Alumni Weekend 2006
Remarks of President William G. Durden
Welcome fellow Dickinsonians to the 2006 Alumni Weekend Opening Ceremony.
This is your first Alumni Weekend to convene under the watchful eye of our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who is situated to my left, overlooking Old West, the only building he knew in his lifetime. And he fought vigorously for the College to be located here rather than on the site of the US Army War College.
We formally dedicated this statue two years ago, 100 years to the day after President Theodore Roosevelt accepted the original statue as a gift from the medical profession to the American people.
The dedication of the statue culminated a more than 40-year effort to bring Dr.Rush home to Dickinson College, an effort that required the tenacity and generosity of trustee, Walter E. Beach, Class of 1956, and his brother, Allen, Class of 1955—both of whom are with us today, with Walter celebrating his 50th reunion. We extend to the Beach brothers our deep and heartfelt appreciation for their perseverance and uncommon generosity. The statue has added a remarkable dignity and presence to our campus. It is actually the gathering site for family photos at Convocation and Commencement. I hope it serves a similar purpose for this Alumni Weekend. (Now if you follow my pesky “Doc Grammar” series, you know that I am waging with our students and the rest of American college-age scholars a campaign for the proper uses of the words alumni, alumna and alumnus. Without the more pervasive study of Latin in schools, the number and gender distinctions are gone. Many, many students say, for example, that they can’t wait to be an alumni of the college. The campaign continues!)
While Rush’s symbolic presence has been enhanced by the arrival of the statue, his vision of a distinctively American liberal arts education has, in recent years, become a guiding force for our College and its unique identity. Rush’s determination to create a distinctively American education after the Revolution that would be ultimately useful and prepare the citizen-leaders who would shape the new democracy is an enduring principle as apt today as it was over 200 years ago. It is a vision—a responsibility—that binds us together as Dickinsonians.
Alumni Weekends are occasions to celebrate this bond. Alumni Weekends are special times to reconnect with old friends and to relive your years at Dickinson through reminiscences and remembrances—whether everything we recollect really happened or not! This is a time to recommit to those dispositions towards life and civic engagement that identify us as Dickinsonians and to reflect on the responsibilities and opportunities our Dickinson education has given us. Alumni Weekends are occasions to revel in the various accomplishments of our fellow alumni—achievements which, ultimately, reflect on all of us as Dickinsonians.
As you spend this Alumni Weekend in the welcome company of classmates and friends, I hope you will participate in some of the many exciting activities we have planned for you. You will discover an evolved Dickinson. It is not the same college you or I attended—nor should it be! The mark of a truly great college community is that all members applaud an institution that becomes far better with each generation. And it is natural that what it is is not exactly what it was. To each generation—its own time, own interests, own future.
Today, our College increasingly reflects the complex global world of the 21st century. Our students are given every conceivable opportunity to “engage” both the United States and the vast world beyond it. They participate fully in our 40 study abroad programs in 24 countries on six continents with a 94.6 percent participation rate—third highest of any college or university in the country. They are accomplished scholars, working side by side with their professors on path-breaking research that now informs undergraduate education. They pursue internships in our nation’s capital, our state capital and other centers of government, finance, industry and the arts. And they engage in a wide range of public service activities through academically based service learning and volunteer efforts. Dickinsonians have always been defined by a caring for others and today’s students are no exception.
The composition of our student body is equally reflective of our complex, multicultural society. The face of Dickinson you and I remember is long gone—thank goodness. Last fall, 13 percent of our incoming class were students of color—nearly a three-fold increase in just five years. Five percent of that class was also international students—up from a mere one percent in 2000. Our students, moreover, come from every corner of our country. The Class of 2006, for example, included graduates from 31 states—a fact that clearly demonstrates Dickinson’s national profile. And this year, for the first time, we attracted more than 5,000 applications for the Class of 2010—a milestone that places us among only a handful of prestigious liberal arts colleges—led by Williams—that reach this level of applications.
There is no longer any doubt. We are without question among the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country.
Our prestige and our visibility are on the rise because we are consciously articulating what it is to be a Dickinsonian. We have no identity crisis. We have reached into our rich historical legacy to enjoy the fundamental vision given to us by Dr. Rush—a vision that connects us to our past while providing us with a roadmap to meet the challenges and opportunities of the contemporary world. We have reminded ourselves of our responsibility to be engaged citizens in our communities and we have identified those unique Dickinson dispositions that set us apart as leaders. And, through our collective and individual accomplishments, we have demonstrated that we understand fully the flexibility and promise that a distinctively Dickinson liberal arts education affords us.
By articulating that which distinguishes us from graduates of other institutions, we have rediscovered a pride in ourselves and in our College. If anyone today says to you, “I never heard of Dickinson College!” the only response is a pleasant, but snappy,” I’m shocked that you would not know of one of America’s most prestigious and historically significant colleges! How odd!”
As Dickinson’s star rises, so does the value of our degree. Today, perhaps more than ever before, we are cognizant and appreciative of the fact that our connection to Dickinson is a lifelong one. It is an affiliation that defines us and is key to our professional and personal fulfillment.
While Dickinson’s recent progress has been extraordinary—many of you have read the most complimentary article in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION and another one on Dickinson’s transformation is to appear soon from the Associated Press—we cannot stand still. Our hard-won prestige requires constant vigilance, proactive and competitive strategies and, above all, enhanced support.
We know what we must do. We must continue to attract the best faculty and the best students. We must continue to provide them with the facilities, technology and opportunities that will allow us to offer an education defined by its excellence and innovation. And we must continue to position ourselves as a leader within the higher education community—an institution that, through action and results, sets the bar by defining in a contemporary context a distinctively American liberal arts education. There advancement is in their and our best interests.
And finally, we must continue to speak out and take positions on issues that truly matter, even if these actions prove initially unpopular. Such perseverance belongs to high leadership in any section of human endeavor. Dickinson has been quiet long enough. It is our time to lead with all its rewards and full knowledge of its encumbrances.
Dickinson’s ability to sustain its momentum and to fulfill its historic mandate is in your hands. This is your college—our college—and our success will rest, ultimately, on your continued interest, involvement and support. As lifelong Dickinsonians, this is your privilege, your responsibility and your way of continually enhancing your own investment and the value of your degree.
Your presence here, today, is indicative of your love for your alma mater. I thank you for your commitment and loyalty to Dickinson College and I invite you to spend this weekend rediscovering what it is to be a Dickinsonian. Reconnect with those who share this unique bond with you. Celebrate what was and remains so “distinctively Dickinson.” Enjoy and revel in the sense of pride you feel as a Dickinsonian.