President Zupan’s Convocation Closing Address

Convocation Closing Address to Students

August 25, 2023

As our University begins its 188th academic year and as you, our new students, embark on your studies at Alfred, I ask that you keep two phrases in mind and in your hearts.

The first phrase is “seek and you shall find.” Our University’s promise to you, our new students, is to help you realize your purpose. By purpose, I mean what brings you meaning and joy while improving the well-being of others in some appreciable way. Realizing your purpose will bring you greater satisfaction, better health, and more fulsome happiness while making our world a better place.

By enrolling at Alfred University, you have joined a community that offers three great strengths when it comes to realizing your purpose. Those strengths are our: 1) inclusivity; 2) intersections; and 3) mentoring.

Let me briefly elaborate on all three of these strengths.

Inclusivity. Robert Zimmer, a former president of the University of Chicago, passed away a few months ago. As president, he was proudest of having articulated the Chicago Principles focused on the importance of promoting freedom of speech on college campuses.

While freedom of expression is important in higher education, we believe that giving such a principle primacy is playing too small a game. Organizations focused on freedom of speech tend to end up with speakers preaching to the choir because they too often attract like-minded individuals. One need only look at the echo chambers and polarization created by various media channels in our society to appreciate this point.

At Alfred University, our bedrock value is inclusivity. We believe that fostering inclusivity matters the most to the success of individuals, organizations, and nations. Freedom of speech and thought matter but so do building the power skills of listening to and learning to work with others with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and aspirations. Hence the primacy of fostering an inclusive community that makes such outcomes possible.

Alfred University prides itself on being inclusive from our start in 1836. We were the first higher education institution to be fully open to female students, for example. While Oberlin College was the first to admit women, we were the second and placed no restrictions on majors or speaking rights based on gender such as was the case at that school and so many others during the 19th century.

Our first class had 22 female and 14 male students and all majors were open to students irrespective of gender as was the ability to give public talks. By contrast, female students at Oberlin were restricted to certain majors such as home economics and could not give public talks for several decades.

Alfred University was also one of the first higher education institutions in the United States to admit African American and Native American students.

Finally, the statistics that Amy DeKay shared with you in her welcoming remarks about the diversity of backgrounds and aspirations of you, our newest undergraduate students, attests to our steadfast commitment to build on our core value of inclusivity.

Intersections. Earlier this year, the Washington Post named Alfred the collegiest town in the United State. During the academic year, 82 percent of the residents in our village are college students. The next most collegiest town in the United States, according to the Washington Post, is at 69 percent. We are the only place in the country that has more higher education institutions than traffic lights.

Our traffic light is currently not in operation due to the building of a new bridge/entrance to our campus. We plan to celebrate the renovated bridge and re-installed traffic light with a glorious parade later this Fall.

While we may have only one traffic light, the intersections of which you can avail yourselves of as students at Alfred University are plentiful and potent: intersections across our broad range of curricular and co-curricular offerings; with applied learning; with power skills; with professional outcomes; and with community members having wide-ranging backgrounds, values, and career interests.

Mentoring. The third strength of Alfred University that I encourage you to tap into on your quest to realize your purpose is the faculty, staff, and prior students and their ability to provide guidance. Take an active role in building relationships within this constellation of prospective mentors to ensure that, through Alfred University’s power of addition, 1+1 will equal at least 3 for you.

While you are ultimately the CEO of you, your ability to realize your purpose will be profoundly enhanced by the board of advisors that you develop along the way. Take the initiative to meet with them during student hours; ask them to get together over coffee or a meal to learn more about their field and what has worked for them; and use them as a sounding board when you seek to resolve the challenges that you confront.

Alfred University has so much to offer you through our inclusivity, intersections, and mentoring. Cathy Bissoon ’90, our keynote speaker, epitomizes all three. Her intersections as a student included studying political science and business; serving as an RA in our Pine Hill Suites; and participating in a variety of extracurricular activities in the humanities such as acting and interpreting music through sign language.

Cathy and Svetlana Gorodetsky ’92 became close friends here at Alfred University. Svetlana is with us today in honor of Cathy. Last evening, they had dinner with an emeritus faculty member, Bob Heineman—one of several important mentors that they engaged with as students and continued to provide guidance to them well beyond their graduation from Alfred University.

To benefit from Alfred University’s bounty, it is important for you to engage as did Cathy and Svetlana. As a friend and former university president, Leo Lambert, is fond of saying “when you are at a banquet, don’t make yourself a bologna sandwich!” “Seek and you shall find” as goes the first phrase.

To help you seek, I will be sending you a link to the electronic version of a book co-written by Leo Lambert about what to do at a banquet like the one Alfred University offers: Connections Are Everything: A College Student’s Guide to Relationship-Rich Education. The electronic version of the book is available free of charge from Johns Hopkins University Press. I encourage you to access the book and read at least the first two chapters.

Now, how about the second phrase. “Fiat Lux!” is our University’s motto. Translated into English the phrase means “let there be light!”

Think about all the different ways that we can conceive of light: its power to illuminate; the warmth it affords; and the diverse wavelengths/colors it unifies. These different conceptions make our University’s motto especially apt given our promise to you, our students, to help you realize your purpose through the inclusivity, intersections, and mentoring that we provide.

In closing, keep these two phrases in mind as you begin your educational journey with us here at Alfred University…“seek and you shall find” and “Fiat Lux!”

Welcome to Alfred University!

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