August 15, 2012
Again, a warm welcome to the Indiana University Class of 2016.
Whether you are the youngest freshman—at 16—or the oldest—at 27—you have chosen to improve yourselves in the most fundamental and lasting way: through an education of the highest quality.
And you are in good company on this intellectual journey. More than 4,600 of you are from right here in Indiana, representing 90 of Indiana’s 92 counties. If you happen to know anyone from Parke or Switzerland counties, please speak to them about coming to IU.
You are coming from 43 different states with the largest numbers from Illinois, New York, Ohio, California, and New Jersey. And your class includes students from 71 different countries.
More than a thousand of you have parents who attended IU, and your class includes 42 sets of twins.
For many of you, then, this journey is truly a family affair. Your presence here as freshmen is testimony to the years of love and support you have received from your family and friends. So, members of the Class of 2016, would you please stand and join me, then, in a round of applause to thank your family and friends for everything they have done to help you reach this day?
Overcoming The Obstalces Ahead
During New Student Orientation, you and your parents learned a little about Herman B Wells, Indiana University's legendary 11th president. You may have seen his statue seated on a bench near the Rose Well House during one of your visits to campus.
Herman Wells left an indelible mark on this university and its traditions of academic freedom and international engagement.
Seventy-five years ago, President Wells greeted Indiana University’s incoming freshmen with these words: “Your next four years will not be easy.”
“Even in the next few weeks,” he continued, “some of you will meet obstacles in the classroom or on the campus that will seem insurmountable. But none of these will be insurmountable. Remember that there have been thousands just like you who have successfully gone this way before.”1
These words are as true today as they were in 1937.
You have come to Indiana University well prepared for the journey that lies ahead of you. You have, after all, been preparing for this singular day for nearly two decades.
Still, the next four years will not be easy.
They will likely require a more concentrated application of your skills and talents, your intelligence and critical thinking skills, and your diligence and determination than has ever before been required of you.
You may well encounter obstacles that you had not previously imagined.
But these obstacles will not be insurmountable.
Apply yourself diligently to your studies, work consistently to the best of your abilities, and cultivate a healthy extracurricular and social life that is in balance with your studies, and you will thrive here.
The faculty and staff of this campus are dedicated to helping you succeed, and they can point you to the many avenues of support that are available to help ensure your success.
And, as Herman Wells told the freshman class of 1937, it is important to remember that there are many like you who have gone this way before.
When you graduate from Indiana University, you will, in fact, join the ranks of more than half-a million living alumni.
Those graduates, who once sat where you now sit, are today working around the world as scientists, investment bankers, physicians, attorneys, teachers, musicians, artists, writers, business leaders, elected officials, and in just about every capacity imaginable.
Among them are members of the great national and international learned academies, Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and Tony winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, a former Vice President of the United States, a former United States Secretary of Defense, network sportscasters, best-selling authors, CEOs, an NBA team owner, and numerous Olympic medalists.
We hold up their successes as models of what you can achieve.
A Quality Education for Life in a World of Change
Herman Wells also told the freshman class in 1937 that “nothing is certain but change.”2
This was certainly true in 1937, in a world on the brink of war, and it is true today.
This is a world where you can expect to change careers multiple times, and those careers will take you around the world.3
This is also a world that is marked by rapid and profound technological change.
This is a world in which you can blog, tweet, and text from nearly anywhere. In fact, some of you are probably texting right now.
The wide-ranging education you will receive at Indiana University will help to equip you for this world of change.
It will enable you to remain flexible and creative, open to unexpected directions of thought and action. It will prepare you to work collaboratively with people from diverse backgrounds, responding with speed and knowledge to changing circumstances. It will encourage you to think analytically, synthesizing information from many different areas to generate solutions to unforeseen and challenging problems.
These next four years are a time for you to explore your interests and to find your life’s passion. I encourage you to sample all that this great university has to offer. But do this purposefully, with the aim of exploring and finding out what you do not know and understanding it, and in order to find out ultimately what you want to do in life. Read broadly and deeply, study subjects that take you into the realm of the theoretical, but make certain that your studies include a proper balance of subjects that have practical application.
Indiana University’s leaders are very much aware of the financial investment and the sacrifices that you and your families are making to enable you to earn a degree. We are, therefore, committed to ensuring that a world-class education remains affordable. We continue to provide record amounts of financial aid and to work diligently to lower costs by becoming more efficient, in ways large and small. We are also committed to ensuring that you and your fellow students are financially literate, and that you graduate without excessive debt. And we are, above all, committed to preserving and further enhancing the quality of an Indiana University education.
The education you will receive here is an education for life. Carry it with you, build upon it, and it will enrich your lives in countless and incalculable ways.
Conclusion: Free Inquiry and The Unceasing Search for Truth
The late Adlai Stevenson II, the two-time presidential nominee who served as governor of Illinois and as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, once said that the word “university” is “a proud, a noble and ancient word. Around it,” Stevenson continued, “cluster all of the values and the traditions which civilized people have for centuries prized most highly. The idea which underlies … any university is greater than any of its physical manifestations; its classrooms, its laboratories, its clubs, its athletic plant, even the particular groups of faculty and students who make up its human element as of any given time. What is this idea? It is that the highest condition of man(kind) in this mysterious universe is the freedom of the spirit. And it is only truth that can set the spirit free.”4
During the coming weeks and months, and in the years that follow, you will experience the great spirit of this university.
You will learn that, while the Bloomington campus of Indiana University is one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation, this university truly is greater than its physical manifestations.
Our hope for you is that the intellectual journey on which you are about to embark will be marked by free-spirited inquiry and an unceasing search for truth.
You will find that Indiana University will provide opportunities for your intellectual and cultural enrichment that are available nowhere else.
But the depth and breadth of your intellectual journey depend on you and the choices you make.
We wish you the very best as you begin that journey.
And no matter how far that journey takes you, Indiana University will always welcome you back home.
Thank you very much.
- Herman B Wells, “A College Career for the Class of ’41,” Delivered at Freshman Convocation, Sept. 29, 1937, IU Archives.
- See, for instance, United States. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth among the Youngest Baby Boomers: Results from a Longitudinal Survey.” Press Release. 25 July. 2012. USDL 12-1489.
- Adlai Ewing Stevenson, "The Educated Citizen," an address to the Princeton University Class of 1954, delivered March 22 1954, as reprinted in Stevenson, What I Think, (Harper, 1956), 165.