Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Text of Chancellor Hemenway’s speech

August 22, 2002


The following is the text from Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway's convocation address for the 2002-2003 academic year.

It doesn't make any difference how hot it is, or if the drought has turned the grass brown, or if we've had to turn off the Chi Omega fountain to save water. It is still a beautiful time of the year to be at the University of Kansas.

I love the sounds and sights of the semester beginning.

We hear the marching band practicing again, see it developing new routines, and only one or two clarinet players are still marching out of step. We know the band will be a well-oiled machine by the end of August, every white shoe landing on the beat, every song played well.

We see you filling the sidewalks with high-spirited humanity, full of laughter and enthusiasm, even if you are not quite sure where that first 8 o'clock class meets, you lift our spirits too. It puts everyone in a good mood as we plan for the semester ahead.

As I am sure you know, faculty are gearing up to meet their new classes, fiendishly devising diabolical schemes to push students to the limits of human intellectual capacity. Faculty are also trying to find a polite way to make it crystal clear on the syllabus that the first student who permits their cell phone to ring during the lecture is going to be humiliated beyond belief. Teaching assistants will descend with thumbscrews if a student so much as reaches for a cell phone.

At this time of year, football fans are excited about the first game, and optimistic about the season. I had an alumnus in Johnson County the other day ask me -- without a trace of irony or mockery -- if I thought the Jayhawks could go 11-1 this year. Why was he so pessimistic?

Whatever our record will be, season tickets sales are at a record high, and the KU Endowment Association, because of a gift from Dick and Jeanne Tinberg of Leawood, has announced plans to give away 25 scholarships, worth $1,000 each, at the first home football game.

Here is how it works. The week of Sept. 9, the Endowment Association will distribute 13,000 free "KU First" T-shirts on the lawn of Stauffer-Flint Hall. Wear that T-shirt to the Sept. 14 football game with Southwest Missouri and you will be admitted free. You also will be eligible to win one of those $1,000 scholarships.

See why beginning KU is so much fun?

Probably one reason I like Hawk Week so much is that it is a time of preliminary innocence. A lot of things have not happened yet.

No one has discovered yet that when you leave the room, your roommate uses your toothbrush. No one has received a letter yet from his girlfriend back home that begins, "I met this cool new guy who moved here from Colorado. He gave me a ride home in his new convertible. We are going to study calculus together. I sort of miss you."

No one has been asked yet, in front of a class of 300, why they have failed to read the assignment. No faculty member has been told by an honest student, "We read that book when I was a junior in high school. It really sucked."

Above all, no one has gotten a parking ticket yet. You have? Sorry, I can't fix the ticket, but I can tell you how to appeal this gross injustice to the Parking Board.

KU, like all universities, is built upon a paradoxical process of renewal and change on the one hand, and tradition and permanence on the other. You represent the change. The university maintains the tradition.

Each year, since the 19th century, the University of Kansas has welcomed a new class of students to Mount Oread. At the very beginning, it was 40 students who climbed the Hill on Sept. 12, 1866, a little uncertain about this new university in Lawrence, a town still trying to rebuild from the devastation of Quantrill's Raiders three years before.

Those first 40 students began with morning devotions -- the first chancellor was an Episcopal minister -- and then immediately broke up into small groups so the faculty could test the breadth and depth of their knowledge. The faculty, perhaps seeking to justify their salaries, reported to the chancellor later in the day that not one of the 40 was adequately prepared.

Just look around you tonight, on this crowd of bright, intelligent, shining faces, how much progress has occurred in Kansas over the last 136 years.

You arrive here tonight living this process of renewal and regeneration, which the beginning of the fall semester always represents, a process which sustains all great universities. You bring new ideas, new experiences and new energy to a community that depends upon you to test every idea already here, challenge every convention that we unthinkingly have institutionalized and, above all, offer your fresh sense of what is right and just to that ongoing debate over values that causes our university to be known as a marketplace of ideas.

Both of us -- you in the audience and those of us on this stage -- are living actors in an ancient drama that began 900 years ago at the founding of the medieval university, as Europe emerged from the Dark Ages and rediscovered the works of Aristotle.

Our local and contemporary context is the 136 years of tradition that has come to characterize this university -- Hawk Week, the Rock Chalk chant, the alma mater, walking down the Hill to graduation.

What kind of a university is KU? I think you'll find that KU is like the Kansas River, wide and deep.

KU is wide because we have many different majors that you can specialize in -- some 265 all together. KU is deep because of the depth of knowledge here. We are a research university, which means that the faculty who teach you are those who tend to write the textbooks rather than just read them. KU faculty discover, create and share new knowledge in their disciplines every day, one reason why they are known across the world.

Great American universities like KU are international universities, and that is why KU welcomes students from more than 100 different countries, all 50 states and all 105 Kansas counties.

What I am trying to say is that KU is not bounded by the campus or the streets of Lawrence. The boundary of our university is wherever our faculty, our students and our graduates are at work -- seeking, learning, sharing and serving.

I thought about this idea a lot this summer during a trip to Peru. I was in Peru to receive an honorary degree from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Founded in 1551, it is the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere. During my visit, I met with the President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, and with Peruvian alumni of KU. One of them, a psychologist, Dr. Liliana Mayo, is a graduate of KU. President Toledo knew of her and her involvement in special education, perhaps because the magazine U.S. News and World Report says that KU has the No. 1 special education program in the United States.

In 1979, Dr. Mayo took her human development and family life degree from KU and returned to her native Peru and created the Anne Sullivan Center in Lima to teach children with severe developmental disabilities, such as Down?s syndrome or cerebral palsy, how to function independently despite their handicap. She started with eight students. Today her school serves 300 from all over Peru, with assistance and support from the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies here at KU.

Two years ago, Liliana Mayo received Spain's highest honor -- the Queen Sofia Award -- presented by Queen Sofia herself, in recognition of Dr. Mayo's humanitarian efforts in Spanish-speaking Latin America.

My trip to Peru also involved a journey into the past. I went to Machu Picchu, an ancient city built in the 15th century by the Inca civilization. It is a magnificent citadel, so isolated it wasn't "found" until the 20th century. It's an inspiring site: a city of huge stones set high above a steep, remote valley. No one knows what genius of engineering enabled the Incas to transport hundred-ton stones many miles across a valley and then up the mountain to 10,000 feet, then coupled together to form houses, terraces and temples.

Machu Picchu is a metaphor for what we're about at the University of Kansas. Much remains to be discovered in our world. There's a jungle of ignorance to be penetrated, a mountain of fear to be climbed, and clouds of doubt to be swept away. But when you do that -- when you come to the clearing and the sun is shining and you gasp for breath at 10,000 feet -- you begin to understand that education is not a diploma you receive but a lifelong adventure you experience.

As we begin the new year, let me finish by sharing with you a few thoughts about how to take full advantage of this special university you've chosen to attend. Consider this to be Chancellor Bob's 10 Step Program that starts at KU, becomes a lifelong adventure and achieves educational success.

Step 1: Be true to your family's values. You arrive at KU because you learned much from those who love you and believe in you. Don't forget what that means, even as you learn new things and define yourself as a unique adult.

Step 2: Now that you're here, go to class. Woody Allen once said 90 percent of living is just showing up. Just being there will do wonders for your self-confidence, and it might even help your grades.

Step 3: Go beyond the class. Being there is important, and so are grades, but learning is more important. Read the book, listen to the wisdom, learn the subject.

Step 4: As long as you are in class, get to know your professor. He is a human being just like you. Well, actually, she is just like you if you were older and had written a dissertation, but that doesn't mean your professor doesn't want to be your friend.

Step 5: Since you are in class, look around. At least five students there have a great deal in common with you. Find out which ones. The friends you make at KU will stay with you the rest of your life.

Step 6: Having mastered your studies by going to class and learning the subject, seek a higher purpose. Intellect without moral and spiritual values becomes reason without purpose.

Step 7: Having acquired intellect and values, what else do you need? A healthy body would help. Don't destroy brain cells; they are in too short a supply. Eat greens and drink water. Cut out those chips. Alcohol is not a substitute for real food.

Step 8: With health, intellect and values in hand, what comes next? Find someone to share your life with. One suggestion: a KU partner means you won't have to explain why thousands are "waving the wheat."

Step 9: With health, intellect, values and family, what more could you need? Answer: a sense of life beyond the self. Help others.

Step 10: Who should you help? Help those most needy. Who are most needy? All those who did not have your opportunity to go to KU and learn these 10 steps.

If you remember nothing else from what I've said tonight -- I am shocked to observe that some of you didn't take notes on the 10 steps -- remember this: KU is a wide and deep university, here for 136 years, and you are now part of it. Just as important, you are not alone. The faculty, staff and administration are here to help. We listen and we care, and we hope you have an absolutely fantastic time in this 137th year of Jayhawk existence.

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