Welcome! It is great to see everyone and to honor all that you have accomplished. As you know, the Dean's List is the top ten percent of the undergraduate class for each semester. To qualify, a student must have three or more graded units, no incomplete grades for the semester, and no withdrawal from an academic course. The minimum grade point average for each semester varies as it is determined by the top ten percent of the undergraduate class: 3.85 for Spring 2012 and 3.84 for Fall 2012. Congratulations on your achievements!
You are academic leaders. While I strongly suspect – and that’s OK – you do not recall the precise words that I share at Opening Convocation and Matriculation ceremonies each fall, you may have a vague recollection that I believe the fundamental goal of a liberal arts education is preparation of citizen-leaders. Sometimes, even some of my closest (faculty) colleagues resist the idea that Puget Sound should be about leadership. They worry that setting an outcome of “being a leader” will seem off-putting or intimidating to students. I continue to stand by my conviction, but know that I need to explain: What does citizen-leadership mean?
Certainly, in ancient Greece – where my academic discipline of rhetoric places its roots – citizen-leadership was more elitist or exclusionary than our contemporary democracy permits. Citizens were males, who had completed military service, who had not had their voting rights removed as a consequence of debt; women, slaves, freed slaves, children, and foreigners were not citizens. Our contemporary conception of citizenship – at least in definition, if still less ideally so in practice (as the Supreme Court’s current consideration of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act highlights) – our contemporary conception is more expansive.
You are eligible citizen-leaders: able to participate in deliberation and decision-making on issue-questions: Is something the case? Is something worthy of praise or blame? What should we do or not do to address an issue? These issues arise at all levels of civic life: not only issues like national budget sequestration, or voting rights and representation in the states, but also weapons control in cities or on college campuses, or community standards in residence halls at Puget Sound.
The world in which you will live, continue to learn, and lead needs you – needs all of us – to be reflective thinkers, who understand with empathy how we are connected to one another across multiple differences and identities, and who can advocate for reform and justice with clarity and confidence. That’s what you are preparing to do – and, if you’re a graduating senior, that is what you ought to be telling every potential employer and every inquiring parent and grandparent you are prepared to do.
One of the things I really like about Puget Sound is that we conceive of, and talk about, liberal arts education here as “not something you get, but something you do.” You are not paying tuition for a commodity or a product; you are engaging an academic-residential educational experience. I believe that is an experience in leadership and I congratulate every one of you who steps up in the classroom and outside of the classroom to lead in deliberatiing questions that arise in academic work, campus life, and civic life every day.
If you do not yet conceive of your work here as leadership work, then I invite you to ask yourself this question: Where and when do I begin? My answer, of course, is “here” and “today.”
As part of the celebration of Puget Sound’s 125th anniversary, we are taking the opportunity to highlight the university’s motto: “To the heights!” We are putting in the forefront the concept: “Here, education is animated by our shared passion for teaching and learning, emboldened by a commitment to lead where we are most needed (my emphasis), and inspired by the unique location we call home.” That metaphorical “to the heights” – applicable to whatever life journey you choose – is, we hope, kindled by “a passion for daring and discovery with the encouragement to become your best self, conceive your brightest ideas, and pursue a meaningful path through life.” We want you to join us on “bold journeys of personal and intellectual discovery, supported by a welcoming community . . . united by a desire to meet worthy challenges and make a difference in the world” (my emphasis). Where and when do we begin? And begin, again? “Here.” “Today.”
What does that leadership look like in daily life? How can I be more effective in my (bold) leadership journey? My son is a liberal arts college senior. He was a varsity athlete, but dropped the team after sophomore year for other pursuits. This spring, the coach invited him back to be a student-assistant coach. On the whole, the team is doing well, but last Friday they blew a lead and lost a contest. He said, “We are a very talented team that has a huge lack of leadership and mental toughness.” (It’s a refrain I’ve heard from him before; my response has tended to be: What are you doing to build leadership?) Some of you are student-athletes: how are you building leadership and mental toughness? To all of you: How are you building leadership in the arts or in science; in research or in service; in musical ensembles, drama ensembles, and dance groups; in Greek organizations, in employment venues, or in campus life? There are lots of opportunities; let me note just two.
Campus climate: Discussions of preliminary report on comprehensive Campus Climate Survey (Spring 2012). 65% of students reported hearing disparaging remarks about a specific identity group made by students in Puget Sound classrooms; 87% reported hearing such remarks by students outside of the classroom. Only 36% of students reported they would be very likely to challenge a discriminatory remark made by other students in the classroom; only 43% said they would very likely challenge such a remark outside of the classroom. A little over 50% of students reported they were uncertain of whether they would challenge discriminatory remarks. It is leadership work to speak up – to challenge – disparaging and discriminatory remarks about members of this community, by members of this community, in this community. I commend those of you who do; I challenge each of us to find authentic, confident voices to do so in the future. No one should be attacked verbally and/or physically on our campus because of personal identity.
My colleague in both rhetoric and administration at Colorado State University, Dr. Ann Gill writes: “If society is to embrace and to value all of its members, it must break the silence of women, ethnic minorities, and others in the margins of society. We must learn to listen to all the voices, and individuals must find an authentic voice of their own” (p. 215). I add, we must build a campus climate in which micro-aggressions are heard for what they are and challenged directly. Ann Gill has written importantly and powerfully on freedom of speech, and she has written in particular on the importance of “positive speech” in the face of disparaging expression.
Which is relevant to a second area for leadership work of which we are all in the midst: social media ethics. I commend Ashley Hall, Kathryn Ginsberg, Peter Bergene, and Airiel Quintana for bringing concerns about the “Puget Sound Confessions” Facebook page to ASUPS attention. I commend their and other students’ efforts to shift culture through the “Pick me UPS” campaign to promote interpersonal positive speech and kindness in interactions. This is leadership work: a bold journey to build a supportive, welcoming community . . . united by a desire to meet worthy challenges and make a difference in OUR world, right here.
In addition, a liberal arts college is where we have opportunity to engage in critical examination of the influences of technologies. We have that expertise on our campus in Science, Technology and Society; in Communication Studies and in Philosophy; in African American and Gender Studies programs; as well as in Student Services. We have strengths in these areas in each of our graduate programs. Puget Sound is a place where you can make both development of skills in cultural competence and commitment to ethics in social media part of your leadership work.
But, there is so much to do . . . Is it not “too much” to expect leadership on top of all of our academic tasks? A few years ago, one of my colleagues gave me a copy of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, Gift from the Sea. The wife of aviation pioneer, Charles Lindbergh, Anne writes in a way that might ring true with your feelings as you think about all of the demands of your busy lives and how you will choose among all of the ways in which you might do important leadership work. Lindbergh reflects:
“Today a kind of planetal point of view has burst upon [hu]mankind. The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts and sufferings even in the outermost circle touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations. But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I fear the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. . . . My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds. . . . Faced with this dilemma what can we do?” (pp. 124-125)
Lindbergh asked this question in 1955, when television was in its toddlerhood and long before the Internet has made us even more linked to problems bigger than our human frames can hold, and so her question is even more important today: Faced with all the leadership work that we could do, how do we choose? How do we keep from feeling helpless in the face of humanity’s need? Of, even, our campus needs?
I take inspiration from Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, President of Spelman College (“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” and Other Conversations about Race) when she writes, “The antidote I have found [to feeling overwhelmed by the task of effecting change] is to focus on my own sphere of influence. I can’t fix everything, but some things are within my control. While many people experience themselves as powerless, everyone has some sphere of influence in which they can work change, even if it is just in their own personal network of family and friends. Ask yourself, ‘Whose lives do I affect and how? What power and authority do I wield in the world? What meetings do I attend? Who do I talk to in the course of a day?’” (p. 204).
This is not a new concept: The Chinese author “Zhong Acheng” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhong_Acheng), one of the “educated youth” generation who were sent to the countryside during the cultural revolution, has written: "Another thing is that heroism of ordinary people is the epitome of history. Those ordinary people, when compelled by the situation, irradiate their brilliance. Afterwards, these ordinary people again become ordinary, and are often amazed by their prior feats. Because of this, as the individual sees it, it’s like starting from zero and ultimately returning to zero; but through this process history advances one step at a time." (translated by B. Bartanen, 2013)
It’s a profound statement of the obvious to note that we cannot advance history – whether that is to accomplish social justice or a peaceful world or any kind of leadership – by ourselves. In 2002, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for Black History Month, Seattle’s KCTS/Channel 9 ran a public service announcement that said:
One man had a dream
One woman kept her seat
One athlete went the distance
One player changed the game
One actress beat the odds
Millions of lives changed
By the power of one.
No doubt you’ve seen other film, video, or print creations related to “the power of one.” It is important to recognize and honor the achievements of Martin King, Rosa Parks, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, and Hattie McDaniel – as well as Barack and Michelle Obama and so many others – but it is also important to know that they did not, and do not, work alone. Leadership work is effective when we gather allies, collaborate with partners, build a team effort, cooperate with friends. That is what Airiel, Peter, Kathryn and Ashley are doing. That is what Loggers do.
Congratulations on your academic accomplishments and academic leadership as members of the 2012 Deans List. May your bold journeys include authentic, positive speech; create inclusive environments supportive for the achievements of all persons; and provide leadership where it is most needed. Including here. Starting today. Radiating brilliance.