2016 CMC Convocation remarks of President Hiram E. Chodosh
Good morning, and welcome to our Claremont McKenna Convocation for the 2016-17 academic year.
We are so excited and so grateful to celebrate the first convocation in the Roberts Pavilion.
Let’s all please recognize George Roberts, our board, and the many generous leaders of our college and community, on whose shoulders we stand today, for helping to realize the vision for this spectacular facility.
We all express a special welcome to the newest members of our community: our outstanding transfer students and class of 2020; and our talented cohort of new academic leaders, faculty, and staff who join us this year. Let’s give them a warm welcome and round of applause.
Thank you Rabbi Shapiro for your profound invocation. You have just arrived and already managed to put your finger on the mission of our College:
deeper study leading to greater action;
the liberal arts for thoughtful, productive lives and responsible leadership in the world.
Convocation calls us together to inspire our individual and collective responsibility to that mission.
We celebrate our staff and faculty through their impressive milestones of service and impact. Professor Selig regales us with lessons from history about how to make history, and Nicky Blumm, by his words and by his example, underscores the value of community, our community, in all we learn, all we do. Professors Rentz and Rosette infuse the occasion with high-spirited singing and the moving tones of the cello.
We pause to reflect, remember why we are all here, what drives us, what we can and must learn from one another.
Even with all of the excitement of a new academic cycle, we face a series of steep challenges in the world, from the Middle East to our own streets, from our dry lands to our rising oceans, from our hospitals to our schools. And we look hard for ways to cut through our divisions. We try to seize the opportunities and reduce the harms of major forces.
We can only alleviate tough conditions and draw inspired solutions when we combine the power of thought and action, when we embark on a virtuous cycle of learning and doing. And we can succeed only if we do that together.
Study alone won’t solve these complex problems, and uninformed, isolated action often makes our problems worse.
So how do we do it?
We ask big and penetrating and disruptive questions:
questions that challenge our working assumptions and conventional theories, not just those of others;
questions that help us see through new lenses, and grow through the challenge of learning new lessons.
We then put our learning into practice. We watch it collide with the real world, only to adapt new approaches from our trials and tribulations. We learn through experience.
We cross disciplines and borrow and adapt ideas. Our challenges are too complex for us as individuals or separate groups to solve them alone. One isolated discipline or one ideological group will have at best only a limited impact.
We draw on this moment of convocation to call ourselves together in this shared purpose: to develop the learning capabilities the world needs from us.
That’s the purpose of our great faculty and their dynamic classes. That’s the purpose of our Athenaeum. That’s why we support research institutes and their engaged thought leadership in so many fields.
Our students live this example. Recent graduates
who apply study in abstract math to economics, and put it to work on our leading equity trading floors;
who take their training in politics, economics, and philosophy to develop clean water sources in East Africa;
who combine their study of chemistry and management to consult for the world’s leading tech and biotech companies.
who take their course work in literature and history and government and world languages and international relations and make path-breaking films, advise governments, start new companies, run for office, serve their communities, love their families, lead a good life.
That’s what our college is about. That’s what CMC is for.
None of us alone; no student, professor, or institute; no one president or dean can do this in isolation. We nourish one another. We succeed only when we do it together, as a community.
Our shared purpose is not a call for some kind of monolith, forced consensus, or dominant political position.
Instead, it is a call for mutual respect for and support through respect for our disagreements, a challenge of our assumptions, a call for humility in what we think we know, the openness to be wrong, a commitment to persuade with facts and reason, and the grace to extend what Professor von Hallberg last year called the hospitality of error, even when we are justifiably upset.
As we reaffirm our commitments to freedom of inquiry, speech, and association, let’s do so with sacrifice, humility, and recognition of our responsibility to one another, our profound interdependence.
Principles without sacrifice render words empty of meaning.
If we are to learn, we have to recognize what we don’t know. If we are to develop confidence, we must take risks. We must question ourselves. We must understand how we are shaped by forces outside our control, if we have any chance of reshaping or leveraging them for good.
If we are to cherish free speech, we must support and hear the speech with which we most disagree. The most persuasive arguments anticipate opposing viewpoints. Free expression without listening is of little use.
Diversity without engaged inclusion is only a surface, an optic, an image that glosses real barriers, a nice roof that hides the social partitions that divide, constrain, and can hurt us. If we are to have an inclusive community, we must learn from those we have not yet met or don’t really know. We need to work and play and learn together to break down those walls.
Yes, our self-expressed identities may spin colorful threads of humanity; yet, if we don’t learn how to cross-identify with one another in shared purpose, we cannot weave the cohesive social fabric we need in our communities.
If we are to challenge one another, we need to support each other as well, as teammates, as colleagues, as friends, as an extended CMC family.
This is hard work. At times, we may disappoint ourselves and one another. We can learn from that, too. If we are both patient and persistent in our practice, more often, we will succeed. And succeeding together is fun, fulfilling, inspiring. Our shared experience brings us even closer together.
And so as we convoke, we reaffirm these commitments to our College, to one another, to ourselves, to those we care about, to the broader society. And we honor members of our community who have served this mission: the faculty, staff, students, alumni, families, and friends who challenge and support us.
Congratulations to you all on the beginning of an exciting year, and many thanks for joining us today.