Major Addresses

Alvernia Fall Freshman Address

Opening Convocation

August 21, 2008

Members of the Alvernia Class of 2012 and students who have transferred  from numerous other institutions to join the Classes of 2012 or perhaps 2011 or 2010, welcome, one and all.

Here all of you have just arrived, and the President is all ready to award you diplomas.  That signals our confidence that, with hard work, high motivation, and—as Paul McCartney and the Beatles once said—a little help from your friends (namely our fine faculty and staff), we know you can succeed and grow here at Alvernia.

Parents and family members, welcome to you, too.  You are a valued part of the Alvernia community. We won’t see you in classrooms, or scoring goals, or performing on stage, or working with inner city youth.  But we do value the importance of the love and support you extend to your sons and daughters and family members as they begin new chapters of their lives at Alvernia. And we look forward to the time you will spend with us over the next several years--at athletic, arts, and other special events; during Family Weekend in the fall; perhaps at Honors Convocation and, eventually, at a winter or spring commencement.

This ceremony has some of the trappings of a graduation, but before any of you get excited and think this is the best college deal you and your friends have heard of, let me confess it will take a little longer and require a lot more effort before you see your loved one walk across the stage and shake my hand.  I can promise you, however, that Alvernia is a great value and, in business terms, a good return on your investment.  A fine education in a caring environment inspired by Franciscan values, captured best by our motto:  “To Learn, To Love, To Serve.”

Students, many of you heard me talk about the Alvernia Advantage during your college selection process—how we are in a sense a “best of both worlds” kind of place--offering both a broad liberal arts education and excellent professional preparation and on a safe and beautiful campus but near a small city and an hour from a major city.
You have heard us talk about how we are becoming a university, albeit one where all of your teachers are faculty not graduate students as at larger public institutions.  You heard our fine Admission staff caution that we were receiving a record number of applications.  And you heard me promise bulldozers.

All of this has proven true.  You are part of the largest and best class in our history. There is a beautiful new Green Campus Commons awaiting its first afternoon of Frisbee, football, and sunbathing. Later this fall, we will begin construction on a new south campus just below this building, with our first student apartments for juniors and seniors, an all-weather field and track, and that most popular of improvements—a large, new parking lot. We expect early this fall to receive approval to become Alvernia University. And on Founder’s Weekend, September 12 and 13, you will join a campus-wide celebration of Alvernia’s Fiftieth Anniversary.  

Today, one of the advantages of having decided to come to Alvernia is that you will no longer need to listen to folks tell you about it.  It is now yours to experience! 

You also have heard about how being a Franciscan college makes a special difference for our students:  That at Alvernia a Franciscan education, rooted in the values of our founding order, the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, involves personal and social transformation. I’ll be saying more about that tomorrow at our interfaith Mission convocation.  But for your families’ benefit, I’ll define the Franciscan tradition succinctly this afternoon by saying that it values open inquiry, knowledge, and learning not simply for itself but as it relates to a life of love and service.  When you leave here, we expect you to do well, and we also expect you to do good.

That’s part of the fabric of Alvernia, reflected in our mission that calls us to be a rigorous, caring, and inclusive learning community committed to academic excellence. We pride ourselves on being a warm and friendly campus that provides a supportive environment and a demonstrable sense of care for the individual.  However, you and your families can and should expect far more than friendliness and warmth from us. You should expect to be challenged, urged to stretch yourself toward excellent not merely adequate performance, pushed hard to explore difficult questions, to be introspective, to avoid easy answers or short cuts to success. We ask that you have high expectations of your faculty and of your academic community, even as we expect the best from you.

Probably the first Franciscan intellectual, St. Bonaventure, espoused an ideal that we hold to at Alvernia:  the pursuit of “knowledge joined with love.”  We take all this very seriously at Alvernia: we aim to help you develop habits of mind, habits of the heart, and habits of the soul.

Do you know that you have become part of a special, privileged group of young people by deciding to attend Alvernia and earn an undergraduate degree? Only 28% of adults in this country earn an undergraduate degree, and of those who do, only about 10% study at a private college. You may know that the data is convincing that college graduates are more successful in economic terms and in other terms as well:  you are far more likely to be an active citizen and to become engaged in your community.

You will emerge from your Alvernia experience with lifelong friends and as lifelong learners; not simply as successful young professionals but as engaged, reflective citizens; as both educated men and women and as ethical leaders with the moral courage and a passion to act on your convictions for the greater good.

Students, having sat with my family several years ago at just such an event, I have some sense of the swirl of emotions you and your families are experiencing right now. You are not primarily concerned with what the various speakers have to say. That is perfectly understandable.  You are thinking about far weightier matters . . . such as whether you use cold or hot water when doing your laundry . . . each month!

My simple hope and prayer for you, students and family members, is that you feel very confident that you are absolutely at the right place. And that this will all work out.

As I close, students, let me unsettle you but at the same time hopefully encourage you and challenge you when I say that my hope is that it does all work out for each of you but in ways you can’t imagine.  Perhaps, like a shy recent transfer student who found his way, after a while, to a major in accounting and countless campus leadership positions and now has a position of considerable responsibility in Washington. Or a recent student government president whose leadership experience throughout her years at Alvernia fueled a passion for service and an important staff position with the county Red Cross.

So that is my closing message:  explore and broaden, rather than narrow your interests. Stretch yourself.  Keep up in your classes; one of the few ways to mess up college is by falling too far behind. Get to know your advisor. Get involved in service and other activities. The more you engage in your Alvernia experience, the more you will derive from it.

I look forward to seeing you on campus this weekend and in the weeks and months ahead.  And in a few short years, that will go faster than you can ever imagine, I will be delighted to stand with you on stage for a quick picture, with your Alvernia diploma in hand.

major addresses

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