2004 Academic Convocation

Libby Christensen Rayburn '04

Thank you Bill Barry for your kind introduction. Thank you also to family, friends, and faculty for allowing us all to be here today. While the convocation ceremony will highlight the diverse accomplishments of the students of the University of Puget Sound, I would like to use my time to highlight and to acknowledge an accomplishment shared by all UPS graduates, this being the ability to dance with the world.

Now, before I loose credit with those I don't know and those who know me and know my style of dance, I must clarify my definition of the ability to dance.

You see when I say dancing, I do not mean with grace, physical coordination, or anything that requires balancing on two feet. So, to those lacking in any or all of these skills, myself included, you need not worry, because the dancing of which I speak is strictly the dancing of the mind. In particular, my definition of dancing is the minds' ability to move with and adapt to a world of multiple disciplines, complex thoughts, and changing systems.

I believe that the goals of a liberal arts education, mainly, to provide a diverse academic background, to instill the ability to expect the unexpected, to embrace change, to learn from surprises, and to adapt and to act in coordination with the shifting events of the world are analogous to the tasks of finding a beat, harmonizing the best with the music, and choreographing movements required of a dance prior to his/her entrance onto a stage.

Similarly, the metaphor of dancing enables us to document the progression of a student's academic development over the course of their undergraduate education.

As freshman, the students to day started their dance lesson with a study of rhythm and beat. Through the beginning level course required of underclassmen, students are introduced to a plethora of academic theories, which operate as the foundation, or rhythm, of our academic training. For instance, as freshmen, science students are taught to recognize the constant and steady beat of the law of thermodynamics, politics and social science students are exposed to the circular and repetitive beat of Karl Marx's conflict theory, and art students are taught the to paint synthesizing and combining multiple colors through the beat of Color Theory.

In conjunction with learning the beats of academics, the University of Puget Sound furthers its student's dance lesson by creating an academic environment which fosters living in harmony with and embracing a variety of academic tempos. Similar to Color Theory, an interdisciplinary focus and liberal arts curriculum have enabled students to combine and contrast a variety of different scholarly pursuits. Through fostering an open academic environment in the classroom out of the classroom through independent studies, themes living environments, lecture series, and internship opportunities, students have been able to fuse their own experiences with the experiences of their peers.

Over four years, the rhythm and harmonies an orchestra of current events has enhanced UPS's academic training. Since the fall of 2000, the United States has seen a massive shift in its foreign policy. By embracing the times, UPS faculty has encouraged students to recognize the beats and rhythmic patterns of our academic theories within this concert of world events.

The successes shown by the University of Puget Sound students here today reveal the energy and innovative thinking that occurs when students are exposed to a variety of disciplines and rhythms, taught to harmonize our ideas, and are given the freedom to choreograph their own interpretations of and solutions for the world.

Not only has our final year at UPS allowed us to design and dance with our own ideas, but also the class of 2004 has had a unique opportunity to witness the performance and dance of the both the University of Puget Sound and of the City of Tacoma. This spring marked the inauguration of President Ron Thomas and a new transition for the University of Puget Sound. Under his vision of civic engagement, President Thomas has brought a new beat to the university and has renewed the campus's commitment to learning from and with the City of Tacoma. Through the University's actions such as signing the Talloires Declaration, a document committing the campus to sustainable behavior and drafting a master plan to reform our education philosophy into a "Tapestry of Learning," students have witnessed a president and a campus find their beat, harmonize the beat with the surrounding community, and take the first steps in what I am confident will be a wonderful dance for the campus.

Outside of the University of Puget Sound, over the past four years, Tacoma has shown itself to be a distinct community that jives to its own beat. In the past year, our home of Tacoma has been named both the "most stressed out city" in the nation and also one of "best up and coming places to live" in the country. As graduates today know, these characterizations are just some of the many dynamic dualisms defining Tacoma. After spending this past semester studying urban planning and the environmental, economic, and sociological future of the city of Tacoma, I am impressed at how Tacoma is overcoming its challenges of crime, environmental degradation, and population growth by embracing the power of its residents. As Tacoma plans to increase community participation in city planning and further harness its social capital to revitalize the city, I am confidant that it too, will waltz its way into the future.

As students, we have been privileged to act as an audience to two amazing performances, which will alter where we live and where we study. Witnessing the dance of the University of Puget Sound and Tacoma, along with our undergraduate education has provided us with the perfect dress rehearsal for our own dance. The time has come for us to engage ourselves in and harmonize with a world of multiple beats and multiple dancers. Through maintaining our willingness to learn from others and our open mindedness instilled in us through our academic training, I believe we can adapt our beats to learn, to harmonize, and to dance with others. In doing so, we can choreograph and stage our own our own adaptive solutions for change. I understand many of us may not find our stage tomorrow, the next day, or for a number of years, but I am confident, that as long as we remember the lessons from our four years at the University of Puget Sound, when we do hit the stage, we will receive a standing ovation.