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2013 Induction Ceremony

Remarks by R. Owen Williams [Listen]

Good morning. Welcome, Class of 2017, and your families.

Congratulations, students, on your acceptance to Transylvania University. The next four years will be among the most challenging and rewarding of your lives. 

“We expect you to spend as much energy deciding who you want to be as worrying about what you want to do.”

The next three weeks are intended to help you know what to expect, and what is expected of you, during the coming years. 

Since it is my privilege to begin the process of defining those expectations, let me proffer this simple observation: you can expect much from us, just as we will expect much from you.

I am not going to give you lots of rules, primarily because we don’t have many, but consider these Five F's—no, not the kind on report cards, rather these more upbeat examples—Find, Freedom, Failure, Fun, and Family.

Find new people, new perspectives, new subjects, and new directions. Embrace the social, racial, political, religious, and economic diversity of our campus and community; seek it out and learn from it. We expect you to participate in as many activities as possible; also, show up to support your classmates in all that they do.

By engaging and interrogating all the opportunity that surrounds you here, your most important discovery may well come when you find yourself. We expect you to spend as much energy deciding who you want to be as worrying about what you want to do.

In order to find your best self, you will need the Freedom to experiment and explore. That is, after all, what the liberal arts are all about. The words “liberal arts” refer to a set of academic disciplines, of course, but they also allude to an intellectual method, one predicated upon the liberty (freedom) to think both creatively and critically, the requisite skills for cultivating reason and advancing truth.

The liberal arts encourage freedom from fear, an F word we try to avoid or overcome. We want you to deliberately tackle subjects you previously feared. The more creative and expansive your thought process, the greater your success, in college and beyond. 

You may expect that with knowledge will come power, which is true enough, but we expect you to also experience knowledge as humility. Every discovery gives rise to more questions—in the same way that the 300 billion or so stars in our Milky Way open the gate to billions of other galaxies—leaving us with the deafening reminder as to how little we actually know.

If the vast and unlimited scope of all that you stand to learn doesn’t keep you humble, Failure will. Yes, you will experience failure, which is a natural and positive outgrowth of the experimentation and reaching we expect you to do while at Transylvania. Welcome intellectual challenges. You have heard it before, but it is so true: the only real failure is the failure to try. All other failures are inevitable steps on your road to success and, don’t worry, we will be here for you if and when you stumble.

Here’s the point: So long as you students work hard to conquer the unconquerable, we will do our best to make the ineffable affable. We promise to make learning fun. 

Like you, we expect you to have lots of Fun while at Transy. By now, you already know that science, writing, and mathematics offer tons of fun. You know that, right? But that’s just the start. 

There is no end of fun to be had while in college, whether participating in one of our foreign travel programs, joining one of our many clubs, singing in an a cappella group, crowding into a closet with 60 of your best friends, catapulting pumpkins across campus—whatever it is, you can expect lots of fun. All we expect in return is that you not bring harm to yourself, your friends, or this beautiful campus. We expect you to look after each other and try to prevent one another’s bad decisions.

We are, after all, part of a Family, your new Transy Family. Expect your sense of family to grow; it will include fellow students, of course, yet it will also include faculty and staff, all sorts of new connections and dimensions. Much has changed at this college over the years, centuries really, but the one constant is that we maintain a special spirit of belonging that will stay with you throughout the next four years and for the rest of your life. 

Your new family will bring great joy, but we expect you to also stay close to the family that got you here. As a dad with two kids in college right now, I encourage you to call or go home regularly. And invite your parents and siblings to visit us here. Start a blog that chronicles your many adventures and successes; find a way to stay in touch with all the wonderful folks back home. 

Thank you, parents, for trusting us with the lives and education of your children. You won’t be disappointed. 

Again, welcome, Class of 2017, and good luck in the coming year.

Have fun and learn from whatever failures come your way as you find new meaning amidst your growing family and, most of all, wallow in the intellectual freedom of this historic college.

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