2019 Freshman Convocation

August 19, 2019
Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center


Good morning to our new Golden Flashes. Let’s hear it for the Class of 2023!

Let me start by saying how grateful we are that you have chosen Kent State. We appreciate your “swipe right,” believe me. We know that you will have the best four years of your lives here, as you experience the growth, learning, and … yes, the ups and downs, triumphs and challenges that come with earning a college degree. You will find Kent State University to be a special place and a welcoming family, and I’m excited to be here with you today.


You probably are feeling a bit nervous right now about the future. But I’m here to tell you that you have what it takes to succeed at Kent State. And here I am defining success as earning your degree, graduating in four years, and graduating with the training, critical thinking skills, grit and a sharpened sense of empathy and compassion necessary to succeed in your first job or in graduate school.


And so my strongest piece of advice today is to give you the three “magic” numbers that, if you follow their logic and indeed magical power, will ensure your success: 15, 30 and 48. Fifteen credits passed each semester; 30 credits passed when you return for your sophomore year; and you’ll be on track to graduate in 48 months. These lucky numbers are the keys to your success: 15 credit hours per semester; 30 credit hours earned each year; and graduation in 48 months.


Your first year at Kent State will be an historic one for several reasons. You know, I’m probably the first president in Kent State history to quote from a Grateful Dead song in a public address. I suspect that many of you are not familiar with the musical group the Grateful Dead, and their tremendous influence on college students in the 1960's and 1970's. I can guarantee you, though, that our faculty and your parents have heard of them. I wouldn’t say that my passion for the Grateful Dead’s music lifts me to Dead Head status, but I can say that most of time the satellite radio in my car is tuned to the Grateful Dead channel.


And today, I’m thinking of one particular Grateful Dead song, whose refrain includes this line…or maybe it’s an exhortation: Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world.


This song served as a kind of wake-up call to encourage that generation to open their eyes to the world’s challenges and potential for good. It is a reminder that continues to encourage me today.


But now that I think of it, we could also rearrange this line a bit and say, instead wake up to find out that the eyes of the world are upon you. In this historic year this is especially true, so I’ll say it again: Wake up to find out that the eyes of the world are upon you.


You see, on May 4, 2020, we will commemorate 50 years since the shooting of unarmed students on our campus, four of whom were killed, and nine of whom were wounded, on May 4, 1970. In a few moments you will meet our wise and passionate speaker who experienced that fateful day, and who has spent her life making sure that its lessons are never forgotten.


Wake up to find out that the eyes of the world are upon you, because, you know what? This year, the eyes of the world will be upon you, and upon all of us. Now, because of this year’s freshmen readings, each of you knows more than most what happened on our campus fifty years ago. So, wake up and be prepared, because come May 4, 2020, our campus, your campus, will be crowded with filmmakers, journalists, Kent State graduates, and all kinds of fellow travelers visiting our university. And you’ll be there, as well. And again, you’ll know more than most, not only because of the freshmen readings, but also because you will have attended many of the more than 60 events to be held on campus as we commemorate May 4 this academic year. With the eyes of the world upon Kent State, I call upon you to model our core values and the lessons of May 4, 1970.


So, as I think more about it, is it "wake up to find out that the eyes of the world are upon you," … or, should we go back to the original Grateful Dead lyrics, "wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world?" Either way, my message here is the same - embrace our Kent State core values as we model for the world this year the lessons of the shootings on May 4, 1970.


Wake up to find out that at Kent State we know and understand that that freedom of speech can sometimes create discomfort, as we hear others profess things that rub against what you or I might think.


Wake up to find out that at Kent State we respect the right of others to speak their minds, just as we exercise the right to speak what’s on our minds


Wake up to find out that at Kent State we cherish two core values in particular: that we will act with kindness and respect in all that we do. Let me repeat that: We will act with kindness and respect in all that we do. 


Model this behavior as you make your way through your Kent State career.


Model this behavior when the world comes to Kent next spring. Listen, truly listen, to what others are saying. Practice compassion, which the dictionary defines as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress with a desire to alleviate it.” Try putting yourselves in others’ shoes before reacting to what they are saying. And always, always, support the rights of everyone to speak their minds freely without fear of ridicule and venom or violence.


And finally, model this behavior when exercising your right to say what you really think, even while you respect the right of others to think differently.


And when you do these things…


And when you embrace and model our core values…


You will see firsthand that you are the eyes of the world. 


Thank you, welcome Class of 2023, and Go Flashes!!