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New Provost Focuses on Student Excellence, Spiritual Grounding

August 27, 2012 – Robert Groves made his official debut as Georgetown’s new provost this past Sunday as he welcomed more than 1,700 first-year and transfer students to their new academic and spiritual home during New Student Convocation.

Formerly director of the U.S. Census Bureau and leader of the 2010 census, Groves also has served as a professor at the University of Michigan and director of its Survey Research Center.

“To the family and friends seated inside and out,” Groves said, “this is our way of communicating that we take seriously the responsibilities you are giving us – to educate the mind and spirit of your children, to allow them to find the areas of learning that will give them both joy and success in later life.”

High Achievements

The provost talked about the high achievements of the Class of 2016.

“We are very pleased with their academic preparation and accomplishments,” Groves told the audience of students, families and friends.  “… They’re entering another league. They’ll encounter peers who have even more impressive talents.  … They won’t [always] be the smartest kid in the class. They will succeed when they discover something that we as faculty don’t always like to admit – they can learn more from their peers than from us at times.”

“I share much with the parents and students seated in front of me,” he joked. “I’m a rookie too.”

Social Justice Experience

Emily Oehlsen (SFS’13), who also spoke at the convocation, said she started off at Georgetown as a quiet, introverted and reflective first-year student, but that changed after she and 10 other students worked with local labor unions as part of a Georgetown-sponsored social justice experience.

“We came across a picket line at a downtown hotel,” said Oehlsen, who spoke to students as this year’s McTighe Prize winner. “We joined the line, and I walked between two room attendants, Anita and Alma.”

Both women were still employed at the hotel, but each day risked their jobs by joining the picket line. They taught Oehlsen how to chant in Spanish “A people united will never be defeated,” or El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.

Taking the Bullhorn

“Just when I felt confident to say it aloud,” Oehlsen recalled, “Alma handed me the bullhorn. ‘It’s your turn to lead,’ she said. And then, without expecting to, I changed.”

The international political economy major spent her junior year studying abroad in the United Kingdom at Oxford University, where she worked as a research assistant for renowned labor economist Ken Mayhew and began her senior thesis research on income inequality and low-wage work.

This year, Oehlsen will chair the first university-wide undergraduate research symposium and launch an initiative to improve undergraduate intellectual life – The Georgetown Conversation.

Pivotal Moment

Elizabeth Arsenault, visiting professor of government, told the new students that their academic careers – whether in class, in the community or studying abroad – would be full of decisions and choices like Oehlsen’s.

“The purpose of this ceremony today is for you to deeply take in this pivotal moment in your life,” said Arsenault, also an assistant dean in the School of Foreign Service.

She invited the students to think about their Georgetown experience as a “transition, the continuation of a tradition and a transformation.”

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