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American Today


Convocation Marks Beginning of the Academic Year

By Mike Unger

President Neil Kerwin and Scholar-Teacher of the Year Daniel Dreisbach, left, were among those who welcomed members of the AU community to the 2008–09 academic year Friday during the annual convocation ceremony.

Under pristine blue skies, Kerwin laid out the fundamental purposes of AU.

“American University, like all great universities, exists to create and transmit knowledge,” he said. “Our purpose is to add to humanity’s collective wisdom. We have, we believe, the capacity through this work to improve the conditions of our city, of our region, of our nation, and indeed the world. And we know we have a special obligation to prepare you, our students, to think widely, to think deeply, to think often about your roles in society and about the great issues that confront you in your personal lives, in your careers, and your roles as citizens.”

Kerwin issued three distinct challenges to the class of 2012:

1. Be serious about the world that lies ahead

“You’re preparing your most important resource, your mind, for a lifetime of opportunity and challenge. That requires a dedication to the task at hand different and more demanding than what you’ve done before, but you’re going to be very surprised at what you’re capable of doing if you commit yourself to this very new level of expectation.”

2. Be broad in your thinking, and critical in your approach

“True knowledge does not come easy. At universities, complexity is our constant challenge. It is our companion. It is true that the most elegant theories are often the simplest, but they are arrived at only through a long, difficult intellectual journey. You owe yourself and you owe your future a walk on that same arduous path.”

3. Take full advantage of this great institution

This university is the product of the ingenuity, the hard work, and the focus of tens of thousands of faculty, staff, and students, now alumni, who came before you. They’ve left you a place ready to assist you in your efforts to develop your intellect, indeed develop your entire person. But . . . passivity is your enemy. Be aggressive in seeking out our remarkable resources, the yields from that investment of initiative will be truly extraordinary.”

Scholar-Teacher of the Year Daniel Dreisbach, School of Public Affairs, welcomed the new students to campus before delving into the very meaning of universities.

“You are embarking on another important stage of your life,” he said. “It is a new phase . . . characterized by a greater degree of freedom and independence. Independence must be tempered with discipline. So, we’re going to learn together about the rewards of freedom and responsibility, and independence and discipline. And of course we won’t forget about the importance, and I do mean importance, of having fun. Encountering new people, encountering new ideas and new ways of experiencing life.”

The Rhodes Scholar on the foundations of institutes of higher learning
“The idea of centers of advanced learning has been a part of the human experience for at least two and a half thousand years. The university is a community of scholars . . . We share a common mission. We come together as one community to ask questions, to engage ideas, to acquire knowledge, and to share with others what we have learned.”

Debate is healthy
“We improve our knowledge, we improve ourselves when we meet an argument with which we disagree with a better argument, This is the best tradition of the university.”