Aug. 19, 2004

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Contact: Kevin Boatright, University Relations, (785) 864-7100; Dennis McCulloch, KU Medical Center, (913) 588-1441

Prepared remarks by Chancellor Hemenway at KU student convocation

It is my annual privilege to formally welcome you to the University of Kansas. For 139 years, the KU chancellor has greeted the new freshmen class and wished you Godspeed as you embark upon your college career. In 1866 there were only 40 of you, and the faculty was skeptical about whether the first freshman class was ready for college. One of the reasons was that none of the 40 had graduated from high school.

Today, we don t worry about your preparation. You have already proven yourself worthy. By all the ways that we judge a freshman class▄grade point average, standardized test scores, a vigorous high school curriculum, the amazing digital dexterity which results from hundreds of hours of video games, your collective success at programming cell phones▄all of these accomplishments make you stand out as one of the best qualified, and nimble group of students who have ever entered KU.

You arrive prepared to accomplish great things. KU is proud of you for your achievement and for your decision to attend this university. We think you made a good choice, and we believe you will think the same, this year, four years from now when you walk down the hill, and throughout your life as a Jayhawk graduate.

So it is appropriate to welcome you. But it is also appropriate to thank you.

You are important to KU in a formal, almost mythic way. Your presence validates the idea on which a university is founded.

Any university is only as good as the quality of thought and intellect, character and integrity, of its incoming students. You are the key actors in the ritual of renewal that lies at the very center of a great university. Each year there is a new class, and each year the new class knows a little bit more than their predecessors.

We depend upon you to arrive here each year, 4,000 strong, to affirm the university by bringing new ideas, a fresh set of eyes, different interpretations and new meaning to this collective identity we call the University of Kansas. If you were not here we would be diminished, running on last year s ideas, without sufficient imagination. The potential for a continuing, annual re-birth would be lost.

Or, have a little fun and think of it this way. Each spring the Jayhawk s feathers molt a little bit as seniors graduate, and professors retire. Birds periodically cast off old feathers and replace them with new feathers. You are the new growth that keeps the Jayhawk fresh and vigorous. Think of yourself as part of KU s belief in a full-feathered jayhawk.

A central part of this yearly ritual of renewal is for us to ease your path into the university, to orient you so that you know the physical landscape, where the classrooms are, how the bus system works, and to help you be reconciled to the hard facts of campus life▄to the realization that there are more cars than parking spaces on the KU campus. To the realization that not every construction project gets done before you arrive on campus. Be careful. Don t fall into a utilities trench, despite the opportunities. There is also the sad reality that despite the rumors, Lawrence bars do card you, and a false I.D. is a sure path to a court appearance and a very awkward call home.

This is what Hawk Week has been about, to introduce you to this special place, and plant the seed for you to see KU as we do▄an exciting, high energy place, full of possibility, hard work, and on-going opportunity.

This opening convocation becomes a formal ceremony of sharing with the newest arrivals, a time for us to share with you what we believe this university represents. So let me offer a few thoughts about what kind of a place we hope you find KU to be, and why we hope you will share this vision.

Here are four ways that KU defines itself. We want KU to be:

1. A caring university 2. A diverse university 3. A marketplace of ideas 4. A community of scholars

A Caring University KU is a complex, multi-generational institution. From new freshmen to emeritus faculty, from our Hill Top day care center to our geriatric clinics, KU encompasses all ages. Still, KU becomes home to more young people between the ages of 18-30 than any other age group, and this age group▄you▄has a predominant occupation here, and that is the life of a student.

We pride ourselves on being a student-centered university, which is one way of saying that we care deeply about what happens to you▄in the classroom, in the library, in the computer lab, everywhere on campus.

Everything that occurs here is connected to that thought▄are you being well served? A good university cares about how its students are treated, and KU prides itself on providing the safest possible environment for you to live and study in.

But no matter how much we care, we will not achieve the goal of a caring university without you accepting responsibility to care about each other, to protect each other, to think about each other s safety. Let me illustrate with two stories.

Last year, a member of the freshman class drank to excess, crawled out on a residence hall ledge and fell to his death.

This was a terrible tragedy. It always is when a good person dies young, a life of accomplishment and possibility cut short. It was also tragic that this young man s body lay in the grass, next to the main sidewalk, in full view of his fellow classmates, and for 30 minutes no one stopped to see what was wrong. Apparently, his classmates felt he had just passed out from drinking too much.

Please don t let this happen to you▄either through use of alcohol or through your neglect of someone in need. Care about your fellow students. Help them if they are in distress.

There is another story from last year. Andy Marso, a KU senior contracted meningitis. His roommate looked at him and realized something was terribly wrong. He lifted Andy into his car and got him to the LMH Emergency Room. His roommate saved his life.

A Diverse University KU is a large university that prides itself on being a hospitable, welcoming environment for men and women of all colors, all cultures, all life styles, all faiths, and all nationalities. Two women students were part of that first class. The first African American student enrolled in 1870, four years after KU began. Today, KU students come from over 120 different countries, all 50 states and almost every county in Kansas. Over 800 students are African-American, over 1,000 are Asian American and over 800 are Hispanic-Americans. 1800 or so are not American, having come to KU from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere.

This diverse enrollment is by design and is a proud KU legacy. We believe that the only great universities of the 21st Century will be universities that actively seek students from diverse backgrounds and diverse experiences, both nationally and internationally.

Justice Sandra Day O Connor, of the U.S. Supreme Court, has articulated well the philosophy that drives KU to open its arms to a diverse student body. In the recent University of Michigan Affirmative Action case, the U.S. Supreme Court supported diversity and Justice O Connor articulated why: ■The benefits of diversity are important and tangible because classroom discussion is livelier, more spirited and simply more enlightening and interesting when the students have the greatest possible variety of backgrounds.˙

The University of Kansas has a responsibility to be a laboratory for democracy, and we hope that you will encounter here the diverse experiences that illustrate a successful modern democracy. Seize upon this KU advantage. Make friends. Be hospitable to others who are different than you. Show respect and tolerance and openness to fellow students. Remember that all of God s children are worth knowing and all have a story to tell and a lesson to teach.

A Marketplace of Ideas This is one of the oldest clichÄs about universities. What does it really mean? That ideas are for sale? That the University resembles a bazaar, some kind of raucous market, where one finds expressed most any view under the sun?

What we really mean when we use this phrase is that KU inevitably stimulates a multitude of views, a panorama of opinions. We now know even Rush Limbaugh acknowledges KU s marketplace of ideas. He just doesn t like some of the ideas. The university works hard at offering a model of informed debate, which presumes that you research your position and present it with civility. But no matter what your observation, you will have the right to speak it. The First Amendment is alive and well at KU, and you may feel sometimes it is too alive and well.

But we can t serve as that laboratory of democracy without free speech, even if the views expressed are repugnant to us.

In the end, KU as a marketplace of ideas means simply that your mind will be engaged, and you will have the opportunity to test many different theories in your next four years, and you will change your mind in some ways and solidify your views in other ways. We hope it is because of the quality of argument and insight that you encounter. If it sometimes seems that you are in the middle of the marketplace, with a cacophony of opinions bombarding you, don t worry about it. Clarity will come. You will see your way, and you will discover▄because your ideas have been tested▄what you truly believe.

A Community of Scholars What does this mean? The dictionary offers various definitions of community: ■Society in general; a group of people living together as a smaller social unit within a larger one; a group having interests in common; a group loosely or closely associated because of common traditions or for political or economic advantage.˙

In ecology a community is a group of ■animal and plant species living together and having close interaction, especially through food relationships.˙

This last definition probably comes closest to the University, especially if you define ■food relationships˙ as a nearly universal appetite for pizza.

We hope you are already, because of Hawk Week, beginning to see yourself as part of a community of shared interests and shared values.

Scholarship does draw us together into a community. We are all, faculty and students alike, focused on the need to learn, the desire to know, the impulse to study the world and understand why it works the way it does. Why else would we send spacecraft to Mars and Mercury, or build a camera to give us a picture of the rings of Saturn?

As faculty, we don t talk about it much, because we are afraid people might think it hokey, but we consider teaching to be a kind of calling. We have dedicated our life to the search for truth, and we have dedicated our energy to sharing our vision of that truth with our students. We don t usually express this in abstractions. Our truth becomes, understanding Faulkner s The Sound and The Fury, or how evolutionary history is represented in the diversity of organisms, or how plate tectonics explain why the Rocky Mountains loom over Western Kansas.

Because KU is a research university we believe in a particular methodology for discovering such truths. We recognize that there are moments of great revelation, when truth seems to rise up quickly and suddenly like a whale surfacing beside your kayak. But whales don t rise to the surface every day. More often, truth slowly announces itself, incrementally, after a careful process of study and research, a process that educates the scholar about how truly complex most of life turns out to be.

We invite you to be a part of this community of searchers, this group of animal and plant species who inhabit the intellectual preserve we call the University of Kansas. The key to this community is exchange. You don t learn in isolation. A community presumes that your ideas are tested. As Frank Rhodes, former president of Cornell once put it, ■Without community, personal discovery is limited. . . private knowledge is knowledge lost.˙

The full sign of KU health is a vibrant Jayhawk community, serious about our scholarly purpose here, engaged with each other, full of joy and good feeling about the university we have joined, ready to go to Mars, is need be, to learn more about the universe. I wish you that full-feathered Jayhawk joy and good feeling. A Jayhawk on Mars is not a bad idea at all. Why don t you be the one?

Congratulations, Jayhawks. You have restored the university once again. Let s go to class.


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