2017 First-Year Orientation remarks of President Hiram E. Chodosh

Thank you, all. "Go big, find home." That is the theme of this orientation, and what an especially inspiring moment for me.

I want to start out by thanking everybody:

  • our amazing FYGs led by the vision and dedication of Chloe Amarillo and student leadership group led by Sami and his peers, who inspire us every day with their leadership, their energy, their ideas, their generosity, and their warmth.
  • our terrific admissions team, Jeff, Gette, and Jenn and the whole group who had the challenge of selecting you as one out of ten.
  • our wonderful staff, Sharon, Devon, and the very selfless team of professionals at the Dean of Students Office, Evan and the Office of Alumni and Parent Relations, and all the wonderful people who worked so hard to get the campus ready and focused on this first set of transformative experiences for our new students.
  • our brilliant faculty, led by Peter, who challenge us each day with penetrating insights on complex problems and the power and joy of learning how to solve them.
  • our generous parents like Jennifer, our grandparents, our families, our friends who love and believe in us and the tremendous sacrifices that all of you have made to create this special opportunity for all of us.

So let's all rise. Let's all rise and give a round of applause to all those who've created this moment now. Thank you. Thank you.

I can remember back to my first day. I can remember when I dropped my own kids off at college. I know full-well how disorienting orientation can be. The travel logistics of how to get there. The finances, can we stretch the budget? How to navigate the shark-infested waters we call traffic here in Los Angeles?  What will fit in the room? The return trips to Target. Where to get something to eat? The roommates: what was her mom's name again? This is just all so frenetic and confusing. And after all the incredible hard work, the stress to get to this point, the tough practices and competitions and games, the long nights of study, the community work, the tests and the doggone bubbles. The college essays and the visits and the big decision. In the midst of all that frenetic activity, including today, we have a tendency to gloss over the moment to miss the opportunity to pose the most meaningful question, a question about our shared purpose.

So let's take that deep reflective moment now. Let's ask and begin to answer that core question. Why are we here? Reflect on that for a moment.

First, why are we here? What is our calling? What does the world need from us? What role can we play? The resolution of our most complex, wicked problems, and the pursuit of our most exciting, transformative opportunities all depend on one core capability: our ability to learn, and to put that learning to work. The power and creativity in our minds. The compassion and social warmth in our communities. The courage and humility in our leadership. For example, when we look at the sad and tragic events of Charlottesville, we condemn racism and anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds as outrageous attacks on our shared values, attacks on the intrinsic value of each and every one of us. We respect our constitutional freedoms of expression and association. And we reject violence and mourn the senseless loss of life.

But beyond that, we're called to do more. Not just to condemn what's wrong with the world but to understand and help fix it. To counter ignorance with the search for truth. To bridge deep separations by bringing people together. To counter bad and even protected speech with better speech. To replace ad-hominem attacks with the free exchange of ideas. To substitute the conclusory with the well-reasoned. To diagnose deeper causes for clues about the solution. To commit ourselves to effective action regardless of our diverse views. Not just petition and protest from the outside but also engagement in the trenches of institutional improvement from within. And when we look at our most exciting opportunities, whether social innovations that prevent crime, improve health, or alleviate poverty, artificial intelligence or computational technology or science that can help us cure disease or create sustainable, clean energy or new forms of entrepreneurship that create jobs and economic growth, it is not enough to just have a big idea. We have to learn how to implement it, how to channel proposed solutions into effective action, how to grow them into scalable businesses, how to build consensus in a world that often seems not to want it, and how to lead in diverse, even divisive professional settings.

So, as we explore why we are here, we also need to ask why we are all here, here together at Claremont McKenna College to take on those larger challenges and opportunities. It's because here at CMC, with you, we seek to develop the most powerful learning environment, one that builds your ability to solve complex problems, one that reinforces collaborative forms of leadership. You will learn from the intellectual power of our liberal arts program, how to think, write, compute, theorize, gather evidence through our interdisciplinary curriculum, how to draw on the advanced research agenda of our faculty, centers, and institutes. You will learn collaboration from the teamwork and dynamism of our co-curricular opportunities from our top athletic programs to our centers and institutes. You will learn how to develop even broader friendships across all social barriers, have difficult conversations, develop expertise in debate and dialogue through our close residential experiences, the CARE Center, and so many other programs. And you will learn to do even that which you think you are incapable of. You will learn from what you do, even in failure, from experiences that grow your confidence outside your comfort zone, and you will learn to learn. The world is changing so rapidly, and we must be prepared for what we cannot anticipate, for the questions not yet framed, for the unknown unknowns. You will learn more and more about these opportunities and how to put them to work for you and others, and you will co-create and contribute then back to all of us.

And, last, integral to these two aspects of the fundamental question today, why are we here? Specifically, why did we choose you, as you chose us? How is it that out of ten applicants, you were the one chosen? How is it that out of so many schools you could have attended, that you chose to come here? This question may come up as we (and many opportunities before you) will undoubtedly challenge you. And you will likely have moments of self-doubt. This is not only understandable, it's essential as a condition for learning, growth, and self-improvement. Think about it. Without self-doubt, we're probably not challenging ourselves enough. Without modest levels of insecurity, our standards are probably not sufficiently high. But, also, as you experience these moments, I want you to remember we all share that feeling. We are all imperfect human beings. We need to extend to one another the grace of error to learn from our mistakes together. After all, leadership in the professions are practiced, not perfected. We are all here to support one another when we're down or disappointed or sad or lonely, and we're all here to celebrate one another when we're up. We chose you because we saw something special. Not just the objective academic accomplishments. Not just the credentials of community service and leadership. Not just the successful athletic performance. But significantly, something unique in each and every one of you:  a spark, a charm, an energy, a drive, a social generosity, an impulse to serve and lead others, a desire to do more than what's merely expected, to shape your own path, to contribute to those around you, to follow your own commitments, to open up to new experiences, a growing comfort with the discomfort of trying new things, the special qualities of leadership that will help us realize our mission.

In all of these ways, you will develop the tools and confidence with us to go big, to do well, and to do good. You will develop the friendships and relationships to find and grow home and to extend it to others. That's why you are here. That's why we are all inspired and moved to support each and every one of you.

Have a great evening with your families, a fun road trip adventure with your new fellow FYGlets, FYGs, new friends, and a safe return to campus.

How lucky we all are. Congratulations to you all.