Freeman A. Hrabowski, III
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yesterday, many of you participated in our new-student book experience, and I had the privilege of taking part in one of the discussions, where students from many different backgrounds talked about their reactions to the author Roya’s story.  It was fascinating to listen to the different reactions students had to the challenges she faced, and to see how the different reactions to her story were shaped by our own stories.

After we talked about the book – and because I believe in listening to the voices of students – I asked the group to give me some advice about my talk today.  They had several things to say: first, that they appreciated feeling already that the presence of new students is important to us; second, that getting involved with people and activities, both in and beyond the classroom, is important to your success;  third, that many of you understandably feel a little anxious, but that you will feel increasingly comfortable as you experience the different types of support available to you here; and finally, that it’s clear already that your education here will go beyond simply helping you find a job; in fact, we will teach you how to live and prepare for life.

I can’t overemphasize how important it is to reach out for support.  In fact, when I was a freshman in 1966, I recall the Convocation speaker saying to us, “Look to your left; look to your right; one of you will not graduate.”  At UMBC, we say, “Look to your left; look to your right; our goal is to make sure that all of you graduate.”

So, as I talk to you today, I hope you will keep these themes in mind: that you are important to us; that getting involved is crucial; that we are determined to give you the support you need; and that you are here to prepare for life.

A year ago, UMBC awarded an honorary degree to Duke University President Richard Brodhead, who served the decade before as the Yale Dean.  Each year at Yale, he addressed new students, and in his 2002 address, he expressed to them precisely what I want to express to you today.

You worked hard to get into a great college.  And you succeeded!  And this day, you get your reward… Seek out all the opportunities of your new home, and you won’t be the same person when you leave.  You’ll be you, all right, but you enriched and developed: you further realized through the process of education.  The riches of this place are now all yours.  Let the education begin! 1
Today, at Convocation, the campus community comes together to welcome freshmen and all other new students.  We are excited that you are here and want to do all we can to support you.  Most important, we want you to dream and to develop the skills and values that will enable you to achieve your dreams.  We will work hard to do our part – we are committed to offering you a distinctive undergraduate experience that values the life of the mind and supports your intellectual and personal development.  Your education here will be about hard work and high achievement, character and integrity, relationships built on civility and mutual respect. 

Your education also will be about “moving from the information age to the conceptual age” – an idea Daniel Pink writes about in his book, A Whole New Mind.  If you haven’t read this book, I strongly recommend it because it focuses on the new era in which you’ll be spending much of your lives.  Pink writes that,

Ours has been the [information] age of the “knowledge worker,”…but that is changing… We are entering a new [conceptual] age…animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life… Our brains are divided into two hemispheres.  The left hemisphere is sequential, logical, and analytical.  The right hemisphere is nonlinear, intuitive, and holistic… Today, the defining skills of the previous era – the “left-brain” capabilities that powered the information age – are necessary but no longer sufficient.  And the...“right-brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning… increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders… [P]rofessional success and personal fulfillment now require a whole new mind.2

It’s exciting that this new era is dawning just as you’re beginning your UMBC education, where hopefully you’ll not only develop a “whole new mind,” but also become a whole person – capable of thinking critically and solving problems on the one hand, and being creative and compassionate on the other.  Your liberal education here promises to transform your lives.  Indeed, the term “liberal education” is rooted in Latin and relates to ideas about “freeing” and “nurturing” the mind.

Many of you may already be wondering about “life after UMBC” and where your education and experiences here may lead.  You’ll be inspired to hear what some of this year’s graduates are now doing. Many are beginning graduate programs with fellowships at top schools across the nation – from Harvard in physics and public policy, and Yale in drama and public health, to MIT and Georgia Tech in nuclear and bioengineering, Cornell in Asian studies, NYU in cinema studies, and Maryland in medicine and law.  Other graduates are launching careers with major companies and agencies – from DuPont, GE, IBM, and Lockheed Martin to NASA, the National Security Agency, and public school systems in Maryland. 

Above all, we hope that you’ll become passionate about your education.  I often talk about Samuel Beckett’s novel, Molloy,3 in which the main character is enraptured by what he sees when he observes the dancing behavior of bees.  Molloy says, “Here’s something I could study all my life and never understand.”  The lesson from Beckett is that none of us ever reaches the end of our education – the more we learn, the more we appreciate how much more there is to know.  I am convinced that the keys to a successful life are twofold – maintaining a passion for learning and being part of a community through meaningful relationships.

I encourage you, therefore, to reach out to one another – supporting and learning from each other.  Throughout your college career, you can play a major role in one another’s success – as study partners and as collaborators in the lab, in performances, and on projects; as partners in civic engagement; as teammates on the athletic field; or simply as friends.  I also encourage you to connect with faculty and staff – through courses and experiences that promote student engagement, leadership, study groups, research opportunities, mentoring, advising, co-curricular experiences, entrepreneurship, and community service.

In your relationships, I urge you also to push yourselves to move beyond your comfort zones, and to learn also about diversity of people.  UMBC is a microcosm of the nation and world, with students and faculty from every state and nearly 140 countries, representing a variety of backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, politics, sexual orientation, and culture.  In the process of getting to know others, not only do we come to appreciate our differences, but we also learn about those characteristics that make us so much the same – our fears, hopes, and dreams.  Reading Roya Hakakian’s Journey From the Land of No, this year’s book selection for new students, we sense such fears and hopes.  It is by building on our relationships and academic experiences that we begin to become citizens of the world. 

I now need to share with you tragic news about a special young woman who was to be with us today.  Madison “Maddie” Bingaman, a recent graduate of Stony Point High School in Austin, Texas, was to become a UMBC freshman this week.  An outstanding student and volleyball player, Maddie died in a car accident outside of Memphis, Tennessee on August 8th while she and her mother were driving to UMBC.  Mrs. Bingaman also died, two days later, in a Memphis hospital.  Needless to say, the Bingaman family, their hometown community, and all of us at UMBC are devastated.  Described by one of her coaches as “quiet and exceptionally intelligent,” Maddie Bingaman is with us in spirit, and I ask that you keep her and her family in your thoughts and prayers throughout the year.  I ask that we now have a moment of silence in her memory.  In fact, we dedicate today’s Convocation to Maddie.

This tragedy puts into perspective – and magnifies – how precious our lives are, and how fortunate we are to be able to live each day, pursuing our dreams and making decisions that shape our life stories.  We want you to be inspired by your own story and the stories of others, and to appreciate the opportunities you have to learn and grow during this important period of your life.  A defining chapter of my story took place a few years before my freshman year in college, during the Civil Rights Movement.  I had the privilege of participating in the 1963 Children's March in Birmingham, Alabama, and of going to jail with Dr. Martin Luther King.  That experience taught me one very important lesson – that even children can make important choices that affect not only their own lives, but the lives of others.  Because of that experience, I know that each of you has the potential to be a leader in our society – not 20 years from now, but now.

To live and lead outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to embrace the world around you.  To do that, you’ll need to develop the skills and values of a liberal education; be passionate about your life and what you do; value your relationships with people; and see your education and your life as a journey.  You’re beginning the next stage of that journey here today.

Like President Brodhead, in his address to Yale students a few years ago, I want to encourage you to “embrace both the disciplines and the freedoms of this place.”  At UMBC, you have sufficient freedom to explore the sticky issues of the day – from global warming and stem cell research to national immigration policy, the troublesome gaps between poor and advantaged people, the appropriate role of America in the world, and what it means to be human.  You also have more freedom than ever to make choices that will affect both you and those around you.  For example, it should bother us all that 1,400 college students die each year from binge drinking – that’s more than 100 deaths each month, more than three deaths each day. 

In fact, on Convocation morning three years ago, I was deeply concerned to learn that one of our new freshmen had been rushed to the hospital the night before – having been found unconscious and lying in the dirt after drinking 10 shots of alcohol in half-an-hour.  It was a frightening situation, and we were greatly relieved that he survived.  But the experience pointed up important lessons for all of us.  I often talk with other college Presidents about students who have been killed in alcohol-related accidents or who died as the result of alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses.  Make no mistake about it – this is a matter of life and death, and it is essential that we talk about these issues regularly.  The campus does not condone illegal drinking or drug use. 

We want you to use your freedom responsibly – in ways that will help you grow and develop intellectually and as a person.  I often say that character has everything to do with who we are, what we say, and how we act – not only when others see us, but, even more important, when others cannot see us. We at UMBC believe deeply in the importance of academic and personal integrity. 

Also, we believe in each of you, and we know you will do well and go on eventually to have a good job and a variety of careers over the next 50 years.  So, what is your education here all about?  It’s about the excitement of ideas, building your character, learning about yourself and others, learning what it means to lead and serve, and about solving problems and making good decisions.  During the next few years, I will often give you the following challenge:

Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.4
Again, welcome to UMBC.  “The riches of this place are now all yours.  Let the education begin!”

1. Brodhead, Richard H., The Good of This Place: Values and Challenges in College Education, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003, p.72.

2. Pink, Daniel H., A Whole New Mind: Moving From the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, Riverhead Press, New York, 2005, pp. 2-3.

3. Beckett, Samuel, Molloy, Grove Press Inc., 1955.

4. Anonymous.

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