Convocation Remarks 2009
developing my brief remarks to you for this morning, I was inspired by
two experiences last night as we all met in my office.
first inspiration was from you – because as I was greeting you and
personally welcoming you to Bellarmine, I became very aware of the fact
that not only were you accepting my welcome, but, in a sense, you also
were welcoming Bellarmine and me to come to know and love you and to
teach you how to be your best possible self.
As you accept our welcome, therefore, we accept your welcome with great enthusiasm and delight as well.
second inspiration came from the kind, generous comments of two parents
who said that with their son, they looked seriously at many
institutions, and that of them all, Bellarmine was above and beyond not
only the most genuinely welcoming, but was the University that actually
is who they say they are!
Thinking about those two
things, your welcoming us to you, and the parents’ affirmation that
Bellarmine actually is who we say we are and do what we say we will do,
reminded me that just a few years ago, Bellarmine undertook a market
research effort that included an assessment of whether our students and
graduates thought that Bellarmine was for them who we say we are and
The answer was both a yes and a no – in
that we said that Bellarmine was a caring, personal, and supportive
place for students – and our students valued, appreciated, and affirmed
that claim as true; but many students also told us that we did not
make clear enough at the outset that Bellarmine and our faculty were
also very challenging . While most students appreciated this fact that
we do challenge you to be your very best, some said that they would
have preferred that we were clearer and more direct about this fact up
As I’ve hoped you’ve noticed during your
recruitment and admission process with us, Bellarmine now is very
careful to consistently present ourselves to you in this more complete
sense – in that Bellarmine is indeed a caring, nurturing, and
supportive academic community, AND because we are a genuinely caring
place, that we also challenge you, in the classroom, in student life,
on the field and off the field, to be the very best you can be, to
always give us your very best, to insist that you do your part and
fully accept your responsibility as a learning partner as we work
together to help you grow intellectually, personally, and socially.
you have not already picked this up, though I believe that many of you
have, Bellarmine at its core is a place that takes very seriously the
intrinsic dignity and infinite value of each person in our community as
an individual – and each individual in our community as a whole person
– consisting of a mind, body, heart, and soul – all in integration.
of this core value of Bellarmine, each of us on the faculty and staff
takes very seriously our own individual value and dignity – and
projecting out from that, we take seriously the value and dignity of
one another, and especially of you, our students. In turn, we ask and
challenge each of you to respect and value yourself, and then from your
center, to be careful to respect and value the immense value and
dignity of one another and of your faculty and staff.
And this is where are caring for you and
challenging you come together for us into a single, unified, integrated
professional activity as your teachers and co-learners.
we value and respect you, we want to work closely with you over the
next few years that we are privileged to have together – to help you
become the very best person, the very best scholar, the very best human
being you possibly can become – for your own sake of course, but also
to put you in a stronger position to serve those in need and help make
the world a better place.
We know that the most
successful and effective way we can do this is by challenging ourselves
to be the very best faculty and staff we can be, the very best teachers
we can be – and also insisting and expecting that you do your part, and
then, that you accept and act on your responsibility to be the best
student and person you can be.
University faculty and staff are highly qualified, experienced,
skilled, and at the ready to care for you and support you – and to make
this all work, we challenge you, we stretch you to give your very best
and to be your very best.
The feedback that we are
now getting in various ways from our students clearly indicates that we
are being successful in saying that we are and being both caring and
challenging, and balancing and integrating those things.
For example, Princeton Review
has identified Bellarmine as one of the top 371 of over 3200 colleges
and universities in the nation. They base their conclusions in this
regard on institutional data, feedback from students, and input from
their own Princeton Review staff members who visit campuses across the country every year.
this process, our students praised Bellarmine for providing “a well
rounded education” that is “demanding in academic excellence” and also
for its “tight knit community.” Our students also said that our
student body tends to be “open-minded and personable” and that at
Bellarmine, it is easy to “find a place to fit in.”
a similar vein, as part of our institutional research on our own
efficacy in being who we say we are, and doing what we say we do,
Bellarmine participates each year in the National Survey of Student
Engagement, nicknamed “NESSIE.”
This survey is given
each year to a representative sample of freshmen and then again three
years later to that class’s seniors to assess the change and
improvement that has occurred.
In spring 2009,
nearly 50 percent of Bellarmine freshmen and seniors participated, a
great sample, and Bellarmine significantly increased its senior scores
in “level of academic challenge” – the challenge dimension – and in
“student-faculty interaction” – the caring and supportive side. And
we equaled or surpassed our peers in these categories –including
Centre, Elon, Sewanee and Xavier.
So that brings
us back to this very day, the day before your first day of classes at
Bellarmine. Basically, this Academic Convocation ceremony that finds
its reflection in your Commencement just a few years hence, says that
we, the Bellarmine University faculty and staff welcome you and are
very grateful to you for choosing us as the place to educate yourself –
to your best self – with both our care and support, and from the outset
our challenge to you.
Now that you have applied
here, been accepted here, confirmed here, arrived here and registered
here, you also have signaled to us your willingness to care for and
challenge yourself, one another, and us. Together, therefore, we are
saying that as of today there is no more “we” and “they” in the
Bellarmine teaching and learning community. You are an integral part
of us now and we are an integral part of you. And we look forward,
through exploring and illuminating the infinite knowability of reality,
to caring for you as we challenge you to be the very best and complete
self you can possibly be.
Together, we will
accomplish this by teaching you not what to think, but how to think,
how to discern the wheat from the chaff, how to create value and
meaning in your lives.
If the over 16,000 Bellarmine
University alumni and alumnae all over the world are any proof,
beginning with our first graduating class, the Pioneer Class of 1954,
and continuing through the Class of 2009 and now your class, the
Bellarmine University Class of 2013, you will achieve your goals as
individuals and as a class, and you will go forward to create great and
meaningful lives – and through your lives, will help serve others and
make the world a better place.
Go to it, and Godspeed!
Joseph J. McGowan