Convocation Address 2018

August 17, 2018

On behalf of our esteemed faculty, dedicated staff, and committed Trustees, I am delighted to welcome you—the great class of 2022 to Rhodes College. We have all turned out today to celebrate this threshold moment with you and to offer you our blessings.

My husband, Dr. Larry Hass, and I look forward to getting to know you and your families and to seeing you grow during your four years here.

At Rhodes, you are going to get an extraordinary education. If you make the most of this opportunity, you will wind up better educated than 97 percent of the people on the planet. Let that sink in for a moment. It is a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility. 

All of this learning will point you towards a wonderful career.  We take that very seriously.  We want you to be successful and happy in your work.

But there is more to the Rhodes mission than building your personal success. It has to do with the ways you will use your education on behalf of others.

This additional element—the air we breathe at Rhodes—is why we are here. It is why so many people—strangers to you but friends to this great college—have invested in you. They have built the buildings in which you will learn and live.  They have created your scholarship and financial aid funds. They have built the endowment which subsidizes every one of you, making up the difference between your tuition and the actual cost of your education.

What drives this investment in you is the confidence that you will use the power of your Rhodes education to make a positive difference in the world. We expect you to do more than work. We expect you to lead. We expect you to serve.  We expect you to be a part of what in my tradition we call “tikkun olam,” the repair of a broken world. In fact, we expect you to become superheroes.

Our curriculum and our living and learning community is designed to help you get there. In addition to the basic superhero skills of changing clothes in a phone booth and fending off bullets with your bracelets, you are going to learn new ways of seeing the world, new ways to search for truth, and new ways to pursue justice.

Superhero training is not easy and it is not always comfortable.  In the classroom and in the dorm room, your beliefs will be challenged, you will learn to change your mind in the face of evidence, you will be asked to consider alternative paradigms and theories.  You will learn how to exchange opinion for tested conviction and fact. And as a member of this diverse Rhodes community you will also be expected to live with honor, integrity, and respect for others (even those with whom you disagree)—expectations embodied in our code of honor that each of you will formally sign this weekend.

Television and social media won’t have prepared you for any of this.  Most of the conversations there either reinforce a single point of view, or devolve into shouting matches and insults. In joining the Rhodes community, you are agreeing to do better than that. You are agreeing to stay at the table, to talk face-to-face, and to learn from one another. You are agreeing to do this in the genuine spirit of searching for truth. Even when it is uncomfortable.  Even when the subject is politics or religion.  Even when you think you already know everything there is to know.

This is how you will achieve our deepest hope as described in our mission statement: to graduate students with a life-long passion for learning, a compassion for others, and the ability to translate academic study and personal concern into effective leadership and action in your communities and the world.

That is what superheroes do.  We can’t wait to see you fly.