Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
New Student Convocation, 2010-2011 Academic Year
August 29, 2010
Welcome. We all celebrate many important days in our lives. In an academic community, like this one, we view this day as one of the most important in 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 your parents and loved ones.
Today, we formally welcome you into our academic community. For 221 years, we’ve welcomed some of our world’s most exceptional young women and men into this community. It’s a community defined by a “way of life.” This “way of life” is shaped by a set of beliefs and values…by an understanding of what we hope you will experience here…and by an awareness of the responsibility that comes with our participation in all that we share in this place. In this way of life, it matters to us to be here, to be in this moment with all of you.
We have a belief in the potential for transformation—first, in the transformation of ourselves: that we can go beyond our current ways 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. There is a life that each one 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 transformative power of women and men, to look around and say: we can make things better…we can bring others along with us…we can be the seeds of love, of tolerance, of understanding.
We engage in both kinds of work—the transformation of ourselves and of the world—together, in this community. Here you will have each other…and you will have the members of our faculty and staff, who are committed to helping you fulfill your promise and potential.
You join this community well prepared to immerse yourselves in this work of transformation. You bring the resources and resilience that are the gifts of your parents and loved ones. They have prepared you for this day –and now they leave you in our care. We are humbled by the confidence they have in us as they leave you to engage in this work…work they began with you 17 or 18 or 19 years ago.
As you undertake this work, there are three tasks in which you will engage during your years here at Georgetown: Cultivating your intellect…forging your character…and enlivening your imagination.
First, our work begins with the intellect—in ideas…identifying them, sharing them, grasping their power, understanding their limitations. We learn how to live ideas, how to make them our own. My colleagues, the women and men who are here on this stage, will share with you the methodologies and texts, the experiments and insights that have enabled them to make their own contributions to the disciplines in which they’ve committed their lives. With them, you will experience the standards of excellence within these disciplines…you will come to internalize, to embody, these standards of excellence…and you will be enabled to make your own contribution to the world of ideas.
We seek to support you in the cultivation of your intellect. In addition to this, we also seek to support you in the forging of your character. This is our tradition. The dimensions of this tradition are present in everything we do. It’s expressed on the beautiful banners that are hanging around campus…and on the bookmarks at your places. It’s a tradition that goes back to St. Ignatius himself, and was brought to this Hilltop more than two centuries ago by John Carroll. It is a resource for you as you live with the questions that will enable you to engage in this work of forging your character.
But a tradition is not static. It is never fixed in time. It needs to be engaged. It needs to be shaped and re-shaped, imagined and re-imagined by every generation—by all of us. Because unless we engage it, then the kind of change we hope will take place here is not possible. In the words of Father Adolfo Nicolas, the current Superior General of the Jesuit Order, “…the meaning of change for our institutions [of higher education] is ‘who our students become’….”
But as we support you in cultivating your intellect and forging your character, there is also one more thing we seek to do—we seek to enliven your imaginations, your ability to integrate your dreams with the work required to realize these dreams. At Georgetown, we want you to nurture your dreams, and we ask that you wrestle with whatever it will take to make these dreams a reality in the world.
But enlivening your imagination also means something more—something deeper and more profound. It means an ability to empathize, to understand your solidarity with everyone in the global community…with the voiceless and powerless. Perhaps never has this been more important then at this moment in time.
As I prepared these remarks, it was impossible not to be deeply moved by the confluence of events that are hitting our sisters and brothers in different places around our world. At one point this month, nearly six hundred wildfires raged over a 1700 kilometer region southeast of Moscow. In China, more than a thousand lives were lost in Gansu province as a result of mudslides. A third of Pakistan is under water—a submerged area as big as the United Kingdom. 17 million Pakistanis have been affected…4 million are homeless.
It is almost impossible to imagine. But we must. So in this spirit, I would like to ask you to join me in an exercise of the imagination. Such an activity is very much in keeping with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, which are also exercises of the imagination.
I’d like everyone in this gym — all 3,500 of us – to imagine that we represent the population of the world. The entire world, with all of its nearly 7 billion people, is right here, right now.
I would like all students to please stand. Now, I would like all women who are still seated to join them. All of you represent the 5.2 billion — 80% of the world’s population – who have never traveled more than 100 miles from their homes.
Thank you; please be seated.
Students, on the backs of your programs, you will find colored stickers. Some of you may have more than one colored sticker. When I call the color of a sticker on your program, I’d like you to stand.
I want all students who have a red sticker to stand. You represent more than half the world – 3.3 billion people – who live on less than two dollars a day. One billion of you live on less than a dollar a day.
Those with a yellow sticker, please stand. You represent the 37% of the world – 2.4 billion people – who do not have access to adequate sanitation, to clean water.
Could all the students with a blue sticker stand? You signify the 980 million people – 15% of the world’s population – 2/3 of who are women – who are unable to read and write.
Please be seated. Will the students with an orange sticker please stand? You represent the 852 million people around the world who suffer from chronic hunger.
Finally, could everyone with a green sticker please stand?
The very few of you now standing represent the 1/100th—of one percent—of the world’s entire population who share with each of you the privilege of attending a major American research university.
All of us enjoy a privilege that is very rare in our world – a beautiful world – but a world marked by injustice…a world in desperate need of your dreams. What you do with this privilege matters. We are not alone. We have each other. We also have women and men who need us – who are looking to us – to respond to the challenges that define our world today. In the words of former Jesuit Superior General Pedro Arrupe, we must accept the responsibility of being women and men for others: Women and men who accept responsibility not only for their own personal development…but for the collective development of the human family.
There is nothing quite like this moment.
This is a very special time in your lives—this is your time.
Today you begin the journey to fulfill your dreams.
We are privileged to share this time—this journey—with you.
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 justice you will deliver…and the contributions you will make to the world in which we live.
Welcome to Georgetown.