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Office of the President

Matriculation of the Class of 2009

Matriculation Address

August 21, 2005
Olin Fine Arts Center Lawn

It is my greatest pleasure to welcome the class of 2009 to Washington & Jefferson College.  Congratulations on your admission to this amazing institution. Together, we are going to have a fabulously challenging and enriching next four years. I am, in many ways, one of you, having been here for not quite nine months, but after that traditional period of gestation, I feel as if I have emerged as a new student. Therefore, I hope you will allow me to join the class of 2009 as an unofficial member.

This matriculation is the first important ceremony you will engage in at W&J. It is the mirror to commencement. And I assure you that it will seem like a very short time before we all gather again on this same ground to mark your passing from college student to college graduate.

In addition to the people you have already met, joining me today on the platform are our faculty marshal, Dr. Stuart Miller, Dean Shiller, who works with Dean Czechowski to lead our academic efforts, and Dean Yuhasz who shepherds our student Llfe programs. We also are honored to have in attendance Mayor Ken Westcott of the City of Washington and Mayor Jerry Stebbins of the Borough of East Washington. We thank them both for attending and for so graciously welcoming our students into their communities. There is a welcome letter from Mayor Westcott to the freshman class in your program. Finally, I'd like to thank Dr. Susan Woodard and Ty West for providing the prelude music. Ty is a sophomore pre-med student majoring in music.

This is the first matriculation ceremony to be held at W&J, and you will have the honor of being the first class to participate in it. By doing so, you will initiate a new tradition that classes after you will follow. The ceremony itself is a tapestry of many W&J traditions and was painstakingly woven together by our associate dean of student life, Keith Flick, and Brianne Bilsky, a member of the class of 2005, who will be leaving us soon to begin graduate study at Stanford. I thank them for their superb work.

So, let me tell you a little bit about the class of 2009 at W&J.

Some of you come from rural settings, some from urban ones. Some are exchange students from Germany and Russia. Some studied at large public high schools, others at exclusive private ones.  Among you are 14 valedictorians. Twenty-five of you were in marching band, 29 of you worked on your high school yearbook. Thirty-three played softball, 79 were on the track and field team. Eighty of you were in a foreign language club, 67 participated in a church group, and four of you were active in the Model U.N. In addition, one of you is a hang-glider, another is a pilot. One took his uncle to Nigeria, fulfilling that relative's dying wish. One of you has a mother who thinks you're "the cleanest person on earth." Another served as a student ambassador from Pennsylvania to Malta, Italy, and France. One of you hiked 100 miles in 10 days in New Mexico, while another participated in the Jewish Olympics in Israel. And then there are the ones among you who said you were just "average Joes" (or Josephines, one presumes). But I suspect that none of you are really average. You are a diverse and multi-talented group, and we are delighted to welcome you to W&J. 

We brought you here because each of you has a unique voice to add to the chorus of voices that creates our community. As you look around, you may not see a lot of visible diversity—we are a pretty white group. While we strive mightily to increase our racial and ethnic diversity, we still have among us a wide range of experiences. Sitting among you today are Marxists, conservative Republicans, and members of the Green Party. There are Hindus and Muslims, and Christians, and Buddhists, and Jews.  Individuals who grew up in the dying neighborhoods of inner cities, and those who have private estates in gated communities. There are individuals who are religious, atheist, straight, gay, and everything in between. All of these points of view are important. 

Listen to those who are different from you. Ask questions of one another. Try to understand each other's points of view. Sometimes your point of view will change, and sometimes it will not. You may enter W&J as a firm supporter of globalism and you may leave as a critic of it, or you may leave as an even more committed globalist. During your time here, however, you will have engaged with others, you will have questioned them, you will have listened with curiosity and spoken with heart-felt passion. For listening is only half of a conversation; the other half is speaking. We brought you here because we value your point of view and we want to hear it. Sometimes you will disagree with others. Don't worry—the community can withstand it. As you debate with one another, remember that it is possible to disagree with people and still respect them. That is what college is all about.

And so I urge you to take risks, to speak out, to explore. If you brought a television to college, put it back in its box and hide it in the rear of your closet. It will only distract you. Instead of pursuing the familiar, take courses in areas that weren't available in your high school. Learn a new language, study abroad. This is the time in your life to dream, to do what you've always wanted to do. It is a time when you can start life anew. There might be a few people here from your high school, but most people here won't know your personal history. They won't remember that you cried in first grade when your mother left you alone for the first time. Or, that you were a bad sport in high school, or that you made a fool of yourself when you danced alone in the rain. From this point forward, you can be who you want to be. Create a self that you can be proud of.

And so, parents, don't be surprised if your son or daughter changes during his or her time here. When your child comes home, he or she will have grown and changed. That's why you are sending them here. Embrace that growth. Question them about their new ideas. Learn, listen, and talk with them. You are part of the remarkable transformation we will all celebrate in four years at graduation. 

So now let us concentrate on your transformation into W&J students. We will mark that entrance into the W&J community in several ways today. Most importantly, you will sign the mission statement, joining with us in our collective desire to grow and learn together. The W&J mission statement reads:

"The mission of Washington & Jefferson College is to graduate men and women of integrity, competence, and maturity who are effective lifelong learners and responsible citizens, and who are prepared to contribute substantially to the world in which they live. To this end, the College promotes the development of skills, knowledge, personal qualities, and a worldview that characterize a well-educated person."

Fine words. Let's take this statement apart to see what it means for all of us. The mission statement says that W&J graduates are not only first-rate pre-meds, smart historians, dedicated teachers, entrepreneurial business leaders, and brilliant artists, but individuals who have integrity and maturity—who have a sense of ethics that they believe and enact. Ethics is a bit like table manners—you have to practice them everyday in order to be ready for important and stressful occasions. Ethics and integrity must become part of your everyday life. We expect you to demonstrate the same kind of integrity outside of the classroom as you do when you are under the professor's watchful eye. If you do this, you will learn the habits of responsible citizenship.

What about the idea of lifelong learning? At this point, I'm sure you are focused on the next four years, but it is our mission to prepare you for an entire life of learning. Our American democracy is predicated on the assumption that our citizens will be well educated so that they can elect representatives intelligently, so that they can weigh the various uses of their taxes, so that they can debate whether a war is justified, how NASA should be funded, and whether or not stem cells should be used in research. Without a citizenry of lifelong learners, this country's democracy will fail. You are those lifelong learners.

Our mission statement also speaks about our graduates contributing to the world in which they will live. The statisticians tell us that students your age will change careers seven times in your lifetimes.  In other words, you might graduate W&J to go to law school, but then decide to become a journalist, and then maybe a television personality, then an author, and finally a U.S. senator. Some of you will graduate into types of jobs that do not currently exist.  ow can we prepare you to contribute to the world, given that unknown future? Not by providing you a job certificate for a given profession, but rather by giving you the most practical of all educations—a liberal education—a liberating education—that will teach you problem-solving, critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills—along with basic knowledge of history, philosophy, science, math, languages, and art so that you can converse with people from all walks of life. And you can continue to grow.

I would also draw your attention to the emphasis on "the world" in our mission. Whatever you do as your life's work, you will find that our society is no longer local but global. Someone contracts bird flu in Hong Kong and within 48 hours, the disease has spread around the world. Natural resources from Africa are processed by workers from India to produce goods marketed in Europe by companies headquartered in America. The air we breathe in Pennsylvania is filled with pollutants from China and Mexico, as well as Ohio. As you design your education, keep your eye on the globe and consider ways in which you can expand your horizons through international internships, through study abroad, and through courses that take your mind beyond our country's borders. 

By signing the mission statement of this College, you will indicate your willingness to commit to this important work. 

As you can see, we have many hopes and dreams for you. We have assembled here a dedicated faculty, a faculty who want to teach—they are here for you. Your job is take advantage of everything that W&J can offer you. Talk to faculty outside of class, ask them questions, attend lectures by some of the brilliant people we bring to campus, read widely, and talk about what you read. In short, take charge of your education. 

I talked with a sophomore a few days ago who told me that she was initially advised not to take an upper-level history course. "But I really wanted to take it," she told me, "and so I went to talk to the professor. He asked me a few questions and told me I could take the class. He also said that if I got confused, I should come and talk with him. I'm so glad I did that—I really wanted that class." That's a student who knows what she wants and did the right thing to get it. Take charge of your education.  It is not a recipe we write for you—it is a feast that you assemble and prepare yourself.

And to get a good start, a goal that I would ask each of you to set for yourselves for the first year at W&J is to find a professor—just one will do—with whom you connect. It could be your advisor or your English teacher or your lab professor. This process can take time, but find someone. Connect with them so that you can go to them when you need advice. You're going to change a lot in college—and you will want to talk to someone as you go through that change, someone who has seen many other college students make this transition and who also knows you well. If, at the end of the first semester or at least the first year, you have found such a professor, you will be well on your way to a successful college experience. 

When I was a freshman, I found such a professor. I remember well, struggling to understand what literary analysis was all about. The first paper I wrote for him was a C-. Looking back, I suspect it was worse than that but he just didn't want to discourage me. But I went to his office and he spent hours teaching me how to read literature, what kinds of questions to ask, and how to convert that reading into a paper. It took me a long time to grasp what he was telling me. Then, one day I suddenly had an epiphany, ran to his office, plopped down in his chair, and announced, "I know what literary criticism is all about." "Oh good," he said, "What is it all about." Well, of course, I couldn't articulate the vague idea that had hit me like a bolt of lightening. So I stammered and muttered and left a bit embarrassed. But because I knew him well, he was patient as I kept stumbling along, we remained good friends, and he counseled me through college. When I was married, his son was my ring-bearer.  I wish the same for you.

As I look out at this new class of W&J students, I know that you are going to make us proud, that in four years, you will graduate from W&J as responsible citizens, as well-educated persons, and as the leaders of tomorrow. We're counting on you to lead us in the future, to find miraculous new cures for cancer and Alzheimer's, to craft trade and political agreements that make our world more peaceful, and to find a way to preserve the health and resources of this over-taxed planet. Welcome to W&J and to this great adventure.

So, let us officially bring you into the W&J community by asking the members of the Class of 2009 to come forward and sign the mission statement of the college signifying your agreement to help uphold and advance that mission. Here is what is going to happen.  The mentors will bring you forward, and you will come to one of these two tables where you will sign a copy of the mission statement. There are multiple copies here so that three of you can sign at one time at each table. Once you have signed, you will to come to either Dean Czechowski or Dean Newell and receive a pin with the College seal. Please take that pin back to your seats. Once the entire class has been admitted to the community, we will pause for a moment, at which time all students will have an opportunity to pin themselves.

After you receive your pin, you will walk up to this microphone here, where you will say your name, loudly and distinctly, announcing yourself as a new member of the College community.

Mentors, please present the class of 2009.

The class of 2009 has now completed the signing of the College mission statement. 

At this time, students may take the pin out of the box and pin it on their left side, over their heart.  We ask you to put on your own pin, signifying that you enter freely into this community and that you commit yourself to your membership herein. We hope you will cherish this pin and wear it on special occasions like honors day and commencement.

You are now members of the W&J community.   

At this point the matriculation ceremony takes a slightly different tone. We've been talking about serious matters and making serious commitments, but now it's time for some fun.

As members of this community, there are traditions that we want to share with you. Some of these traditions have been allowed to languish, so for some of the faculty, these traditions will also be new.  To help us learn a special W&J cheer, a fight song, and the alma mater, I welcome to the stage, Professor Scott Frank, a member of the Class of 1971, a professor in our theatre department and the director of the Freshman Forum; Dr. David Schrader, the chair of our philosophy department; Tina Tuminella, a member of the Class of 1994; and Emily DeVore, a current senior.

While they come up to the platform, I want to thank J.J. Lendl for doing some excellent research this summer that has helped us uncover the origins and histories of some of these traditions.

The first tradition—and it is a long-standing one—involves the "college yell," "Whichi Coax," based on the noises that frogs made in Aristophanes' classic Greek comedy, The Frogs. You can think of it as the Greek equivalent of "ribbit-ribbit."

The first mention of the yell is found in the yearbook for the Class of 1892. We are not certain how it was chosen, but a year earlier, Yale University adopted their official college yell "Brick-ke-kex Coax," which is even closer to the Aristophanes' original Greek.

It's a strange cheer, but it is woven deep into the fabric of this school—so deeply that when alumni write to me, many sign "Whichi Coax" rather than "Sincerely yours." The words for the cheer are in your program. First I'm going to ask our leaders to go through the cheer, then you will practice with them. Okay? Here we go...

Whichi coax, coax, coax
Whici coax, coax, coax
Say, say, say, jay
Say, say, say, jay
Jay, Jay, Jay!

Now for the fight song, "Good Ole W&J." The song comes from the 1920s, but it was still sung as late as the 1940s. When I mentioned the song to an alum from that era, he remembered it and could sing with me over the phone. Imagine me in the middle of Harvard Square this summer on a scorching hot day, singing this tune into my cell phone. I guess I just fit in with all the other crazies there. 

Now the "Whichi Coax" group up here is going to lead us as we sing the two verses, each one followed the chorus. So it will go: "Harvard's run by millionaires," and then "I'm from Jay," then back to "W&J was W&J" and close with the chorus once again, "I'm from Jay."  The tune is the one for "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." 

Just a few glosses on the text. "And the Sem will surely fail" refers to the Ladies Seminary, which was on the south side of the campus near where Davis now stands, and WUP refers to Western University of Pennsylvania. Finally, I would like to make one small addition to the song. Since W&J has been co-educational for more than 30 years, I think it would be appropriate for us to insert "and daughters" in the line "Wash-Jeff's been run by loyal sons—and daughters—for generations back." So let's hear that "and daughters" loud and clear.

Old Harvard's run by millionaires,
And Princeton's run by Yale.
Penn State is run by taxes,
And the Sem will surely fail.
Wash-Jeff's been run by loyal sons—And daughters
For generations back,
So we'll join the rollicking chorus,
Three Cheers for the Red and Black.

Oh, I'm from Jay, I'm from W&J
And I'll shout it far and near.
I'm from Jay, I'm from W&J
And I love my college dear.

Oh, W&J was W&J
When Pitt was merely WUP,
And W&J will be W&J
When Pitt is gobbled up.
We are the oldest college
From the Alleghenies West
So we'll join the rollicking chorus,
Three cheers, she is the best.

Good. Since you are the first class for many years to learn these songs, I am going to expect you (and the faculty) to sing them out loud and clear at Convocation.

Our ceremony today closes with our Alma Mater. Again, the words are in your program. As is traditional, we will sing only the first two verses. This one we'll only do once. And remember after the Alma Mater to shout "Whichi Coax." 

Where the hills of Pennyslvania
Greet the western lea,
Stands our dear old Alma Mater,
Throned in majesty.

When the shadows of the evening
Gather from the West,
Beams still linger on thy turrets,
Those we love the best.

Tho' at last the falling darkness
Hides thee from our sight,
Morning pours upon they grandeur
Floods of radiant light.

From they walls still echo footsteps
Of the great in fame,
All who tread thy halls so stately,
Ever love thy name.

Ring her praises, never ceasing,
We shall eveer say,
"Thee we honor, Alma Mater,
Honor W&J."