Convocation Address by Lehigh President Alice P. Gast
Thank you, Dr. Smeaton. First, let me once again welcome each and every one of you to Lehigh University, this time in a more formal setting. Today at this convocation, you officially became a member of the Class of 2010. You are here because you made a choice—and a very wise one—to pursue your education at this great institution.
I am sure there are many things about Lehigh that attracted you here. One of the things that drew me to Lehigh was the university’s clear and unwavering focus on students. At Lehigh, our loyal alumni, outstanding faculty, and dedicated administrators are all equally and wholeheartedly committed to undergraduate excellence. We are dedicated to making your years here at Lehigh as productive, rich, and valuable as possible. We are here because of you and for you.
The other thing that I find very compelling about Lehigh is its focus on balanced education as a core value. The founder of Lehigh University, Asa Packer, set forth an enduring vision for the university. He founded Lehigh in 1865 with the goal of blending classical and technical education. We provide this today: a balance of fundamental and practical, a combination of theory and experiment, courses using the left and right sides of your brain. You came to the right place to get an education that will equip you to lead in today’s changing world.
Lehigh’s quality of education and its dedication to each student are among the reasons why it is among the most desirable universities in the country. You, the Class of 2010, are one of the most selective classes admitted to Lehigh so far. So realize how highly regarded you are here at Lehigh and use this respect as inspiration to work even harder. Lehigh chose you because we believe in you as students, as scholars, and as individuals. You, Class of 2010, are going to be great.
In Lehigh, you have chosen a university that is small enough to meet fellow students and really get to know them. I think that’s one of the reasons that so many friendships forged in the classrooms, residence halls, studios, athletic fields, fraternities and sororities here last a lifetime. And the classes are small enough that you’ll never be just a name on a seating chart to a professor. You will be a person, a student, an individual who will be carefully mentored, not just taught. In some way, the people you meet at Lehigh will influence every day of your life from this moment forward. A faculty member may change your life by helping you uncover your passion in life. A coach may inspire you to work with kids. The person sitting in front of you or next to you may someday be your business partner, your best friend … or even your life partner.
Many Lehigh alumni have been deeply touched and transformed by their experiences here. Just yesterday, your class was officially adopted by the Class of 1960, building a bridge across a half-century of distinguished Lehigh alumni. At that rally, you were able to see for yourselves how truly special and strong the bond between alumni is. Wasn’t it awesome?
Lehigh alums excel at defining and solving problems—they are known for their success in a wide variety of professions. You, too, will leave here able to define and solve problems from a variety of perspectives, thanks to the balanced and broad education you will receive.
As you have heard many times—from parents, friends, alumni—many of us look upon our college days as the best days of our lives. Why is that? What is so special about these few years? Why are these times the good times?
Today I want to take a few moments to share my thoughts on the choices and opportunities ahead of you in your years at Lehigh. These university experiences provide the foundation for relationships and directions for the rest of your lives. Let’s make these the good times.
I want to touch on three main themes:
• Your transition to college life and the new freedom and responsibility that brings.
• Finding your passion and pushing yourself to pursue it.
• Building relationships that will last a lifetime.
Freedom and responsibility
In the past week, most of you have moved to a new home, leaving behind the home you’ve known and loved. Some of you went from having your own room to living in close proximity to many people your own age—people of all different backgrounds and cultures. I’m sure you have all felt at least a fleeting moment of hesitation, shyness, or anxiety—completely normal reactions to adjusting to your new community here at Lehigh.
This is an important part of your journey. Most of you probably have a close circle of family and friends back home, people you love and trust and rely on for support. In the coming weeks and months, as you meet students from different regions, cultures, and countries, you will find that circle growing broader and more diverse. You’ll find that you can seek advice and comfort from fellow students, professors, mentors, and coaches, to name just a few.
Being new to Lehigh myself, I feel a special bond with you, the Class of 2010. Like you, I just recently finished unpacking my boxes and exploring the campus with my husband, Brad, and our children, Rebecca and David. We too are getting to know a whole community of wonderful people and adjusting to leaving some close friends behind.
Perhaps, like us, you have had a chance to check out the eclectic South Side of Bethlehem and the various coffee shops, ethnic restaurants, and music venues it has to offer. Hopefully, like my family, you will accept the challenge of trying each of the ice cream flavors at The Cup. My kids are tracking our family’s ice cream ratings; watch for our blog—we will want your input. We want to see if you like maple walnut as much as we do.
As I continue to adjust to my new life on campus, I can’t help but remember my own freshman move-in experience when I started at USC. I remember the combination of excitement and trepidation that swirled through my head. I was excited about all the classes I had signed up for, all the new people I was meeting and all the fun activities that filled our first days. I was nervous about how it would all go, I was unsure about my abilities—everyone seemed so sure of themselves. I was getting used to living in a quad with three very, very different roommates.
At USC, I was faced with the same exciting new combination of freedom and opportunity. But I’ll admit that in some ways, things were simpler when I was an undergraduate. For instance, there were no cell phones, text messages, or e-mail. We even listened to music on vinyl LPs! We shared one phone in my quad (and phone calls were expensive) and there was an unwritten college rule that if your parents called while you were out, your roommates would always tell them you were at the library, no matter where you were. I’m sure you’ve heard these stories before.
In this wireless era, your parents are accustomed being able to get in touch with you in seconds, no matter where you are. In many ways, the wireless era has been a good thing for student/parent relationships. In fact, research shows that by using cell phones, e-mail, text messaging, and instant messaging, parents and their sons and daughters are in much closer touch than ever before. I think that this is great. I am sure that many of you have heard from your parents a few times since they drove off late last week.
This connectivity makes balancing freedom and responsibility and gaining independence all the more important. Your evolution from that constant contact with family and friends back home is up to you. I also spoke with your parents about this same point on Thursday. This is your time to explore Lehigh, explore ting settled in my new Lehigh home, I found the busy schedule of my new job and my new colleagues comforting. I suspect you will feel the same way as you adjust to your first schedule of classes this week.
You are an exceptional group of young scholars with so much promise—that’s why you are sitting here in front of me today. So, please make the most of your new life here. Find your passion, enjoy your freedoms and build new relationships. Make these the greatest of times.