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“Something profound is happening as you become members of this community”

President Daniel H. Weiss addressed the Class of 2012 today at the Convocation opening Lafayette’s 177th academic year.

On behalf of the trustees and faculty, I declare that these students standing before us in Lafayette College are now matriculated. We welcome you to the College!

What does it mean to be matriculated? One level it formally enrolls you in the College, but we could easily have done that by sending you an invoice and a paid receipt and saying, “You’re matriculated.” Why are we up here engaged in this activity, dressed in these robes, organizing this kind of event? What is it that this moment is intended to signal?

It is something profound.

There’s no question that 10 years from now, you won’t remember a word of what you heard here today. But something profound is happening in your lives as you become members of this community. That is what this event is intended to symbolize. It’s what this event is all about.

First of all, a gathering of 600 strangers has become a class. I always like to point out to students, because I think it’s a kind of an interesting fact, that many of you will become lifelong friends. Some of you will marry each other, so you can look around and kind of think about that. If statistics are any indication, I guarantee you, that’s what happens with communities that come together. So you’re becoming a class. And in short order, this gathering of 600 strangers will be a close-knit group with many, many opportunities to share and a lifetime of experiences to share together.

But beyond that, as members of the class and also as individuals, you have heard a great deal today of the opportunities that before you, and I will not take time this morning to repeat what was eloquently presented by others. This is the time of your life. This is an opportunity to explore with unprecedented freedom and resources whatever interests you. You have time; you have energy, you are surrounded by people who are going to help you. So be sure to do that.

I promise that when we’re gathered together again in May of 2012, and I’m dressed exactly like this, and you’re a little older, and we’re going to give you your diplomas, none of you are going to say to me, “You know, the time went by just right — it didn’t go by too quickly — and I pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do.” None of you will say that.

Some of you will be very happy to graduate, I get that. But you won’t say, “I really accomplished everything I had in mind.” So use your time well. It really is a special opportunity, just as you heard from your classmates here.

Think also about the fact that with unprecedented freedom also come responsibilities, new responsibilities, more than you’ve had before. In joining an academic community, we ask you to behave with respect for others. You are a diverse community of learners. You’re going to be living together in tight quarters. There are lots and lots of opportunities to irritate each other (and even to irritate us). But that’s what communities learn to deal with. So we have to learn to be tolerant of others, to listen to others, to respect other points of view, and to learn how to operate effectively in a community that is complex, ambitious, and moving quickly. I ask you to do that. I ask you to think about that.

This is fundamentally a partnership that we’re entering into. A learning environment is fundamentally about being partners with each other. So we ask you to behave with integrity, to share that responsibility fully. I promise you that as you do that, you will be treated fully with respect as partners in this learning enterprise. Much of that responsibility resides with you, and that, I think, is something new when one comes to college.

The message to take away from all of this today is that we are delighted to have you here. You make this college what it is. The students make this place come alive, and you have joined us. We’re delighted about that and we look forward to a great adventure with you over the next several years.

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