Convocation Address of Dr. Lorna Duphiney Edmundson
August 31, 2004
It is such a pleasure to be back in this beautiful state of Vermont and to be back on the Norwich campus with friends and colleagues such as President Schneider. I am a great admirer of your president and was honored to be invited by your provost to speak to you today.
In my role as a trustee of Norwich, I have come to see how wisely this university is preparing for the future. Your new strategic plan for 2019 is ambitious but sound. As a trustee, I look forward to doing my part to help realize our objectives.
The institution in which I serve as president, Wilson College, differs from Norwich in some ways. Wilson is a 135-year-old college dedicated to the education of women in rigorous programs in the liberal arts and sciences. We're located on a 300-acre campus of rolling hills and meadows on the Conococheague Creek in south-central Pennsylvania, just north of the Mason Dixon Line.
For several years in a row, we've received the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence, along with Carnegie Mellon and Penn State Universities. People come from all over the world to see what we are doing at our Fulton Center for Environmental Sustainability, which includes a 100 acre farm that provides produce for our dining hall and for local programs in Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA's.
Equestrian Studies, Veterinary Medical Studies, Chemistry, and Biology are among the science -based programs that enroll more than 50% of our students. Recently, we received our first major gift to establish the Wilson Institute for Women and Girls in Science, Mathematics and Technology, an institute that builds on our strengths in science and is designed to encourage women and girls to continue their studies in these fields. Women continue to be underrepresented in science, mathematics and technology.
Despite these variations in mission and programs, we share much in common with Norwich University. Our honor principle -- like yours -- is more than 100 years old, and all in our community are asked to live up to high ethical standards. We also seek a diverse student body, as you do, welcoming people of all races and cultures, including international students from our partner colleges in Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Wilson students -- like you -- return to class this week, and so, after this convocation ceremony, I must return to campus to prepare.
But today, we begin anew in this 185th year of Norwich University's proud and distinguished history. Thousands of teachers, administrators, staff and students have come here before us, beginning in 1819, when Captain Alden Partridge founded Norwich as a "literary, scientific, and military academy, steeped in the idea of a liberal, yet firm curriculum that facilitates learning." Since its earliest times, Norwich alumni have gone forth into the world bringing the values and lessons learned here.
Before going forward, it is important to remember. We "re-member", not with nostalgia, but by bringing the members -- the members of this community -- back together to recommit to each other and to our common goals. We do this to enable us to prepare to meet the challenges of the future -- Norwich University's future, your future, the future of our world.
Preparing to meet that future requires us to move individually and collectively forward through a series of large and small transitions.
Faculty, you are moving through the Seasons of Academic Life, so eloquently described by Dr. L. Lee Knefelkamp of Columbia University in the academic journal, Liberal Education. You began by perfecting your teaching, and later moved to engaging in research, assuming college leadership, participating more fully in professional and public life.
Teaching is hard work. It's rewarding, but hard. You are the heart of this fine institution. Thank you for your teaching, for making us proud, and for advancing the image and mission of Norwich.
Students, you are on the cusp of new discoveries and dramatic intellectual development, balancing the complex demands of personal, social and academic life. You are expanding your personal and social circles; moving into and through adulthood; becoming part of the campus, professional and world communities; and realigning your relationships with family, friends and teachers -- old and new;
As the academic year begins, "Not Only Will Your Teachers Appear, But They Will Cook New Foods For You."
This provocative thought is actually the title of a chapter in Alice Walker's volume of Essays, entitled, Living By The Word. You probably know Ms. Walker's most famous work, The Color Purple, which subsequently became an award-winning film.
"Not Only Will Your Teachers Appear, but They will Cook New Foods
for You", she says.
Alice seems to have anticipated this moment. Listen to words she wrote about her own life's journey shortly after completing the manuscript for The Color Purple:
Twenty-four years after Alice wrote these words, the world remains in a perilous state. Many Norwich students and alumni are already working around the globe to make it right.
I have met you, in spirit, if not in person, at airports on the east coast -- you, on your way to Iraq or Afghanistan to defend our nation; me, on my way to Jeddha to solidify Wilson's partnership with one of only two Saudi Arabian women's colleges.
I have met you in schools, soup kitchens, Habitat for Humanity Projects, where you also serve others and grow in the process.
I met you in spirit yesterday evening at a modest airport hotel in Maryland. Just as my husband and I arrived, so did you, young people carrying large green duffle bags. "Were you being deployed or coming home?" we wondered and were afraid to ask. But you were coming home. We were happy to be there to welcome and thank you for your service.
Your safe return caused my husband and me to breathe more easily. We must all practice breathing more easily together in the coming months and years. The Latin word for breathing together is "conspirare", so let us be co-conspirators; let us become players in making meaning for ourselves and others, bringing our questions, ideas, and talents, first to the Norwich community, and later to the Global Commons to make the world whole again.
To be seekers of wisdom and players on the world stage, we will need to be wise, applying strong habits of dialogue, interpersonal perspective-taking, critical, systemic thought, dialectical thought, holistic thought.
To be seekers of wisdom and players on the world stage, we must learn to understand and accept life's many great paradoxes. There are so many of them. Antioch University Professor Mary Marcy describes them in a recent article entitled "Democracy, Leadership, and the Role of Liberal Education", published in the Winter 2002 issue of Liberal Learning.
Questioning, exploring, stating the unpopular, challenging poorly reasoned theories, wrestling with convoluted and contradictory positions -- that is what liberal education asks us to do." That is what Norwich and Wilson expect.
All of these habits will be learned here in the company of your teachers. There is no stronger preparation for a free, democratic society than liberal learning.
Norwich University and Wilson College are particularly well-suited to providing a rich, honor bound, challenging and supportive environment in which to learn from great texts about permanent moral truths, pursue inquiry in developing critical thinking, deepen your respect for liberty and your desire to avoid war, realize your goals to become servant-leaders for the world.
But no individual and no college can afford to be complacent. Each of us present today would do well to answer the following questions posed by scholar Paul Ehrlich:
This is quite a daunting list of questions, and you first-year students
will be relieved to know that you needn't answer them all by Thanksgiving.
Let us be grateful that we have this place and each other to encourage and refresh us as we tackle the tasks ahead.
"Two heads are better than one", is an ancient adage. Alice Walker tells us that she believes two-headed people surely lived, but were most likely suppressed out of existence. Traces of their existence still remain in African-American language. Root workers, healers, wise people with "second sight" are referred to as two-headed people. Alice tells us of such a wise person whom she encountered in a dream:
Let us seek the wisdom of the two-headed woman and draw on the rich resources of this University.
Be co-conspirators in the best sense, breathing together, reflecting on your common values and purposes, and sustaining one another in your work.
In the words of Mary McLeod Bethune:
I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another.
Welcome, young and older people, to this remarkable community of learners
and seekers at Norwich University.
I'm honored to be among you.
Lorna Duphiney Edmundson, Ph.D.
firstname.lastname@example.org, September 2004