Fall 2005 New Student Convocation

Dr. Michael T. Nietzel, President
August 21, 2005

Students, family, and friends, I am pleased to share this opportunity with the faculty and staff and the Board of Governors of the University to welcome you officially to Southwest Missouri State University.

Since America's founding, it has been spirited by a faith in the power and efficacy of education, especially public education. It is part of the foundation of this democracy, one of the cornerstones on which rests our ability both to open our arms in gestures of invitation and inclusiveness as well as to link our arms in acts that ensure our security. It is an engine that powers economic and community growth, and it is the light that shines into the darkness of both misunderstanding and prejudice.

Major universities, like SMS, have been established and supported by the public for one fundamental reason: they are society's main instrument for first identifying what we do not know, preserving what we do know, and then discovering what we need to know.

For more than a century, SMSU has been such an institution and has been in the business of educating not only the citizens of Missouri, but also students from across the US and the world. We have educated the leaders of this state and our nation, including its teachers, composers, writers, health care professionals, political leaders, farmers, entrepreneurs, and community champions.

The University has, helped thousands of students, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "live the life they have imagined." And now we have that chance and that challenge with each of you.

Yours is a historic class. This is a large class with outstanding academic credentials. It includes a number of valedictorians and salutatorians, class presidents, and awarding winning athletes and musicians. This class includes 25 recipients of the Hutchens/SGA Leaders Scholarships, our first class to honor this outstanding category of students. And finally, the average ACT of this entering class was 23.8, the highest in the University's history.

You will be the last class to enter SMS and the first class to enter MSU – all in the same week. You are the first class to enroll in the University's second century of existence – you begin this institution's next 100 years.

None of you is here by mistake. We did not admit you in error or confusion. You are a student at this university because you are capable of contributing to its goal of becoming one of the best comprehensive universities in the nation. We need your commitment to make that happen as much as we need the hard work of the faculty and the staff.

As part of your commitment, this convocation calls you to live up to the university's expectations in matters involving standards of conduct, academic integrity, and scholarly achievement. One of the major reasons for an opening convocation is to share with students and their families our aspirations for you. I urge you take these commitments seriously, and I ask parents and family and friends to support this charge as well. If you do, you will be successful, and you will be enriched by your years here, and you will have the time of your lives.

I want to say a few words about what I believe you should expect from the University.

Look to us for four things:

  1. We should push you to excel. I think college should be hard – harder than this past summer, harder than high school, harder than when your parents attended, harder than you anticipated. The reason is simple: the world is becoming smaller, more interdependent, and more competitive. You will succeed in it and enjoy it to the extent you are equipped to understand it and compete in it. We won't be of much help to you if we don't challenge you to be as knowledgeable and as wise as possible. So be ready to work hard in order to learn much.

  2. We should help you be successful. Pushing you to excel works well only when we are also willing to pull you along when things get tough. When you get homesick – which you will. When you fall behind – which you will. When you don't understand a concept or a formula or a proof, which will happen. I expect the faculty and staff to match strong demands on you with ready support for you.

  3. We should help you come to love SMS. You will meet and make new friends for life over the next few years. You will enjoy a new freedom and independence in your personal lives. You will redefine this new place into being a second home, one that we hope you will stay loyal to for a long time. SMS has a wonderful, compact campus and an almost unlimited array of activities for you to absorb. Over your college career, you will spend more time outside of classrooms than in them, and that is why the University has given so much attention to making sure this campus is a place where you can have a lot of pure and simple fun.

  4. We will keep you safe and secure. You may not be concerned about this, but your parents and family are. Most of them do not want to leave you behind today, and they are going to worry about you. We know that and that is why we will pledge to keep this campus as clean and safe and comforting as possible. Still, I suspect that your parents do not believe that you can call home too often, so help them out – call a lot.

If this is going to be a great University, you also have a responsibility to make it such. So we have expectations of you. What should you ask for – and from – yourselves?

Four things:

  1. Cultivate your tastes. Push your creative limits. Stretch your aesthetic appreciation. Your university years are a great time to sharpen your eyes for art, tune your ears to music, and turn your minds to all kinds of dramatic and creative expression.

  2. Become critical thinkers who are able to discern what is a strong basis for knowledge and a sturdy basis for belief versus what is mere bias or preference. Paraphrasing John f. Kennedy, universities should recruit people away from illusions and toward truth. One of our main goals is to teach you how to think and reason well. That is what first-rate universities do, and that is what we ask you to embrace as a personal goal.

  3. Be a serious reader. Reading is the vehicle by which you travel and learn your own interiors. It introduces you to the life of the mind, and it opens windows on you own lives. Habitual reading remains one of life's single most empowering and liberating activities. Start the habit here.

  4. Dedicate yourselves to becoming curious and contributing citizens. Find a personal intellectual interest that capture's your heart and drives you to approach each day eager to learn a little more. Grow an obsession for some area of knowledge where you insist on being an expert and through which you will make a difference for the lives of others.

I want you to know how personally pleased I am that you are here. I know you had choices about where to earn your college education. You made an excellent choice by joining Southwest Missouri State University. I look forward to this year with you and to your future years as Missouri State University Bears. We want to help you become prepared to live the life you have imagined.

Have a terrific day, and I look forward to our first day of classes with you on Monday. Good afternoon and thank you.