Reunion, Departures and… RETURN for Summer Sessions

Reunion/Commencement weekend is already becoming a blur in my memory as I think about all the alumni we welcomed back to campus, and the members of the class of 2011 that we sent off. So many people told me that the campus looked great, and I want to thank the Physical Plant staff for having worked tirelessly to keep things looking sharp. The University Relations crew managed the logistics with spirited grace, and I am so thankful for their efforts! From Faculty Marshalls to student workers, everybody pulled together.

Each year I take special pleasure in meeting with members of the class celebrating its 50th reunion, and 2011 was no exception. Bob Patricelli (who along with his wife, Margaret, received a Baldwin Medal for outstanding service) was the master of ceremonies at the reunion dinner, at which the class of 1961 made resounding clear why Wes has been known as “the singing college of New England.”

I had a little too much fun at the 25th Reunion dinner joining some of the musicians for a Class of ’86 blues.

I was really getting carried away — but then I realized there were real singers in the room, like Tierney Sutton and Dar Williams’89. Oy!

Spending time with our doctoral honorees was deeply gratifying. Biff and Jean Shaw shared words of wisdom about the power of community and the importance of service. Alberto Ibarguen added immeasurably to the weekend with his comments on the changing role of communication, and on how our grads might make their way through these revolutionary times. Paul Farmer was smart (expected) and really funny (an added treat) in his address to the class of 2011. I’ve admired Paul’s work for years, and it was delightful to see him engage with our students and faculty. Finally, I got to spend time with Barbara Cook, a singer who has brought joy, tears and passion to audiences for decades. It’s a little dangerous to finally get the chance to meet someone you idolize, but in this case it was pure pleasure.

I was impressed with all those who crossed the podium. As luck would have it, a good part of my commencement address was published on over the weekend. Families came from far and wide to celebrate with their new graduates, and it is always bittersweet to say goodbye at the end of the festivities. But we will be start up again May 31 with summer session classes starting next week. If you want a dose of Wes magic in June, there is still room in some of the classes.

Arrival Day

NOTE: You can view Michael Roth’s remarks to parents on Arrival Day here.

The Class of 2011 arrived on Tuesday this week, and a truckload of boxes containing our household possessions from California arrived the next day. Kari, Sophie and I are moving in and finding our way along with the frosh. Yesterday, as I made my way to the Freeman Athletic Center for a quick burst of exercise, a couple of students stopped their car to ask me for directions to Physical Plant. I had no idea. They asked, “Aren’t you the new president?” They were kind enough not to comment on my inability to help them find their way.

That will change as we find our way together. There are plenty of people here who are expert at helping others and are willing to do so. This was very clear on Tuesday, as staff members at all levels, as well as upperclassmen, headed out to the dorms to carry boxes, refrigerators, stereos, etc., to help our new arrivals move in. I have never seen a better combination of efficiency and graciousness. The excitement of the students and the nervousness of their parents (and vice versa) were palpable, and I met plenty of folks for whom saying goodbye was more than a little difficult. The responsibility of a university like Wesleyan is enormous. We have accepted these wonderfully gifted young people, we have welcomed them, and now we must give them the tools for lifetime learning and help them create a dynamic, generous community.

I am very confident in our ability to do that because in the past weeks I have gotten to know many of the staff and faculty. The operations here are truly impressive, and if move-in day is any indication, we are on top of the major logistical issues. Moreover, there is a consistent desire to keep improving for the welfare of the students, and for the enhancement of Wesleyan. The faculty are returning from summers of research, of writing, of creating. I am impressed with the eagerness with which they face the school year. Some of the faculty here I have known for more than thirty years, and I have personally experienced their remarkable abilities in the classroom. Even these veterans are always looking for ways to improve their classes, to further enhance student learning. And the young faculty come to Wesleyan with more than just impressive credentials. They come with a passion to make a difference in the lives of their students. How fortunate I am to have them as colleagues!

In my opening remarks to parents in the chapel I pointed to a feature of the Wesleyan community that we all know well: our students are intense, creative and engaged. But I also emphasized that they are taught to become self-critical; to be experimental also means to find ways to evaluate whether what one is trying is worth trying. That’s a difficult process, but it is essential in education and in life. Finally, I emphasized that our students learn that it is not enough to be intensely creative, and that it is not enough to be self-critical and experimental. We must also learn to deliver, to make something that others recognize as valuable, or as something that works. Our students are productive (often in surprising ways), and we set the highest standards for judging what they have produced.

Finally, and you will hear me say this often, I said that our students should discover what they love to do at Wesleyan, and then they should get a little better at it. I am confident that this will happen with the guidance of their teachers, and with the help of the staff and their fellow students.

I look forward to reporting to you a few times a month on what I am learning as I do what I love here at Wesleyan (and perhaps get a little better at it). And I look forward to reading your comments (though I won’t be able to respond to them individually) from your perspective on the Wesleyan community.

[tags] Class of 2011, moving, opening remarks, first entry [/tags]