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2012 Induction Ceremony

Remarks by R. Owen Williams [Listen]


Embrace the 3Rs: Relax, Relate, Reach

I am delighted to welcome you, the Class of 2016, and your families to Transylvania University and the opening of our inaugural August term.

To the parents here today, thank you for entrusting us with your loved ones. Your sons and daughters are about to walk in the very same footsteps as some of America’s greatest doctors, lawyers, politicians, and educators, and they are going to enjoy the substantial benefits of a premier liberal arts education.

“Our students develop humility over hubris, probity over greed, and curiosity over ideology.”

At Transylvania, our students not only graduate to good jobs, but they pursue larger goals, such as civic engagement, social justice, and environmental responsibility. They develop humility over hubris, probity over greed, and curiosity over ideology. Though hard to quantify, these skills and perspectives prepare students to succeed well beyond their first job, indeed, to thrive and lead in a world of algorithms and complications heretofore unimaginable. It is our conviction that, because liberal arts students think more broadly, liberal arts graduates live more fully.

You may well ask: What exactly are the liberal arts?

The August term that you students are about to begin will address that question. If you will indulge me, I would like to take a stab at distilling the liberal arts to their most digestible form.

To begin with, the liberal arts are neither politically liberal nor solely artistic. You needn’t worry parents; we will not be returning your children to you as disengaged and unemployable radicals. There are plenty of studies to demonstrate that college does not make students more liberal or less religious.

As we understand it, “liberal” refers to freedom, and “arts” refers to creativity. Together, the liberal arts liberate the mind; they provide the freedom to be creative, to discover, and to become.

At Transylvania, we think of inquiry as the key to the liberal arts.

Surrounded as we are by uncertainty, our search is necessarily without distinct boundaries. More questions mean more learning, while better questions mean better learning. Our questions help us grow, incrementally and exponentially.

You may also ask, what sorts of questions? As Socrates was quoted saying, in Plato’s Apology, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

What does it mean to be human?
Why do people make art?
Why do they laugh?
Why is religion found in all human societies?
What evolutionary phenomenon allows women to live longer lives than men?
Why is cement gray?
Why do children love sloppy, slimy, sticky things?
How much money do we need to lead a good life?
What is a “good life”?
Why do college students have to endure boring college presidents?

These are just examples of the questions you should and will ask.

At Transylvania, we want to raise the level of inquiry and debate, whatever the subject at hand. Our country desperately needs an infusion of new leaders, broadly educated citizens who reject unexamined prejudices. At our college, thanks to our superb faculty, we foster the intellectual rigor and discipline necessary to grasp life’s subtleties and nuances.

Just as our professors encourage students to question everything, so too do they question the accepted wisdom within their fields and the established pedagogy within their profession. They embrace change, not for its own sake, but because they are constantly in search of the best conceivable teaching methods. The extent to which those methods are technologically fashioned is still to be determined, but the Transylvania faculty will cultivate students’ imagination as near to the cutting-edge as is reasonable and responsible.

Exactly 50 years ago, one of my predecessors as president of Transylvania University, Dr. Irvin Lunger, committed the college and I recommit today, Transylvania “strives for excellence in academic endeavor and achievement.”

We readily accept as our purpose the development of “intellectual and technical competence” alongside “social and moral maturity” for all our students.

Every new class of students at Transylvania is special in its own way, of course, but I personally feel a close bond to all of you in this first-year class. I have a daughter in this class, though at another college (she loves Lexington and Transylvania, but she was not even remotely open to attending a college where her father is president).

At the risk of sounding like the boring old dad that my daughter insists I am, I would like to share with all of you the same advice I gave her.

I encouraged her to embrace the 3Rs.

No, you’ve already mastered the 3Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic, thus, you are ready for a very different set of priorities: relax, relate, and reach.

Relax: You have spent much of your life getting into and ready for college. It was a maddening, never-ending grind of resume and competence building. Now you can relax and take full advantage of the fact that you are really here. Take a deep breath, slow down, and enjoy your new surroundings. My comments are intended as a clarion call to appreciate every moment, opportunity, and person you encounter; your gratitude will unlock a far richer learning experience.

Relate: You may know who you are, what you want to major in, and what you want to do with the rest of your life, but don’t let that curtail your appetite for adventure and fresh connections. Whatever you may think to the contrary, many of you will change your majors, some of you more than once. College is a time for opening up to new ideas and getting to know people unlike any you have known before. Get to know as many people as possible, paying particular attention to people who are different from you. I assure you that your best teachers will be your fellow students, but only if you succeed at listening to them, accepting them, and, ultimately, relating to them.

Reach: College is a time for challenging yourself, for expanding your horizons. Take risks. Stumble in unfamiliar directions. Make room for unexpected details. Take hard courses that are outside your range of past knowledge, courses that will help you relate to previously foreign analytical methods, perspectives, and cultures. And explore among the galaxy of extracurricular possibilities on campus as well. But along the way, treat failure as something to laugh at, to learn from, or to lead you to uncharted depths. Don’t think you should be, or even could be, flawless. Admit your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I kid you not: failure is an inevitable and regular occurrence on the path to progress, so get used to it, welcome it, relish it.

Bottom line: I invite (indeed, I implore) each and every one of you to frolic in the indefinite and imagined splendor between matriculation and achievement. Ask lots of questions. Open your mind to the many possible answers that will come. This will be a time like none other. Capture the opportunity to the fullness of its promise; immerse yourself in all that Transylvania has to offer.

Class of 2016, welcome. We are thrilled to have you at Transylvania.
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