May Oberlin Inspire You Always
May 29, 2013
Welcome Oberlin students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends.
Class of 2013, congratulations on your many accomplishments. By working hard and following your passion, you have gained something precious: an Oberlin education.
It has provided you with a distinctive awareness of how music, history, politics, economics, science, art, and literature inform, enrich, and affect each other.
This ability to think laterally lies at the heart of an Oberlin education. You should now be able to connect various perspectives as you try to understand the world. Engaging in this kind of thinking allows you to better reason, analyze, and effectively express your ideas and insights, now and in the future.
Thousands of alumni attribute their success to that ability and to the rigor of their Oberlin classes. Class of 2013, I believe you will be amazed as you continue to apply your Oberlin education. To paraphrase Andrew Bongiorno, our late, great professor of English, the education you received here will unfold and blossom for the rest of your lives.
You’ve acquired something else precious at Oberlin—a community. Think of all the people who have taught you, supported you, and given you love. Faculty, staff, alumni, parents, visiting scholars, musicians and artists, as well as the residents of this great town. And—most important of all, perhaps—you learned so much from each other. If you choose to maintain those relationships they will nourish your hearts and minds for years to come.
In our community, you also learned how to negotiate differences. You may have even learned the skill of mediation through Oberlin College Dialogue Center or Student Senate or other deliberative bodies.
Negotiating differences can be difficult. It requires open minds, respectful listening, and a genuine desire to learn. It requires conversations about some of the hot-button issues facing our society—issues such as race, class, ethnicity, priorities, and fairness.
We’ve had many of those conversations here this past semester. Our community’s shared values were tested when we experienced incidents of bias that hurt and unsettled us.
Those events made national headlines. The media focused on Oberlin precisely because of our legacy of inclusion. They paid less notice when we identified suspects, initiated disciplinary proceedings, and cooperated with law enforcement. Now the media spotlight has moved on.
Bias events are not unique to Oberlin. Prejudice and ignorance can be found around the world. But Oberlin’s reaction to the hatred stands out.
I am proud that our community responded by turning these events into an educational opportunity. Led largely by you, our students, we came together to teach, to learn, to listen, and to appreciate our wide range of life experiences.
Our Day of Solidarity sparked discussions about difficult topics such as diversity and inclusion. We are continuing those discussions. By reaffirming our values and working together we will find ways to improve the college and the conservatory, and to make this an even stronger community as we move forward.
What have we learned from these events, and from our response to them? We learned that the actions of a few can affect many.
We learned that the power of healing and love can prevail over hate. We learned that pausing and reflecting can clarify. We also learned that, like our Oberlin ancestors, we are tough, resilient human beings, dedicated to working together to make the world better.
As we begin the 180th year of this grand educational endeavor, located in what was once a swampy forest, that determination to do good remains at the core of our institutional identity.
Our love for Oberlin does not make it immune to society’s ills. This is not nirvana. People disagree sometimes. They hold a range of opinions and beliefs. That is healthy and proper, especially in an educational environment.
At Oberlin, we recognize our disagreements. But, we do so with open hearts and minds. We strive to learn from our differences and to have discussions grounded in reason but tempered by our values—especially empathy for others and respect for their points of view. Those discussions form the basis of education and lifelong learning.
Throughout all our lives we are confronted with unexpected challenges. We will face events that we don’t understand in the moments they are happening. That occurs in our personal lives, in our work, and in our society and world.
The stunningly swift evolution of technology, for example, can be hard to reconcile with beloved traditions and norms. In our connected world, time and distance seem ever more compressed. Information and images, whether accurate or false, move at light speed. For better, and sometimes for worse, decisions and responses have to be made in real time. Big data and predictive analytics can seem liberating one minute and cast Big Brother-like shadows the next. The key is to determine the significance of data and separate real insights from desired outcomes. This is where the critical thinking skills you developed here are invaluable.
Life teaches some hard lessons. We all go through them. The breadth and depth of a liberal arts education helps make sense of tumultuous times. Your Oberlin education has equipped you to face this changing world by teaching you to think as well as feel, and to analyze and apply your values.
May your Oberlin education always be a part of you. May those Oberlin values serve you well no matter where you go or what you do. May the Oberlin community—with its passion, its heart, its integrity, and its desire to make the world better—inspire you always.
Thank you class of 2013. I wish you all the best.
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