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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

2011 New Student Convocation

August 30, 2011
McDonough Auditorium
Georgetown University

Welcome. We all celebrate many important moments in our lives. In an academic community, like this one, we view this moment as one of the most important in the life of our community…and in each of your lives. That’s why we’re all here. It’s why we hoped we could share this moment with you, and with so many of yourparents and loved ones.

This evening, we formally welcome you into our academic community. For 222 years, we’ve welcomed our world’s most exceptional young women and men into this community. It is a community defined by what the earliest Jesuits called, “nuestro modo de preceder,” translated as “our way of proceeding,” or “our way of being.” 

This “way of being” is our approach to living and serving others in the world. 

 We have a belief in the potential for transformation—first, in the transformation of ourselves: that we can go beyond our current way of being and thinking…that we can attain a more profound, more intimate grasp of truth…that we can develop a livelier, richer, more engaged imagination…that we can forge an interior freedom—a capacity for self awareness that enables each of us to live authentically and to know our very best selves. There is a life that each of us is meant to live. And we hope we can provide resources that will enable you to live this life.

We also believe in the transformation of our world—that each of us is a promise of the power of women and men,to stand up and say: we can make things better…we can bring others along with us…we can be the seeds of love, of hope, of understanding.

We engage in both kinds of work—the transformation of ourselves and of the world—together, in this community. 

Here you have each other…and you will have the support and engagement of those up here on this stage—the faculty and staff of Georgetown, who are committed to helping you fulfill your promise and potential.

We want to continue the work that your parents and loved ones began with you 17 and 18 years ago. They are now leaving you in our care and we are humbled by the trust they have in us.

We have work to do here. We seek to engage ideas and cultivate our intellect. We seek to forge our conscience and deepen our character. We seek to engage the spirit and enlarge our souls. This is hard work. We draw upon each other for solace, for inspiration, for consolation… 

We seek to bring out the best in one another. And we remind each other when we are not our best selves.

We recognize that we are part of something bigger than any one of us. There is something that was here before any of joined this community and will be here long after we are gone.   It is a tradition with origins in ancient Athens and in sixteenth-century Paris. It is a tradition that is imagined and re-imagined with every generation that comes to the Hilltop.

In the first months of this year, you have seen a world cope with titanic shifts—an Arab Spring that moved from Tahrir Square to Tripoli, a devastating Tsunami with a nuclear meltdown in Japan, protests and recalls in Wisconsin, gridlock on managing our budget, and a downgrade of our credit, a devastating famine in Somalia, riots in England.

You are part of something new. This is not the first globalization in history. But it is distinct. You are connected in ways that no other generation has ever been before. Immediate, in many forms—on Facebook and Google+, in short 140 character tweets and in videos on YouTube. The options for connecting, the ubiquity of connecting, the ease of connecting, has never been greater. You have access to more information and can be connected to people anywhere, like no other generation in history.

But it is not available to all. The gap between rich and poor has never been greater.  The advantages of globalization are not equally shared. Let’s just take a moment and try to imagine this:

Would all of our students and faculty please stand. Would all women who are not currently standing, please join them. 

Imagine that all of us here represent the world’s 7 billion people. Those of you standing represent the 80% of the world’s population that has never traveled more than 100 miles from their homes. Thank you.

There may be 750 million Facebook users—but in a world of 7 billion, that is just under 11%.

You are connected to others in this world and you have access to information. And you are here, in this place. 

Imagine again we represent the world’s 7 billion people. How many people do you think will be standing who represent the percentage of the world’s population that share with you the opportunity to study at one of America’s great research universities?

Jessica Serna, would you please stand? Jessica is a senior at Georgetown and I asked her to be here to represent all of you: the 1/100th of 1 % of the world’s population that share with you this opportunity to study at an American research university. Thank you, Jessica.

One of the disruptions this weekend due to the Hurricane was the dedication of the Memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.

The other evening, my son, JT and I went down to see the statue, “Stone of Hope,” created by the Chinese artist, Lei Yixin. The title comes from the speech delivered at the Lincoln Memorial by Dr. King, 48 years ago last Sunday—“Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

There are fourteen quotes of Dr. King, engraved on the walls surrounding the statue. One from a year before his death reads:

If we are to have peace on earth…our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. (Georgia, 1967)

Dr. King knew that he was part of a tradition, with roots in the Ancients. Just a few months before he delivered the speech on the Mall, he sat in a jail cell in Birmingham and composed his letter. 

There, he placed himself within the richness of the sources that formed him. He wrote:

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal…we…will …rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

And then in the words that followed, he connected himself to a line that included Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, to Martin Buber and Martin Luther, to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. He was one with that lineage.

He knew that he needed to make these sources come alive at a time in our nation where we still had a promise to keep—the dream that all of our people, regardless of the color of their skin, would live in dignity. 

It is time for us – now – to imagine anew the role we can play in responding to the challenges of our time, a time desperately in need of a “world perspective”—while seeking to achieve the dreams that will define each of our lives. 

There is nothing quite like this moment.

This is a very special time in your lives—this is your time. 

You now begin a journey to fulfill your dreams

We are excited about the role we will play.

We are humbled by the trust placed in us by your parents and loved ones.

And we are hopeful for the lives you will touch, the dreams you will pursue, and the contributions you will make to the world in which we live.

Welcome to Georgetown.

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