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Convocation Remarks by Chancellor Kent Syverud
Good morning. A lot of speeches today, mine will be brief. On behalf of my colleagues on the faculty and staff, I welcome you all to Syracuse University.
After my welcome, you are going to hear from Professor Kristi Andersen, the Chapple Family Professor, the Meredith Professor, the Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Political Science here at Syracuse. She teaches and writes about citizenship and will have about 200 of you in her class, “Critical Issues in the United States,” starting next week.
There are two very different audiences here at this Convocation I want to speak to. In front of me, on the lower deck of this vast space, are 3,800 freshman and transfer students about to begin their careers here. And above these students, watching over you as always, are your families and loved ones. I have very brief and separate messages to these two different audiences.
The first to the entering students of 2014. In a few moments, Dean Maurice Harris will ask you to rise and to accept the charge. The words I will speak to you then, and the words you will speak to me, are adapted from a charge first spoken on this campus 143 years ago in 1871.
The Chancellor who spoke them, Erastus Haven, and the students who heard them could not have imagined what Syracuse University would become in 2014.
And yet, those students in 1871 discovered many of the same things that you are going to discover here. Education is not something bestowed on you but something you earn through hard work and through discipline. And also you gain through unplanned and unexpected wonders that happen all over a great university and you need to be open to at all times of the day and night.
A good education encompasses the full breadth of all disciplines here, arts and humanities and sciences and professions. You’re going to learn not only from your teachers but also from your peers. In the process, like the students in 1871, you will become a teacher yourself and you will forge friendships that last a lifetime.
Those students in 1871 eventually left this University a better place, and they became better people. They were followed by 143 other cohorts of students and countless faculty and staff, each of whom contributed here and changed this place. The University you see around you today is not just a bunch of buildings and people and course requirements and degrees; it is the accumulation of all the work and dreams and ideas and inventions of the students and faculty who came before you.
So much of what happens here was beyond the imagination of any administrator; it was invented and learned by the students and faculty working here together. That includes the Goon Squad, who unloaded your possessions the last couple of days—students invented that in 1944. That includes the Reserve Officers Training Corps, the oldest continually operating ROTC on any University campus. That includes so many programs and departments and clubs and activities, from the Daily Orange (one of the nation’s top ranked college papers), founded by students in 1903, to the Crouse Chimes, installed in 1889 high above the bell tower, heard across campus and played by student Chimemasters for more than 125 years. It also includes the 46 new student organizations created since last year’s Convocation.
So incoming 2014 students, when you hear and accept the 1871 charge at Syracuse University, I ask you to resolve to make this University your own. I ask you to build something here, to make something here, to leave behind something here, that you alone can uniquely contribute. We all want to help you do that. And that’s because we believe this is your University and you need to make it your own.
And now I want to speak to the folks in the upper decks, to the parents and families and friends of the incoming class. I would like you to know that three times now I have dropped one of my own kids off at a University. Three times now, I have sat up there where you now sit. Three times, I have been happy and proud of my kid, starting at a great university, as you should be today. Three times, I have been anxious and concerned, and not because of the food or the residence hall. I have been concerned because I suddenly realized, sitting where you sit now, that there would be a piece of my soul walking around a campus often far away, beyond my ability to completely control or to protect or to influence.
I suspect that some of you right now are feeling what I felt each time I left a kid at university. My wife, my family and I had poured so much into each of our children—so much time and so much love and so much energy and so much worry and so much inspiration. It was a labor of love, but it was labor, and we got very used to it. Indeed, it defined the best part of our lives. And then suddenly, one day, I was looking down from a balcony on my kid, and all the effort I guess was worthwhile—we were successful, our kid was ready to embrace a great university, or so we hoped and prayed.
One time when I dropped one of my kids off at university, the chaplain of the university addressed us parents and acknowledged all we had done—as I have just done. He said, “Parents, you have done so much, so many great things, to make sure these incoming students will be wonderful and to take on a great university.” And then that chaplain added one more unforgettable thing: “Parents,” he said, “you must now give your kid one more great gift, the most wonderful and the hardest of all. You must go home.”
I hated that chaplain. I did not want to go. I wanted to watch my kid thrive in a university that offered so many wonderful opportunities that I never had. I wanted to make sure my kid picked the right friends and made none of the many mistakes I made when I was in university. I wanted to be there for my kid as I always tried to be there for the previous 18 years.
But I went home. I knew my kid had to make his own way. I hoped that the university would have good people—like Syracuse University and SUNY ESF do—among its faculty and staff and in the student body. People who would catch my kid and inspire my kid. But I did go home, as you must do.
The happy news I can share with you is that, after a few weeks or months, my kids did start calling me again, and I could still be there for them. I could visit on parents’ weekend. I could help do laundry—and lots of it. I could take joy, each day and in a different way, in my kids who I’ve watched become adults.
Parents and family, thank you for all you have done and all you will do for these members of the 2014 entering class. Like all of Syracuse University, I am the beneficiary of your great work. Like all of Syracuse University, because of your great work, these students are our most sacred trust.
Good luck to all of you, students and families. Congratulations.