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PATRICIA STRANAHAN

Thank you, President Gearan. We are here today to mark four wonderful events: the beginning of the new school year, recognition of Trustee Chair Emeritus, William Scandling, the dedication of Stern Hall, and Dr. Loretta Ford, the recipient of this year’s Blackwell award.

I’d like to begin my remarks this afternoon by reading E.B. deVito short poem titled “Graduates”[1]:

“Knowledge comes, in a way, unsought,
as in the Chinese tale
of the youth who came for daily lessons
in what there was to learn of jade.
And each day, for a single hour,
while he and the master talked together,
always of unrelated matters,
jade pieces were slipped into his hand,
till one day, when a month had passed,
the young man paused and with a frown,
said suddenly, ‘That is not jade.’

As life is something, we are told,
that happens while you make other plans,
learning slips in and comes to stay
while you are faced the other way.”

To me, de Vito’s poem reflects our philosophy of education here at Hobart and William Smith. For us, education is not something that just occurs in classrooms; it is something that takes place on the playing fields, in the café, in dormitories, on internships or jobs. To us, education is a continual process that opens our minds to the wonderful possibilities of growth and discernment. We strive each day to create an educational community where learning occurs overtly, covertly, obviously and subtly. We applaud those epiphanies that take place when we are “faced the other way.” [2] It is this philosophy that makes Hobart and William Smith an exciting intellectual journey for all of us.

In his book "Clueless in Academe," Gerald Graff [3] argues that schools and colleges make intellectual life unnecessarily opaque and more specialized than it is or needs to be, thereby alienating many students from a life of the mind. Schools fail to link the curriculum both internally and externally so students are left clueless about how what they learn in one class relates to another, and how what they learn in the classroom relates to what they learn on a sports team, in performance groups, on an internship, or during a study abroad experience. For them, learning never occurs “when they are faced the other way.”

Graff argues that opaqueness is eradicated and clarity achieved by teaching and learning across the curriculum; by applying what is learned in the classroom to the world beyond. Isn’t that exactly what we strive to do here at Hobart and William Smith? As in so many other areas, aren’t we in the forefront of linking our curriculum within the institution and beyond?

The president and I often use the catch word: “excellence.” We are always reminding students, faculty, staff and each other to seek excellence by doing what we already do well even better.

As we embark upon this new school year, I would like all of us: students, faculty, administration and friends of the colleges to strive for excellence by doing even better what we do well. Let’s all keep feeling the piece of jade in our pockets until we know clearly when the stone is not jade; let’s all take pleasure in what we can learn when we are “faced the other way.” Let’s take our philosophy that embraces an inclusive education and seek to make it even better.

I suggest, however, that we go one step further. Let’s have conversations across the curriculum. Let’s not isolate our classrooms, our athletic teams, our programs, our performance groups. Let’s use our new Center for Teaching and Learning as a medium through which we all become better learners. Let’s explore the world around us through the Center for Global Education, the Presidential Forums and the Fisher Center speakers. Let’s take our education outside to our community by participating in conferences, service projects, workshops and internships. Let’s keep “excellence” as our goal and seek every day to challenge ourselves to learn something new. Let’s make this a true teaching and learning community.

On the surface, it may appear that we are gathering today to mark four unrelated events but, on closer inspection, it is clear that the Blackwell Award, the dedication of Stern Hall, the honoring of William Scandling, and our opening convocation are closely interrelated because they all celebrate the Colleges’ educational philosophy. If you haven’t yet visited Stern Hall, I invite you to walk down the wide and welcoming halls and explore the many areas where students and faculty can gather. It is a building designed to bring us together as a community and to encourage interaction.

Moreover, we honor Dr. Ford today in memory of Elizabeth Blackwell, a remarkable woman, who symbolized the core values of a Hobart and William Smith education better than anyone. She possessed an inquisitive mind, keen intelligence, dedication to task, commitment to an ideal, indomitable spirit, and determination to overcome odds and accomplish goals. Dr. Ford joins a long, distinguished list of honorees, all of whom we would have been proud to have as members of our community.

I ask, as we sit and look at our new academic building honor William Scandling and recognize the accomplishments of Dr. Ford that we reconfirm our dedication to excellence, that we commit ourselves to learning and teaching across our curriculum, and that we all experience with pleasure the unexpected benefits that a Hobart and William Smith education may bring. Thank you and welcome to the new school year.


[1] E.B. deVito, “Graduates,” American Scholar (Spring, 1989) as quoted in James O. Freedman, Liberal Education & the Public Interest (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003), p. 69f.
[2] Freedman, p. 69f.
[3] Gerald Graff, Clueless in Academe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

 

INFORMATION

Opening Ceremonies and Academic Convocation Remarks by Patricia Stranahan, dean of the faculty and provost

Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2003