give merely as the world asks. Often the world is not wise enough to ask what you have to give.
  • Still further you are to have in mind that you are not to be restrained by incumbrances . . . You cannot give your best gifts while still dickering with yourself as between good and evil . . . You know what weights there are, habits that hurt and hamper, character tendencies that stunt growth and belittle you -- anything affecting adversely body, mind, or heart, discounting life's gift.

Dr. Medbury's challenges were issued to a class that was leaving Drake to face the rest of their lives. I have the luxury of having your attention (I hope) for a few more minutes at the beginning of your Drake experience, and I'd like to share a perspective that I hope will inform your decisions, your activities, and your aspirations while you are here:

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 task 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.

And it is in this spirit that I would like to close by issuing my own set of challenges to you -- challenges that, if met, will increase the chances that you will have taken full advantage of the educational opportunity that Drake affords (and that you'll have had a good time doing it):

I challenge you to transcend the task of learning, and discover the joy of knowing -- the pleasure of ideas.

I challenge you to 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 Drake.

I challenge you to take responsibility for your own education, to immerse yourselves in the process of learning.

I challenge you to be critcal and analytical learners; to question all that you hear and read, and to not be satisfied simply by the answers of others.

I challenge you to 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 convictons.

I challenge you to learn from each other, and to teach each other -- and us -- what you know.

I challenge you to 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.

You're all smart -- that's how you got here; I challenge you to understand the difference between smart and wise, and to endeavor to become wise (remember, Ted Koscinsky, the Unibomber, was smart . . . he sure isn't wise).

I challenge you to 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 challenge you to 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 challenge you to 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 challenge you to 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.

I challenge to you 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 challenge you to think about who you want to be as a human being, not just what you want to be as a professional.

I challenge you to 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.

To return to the spirit of Dr. Medbury (and at the risk of sounding like I'm paraphrasing Lenin!), I challenge you to take from Drake University all that you need, and to give back to this community all that you can.

Most of all, I challenge you to enjoy yourselves, to 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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