2015 Convocation address

Click here to watch President Schill's Convocation Address

September 28, 2015

Welcome.  You and I are in similar places today.  You are new to the University of Oregon, and I am new to my position as President of the University.  Considering the fact that I moved to Oregon less than three months ago and many of you are from Oregon, it may even be possible that some of you know more about the University than I do.  Nevertheless, we both have much to learn and experience about our new family, the University of Oregon family.

You have been selected to study at this university. You have earned the right to be here – we don't admit anyone who doesn't deserve a spot in our classrooms. So the takeaway message is that each of you is capable of succeeding at the University of Oregon. It is how you apply your abilities and qualifications that will determine what you actually accomplish as students on this campus.

I vividly remember my first days in college and my own Convocation.  Like many of you, neither of my parents had gone to college.  But they had very high aspirations for me.  I went to a private college and almost all of my tuition and fees were either covered by scholarships, loans, summer jobs, and a job in the library of our public policy school. To say I felt out of place was an understatement.  Who were these people who dressed differently from me and who seemed to each have a multitude of friends from their previous lives?  Would I ever fit in?  Who would I eat dinner with?  And could I ever compete and do well at college?

Ultimately, I found my own niche in college; my own friends; and my own academic passion—urban policy.  I never lacked for a dinner companion and I survived the four years, indeed I thrived.  Much of what I am today is formed by my education.

What can you all look forward to in College? For many of you, the answer will be football, fun, and friends. That is great; but please don’t let that be all. You are going to a great university, one with amazing faculty members and staff who have chosen to devote their lives to educating you and pursuing knowledge.  Within the buildings of this university are all of the wonders of human knowledge.  Devote yourself; commit yourself to becoming educated. 

For those of you who think you are interested in science and math, be sure to study literature and the arts.  For those who want to be musicians, poets, journalists, or sociologists, be sure to take a science class and brush up on your math.  For the budding business people among you, go take a dance class or a romance language.  To be prepared for a changing world and the economy when you graduate, you will need to be broad in your knowledge and able to constantly learn.  That is what college is for.

College is also about learning from each other.  Many of you have led lives in homogenous communities where everyone was like you.  Here we bring together the wonderful diversity of humankind.  Don’t just hang out with people who look like you or have your background.  Become friends with someone unlike any of your other friends.  Go out to dinner with folks who vote for political candidates who you can’t stand.  When you get out of school you will need to interact with and understand people who are not like you.  Get a head start here.

And have a good deal of fun.  Go to football games, watch a track meet, listen to On The Rocks acapella group, climb the Rec Center rock wall and hang out with your roommates.  Join a debate club, a theater group, a choir, or even student government Your friends here will be your friends for life. 

And as you get educated, as you develop relationships, as you have fun, do so responsibly.  Treat each other with respect.  That includes the people who you will become romantically involved with or the people with whom you would like to become romantically involved. 

There is absolutely no room on this campus for sexual violence or harassment.  Ask for consent, sober consent, and respect the answer you get.  If you can’t understand that, you don’t belong here. Stand up for each other. If you see something that might lead to sexual assault – say something or do something. We are a family and Ducks take care of each other. And treat yourself with respect.  Do not abuse alcohol or drugs.  Yes, Animal House was filmed here.  But you not animals; you are the future leaders of our state, nation and world.

As you begin your classes tomorrow, some of you will find it hard to catch on to the material.  Some of you will start falling behind in your coursework.  But remember what I said at the outset.  We are a family.  You are not alone.  Go get some help.  We are on a quarter system, so the timetable for classwork, midterms and final exams will seem compressed as you make the transition from high school semesters to ten week quarters. Before you know it, you could get buried.  So if you find yourself in trouble, go get some help.  Every professor here wants you to succeed; every counselor and student support person wants you to flourish. 

Just reach out.  We are here for you.

There is a very real opportunity for you at the University of Oregon, and the reason I am standing here today is to urge you to seize it. This is where you receive your education – your leg up on all those who haven't been fortunate enough or determined enough to be selected for this chance to learn and prepare for life.

Your university education – your journey - starts tomorrow, so get ready.  You are joining a community of scholars, and you have joined a research university.  This means that you will be taking courses from knowledge producers, not just teachers.  Not only do the professors here consume, refine and teach from the vast knowledge that exists going back hundreds of years and from incredibly complex fields of study, but they create new knowledge.  The professors here are the ones who are asking profound questions, defining important issues, making scientific discoveries, and creating beautiful new art forms.  They are literally writing the award winning books, publishing the transformative journal articles, and figuring out new ways to build something or creatively express a new art form.  We are teachers at the University of Oregon, but we are also knowledge creators.  This is the hallmark of a research university and we are proud of that mission.

Now you are part of that mission as well.  While you are here, we want you to ask us the hardest questions you can think of and push us to help you better understand the world we live in.  We also need you to help us envision the world that does not yet exist.  We are on this journey together, and our goal is to encourage you to exercise your minds as never before.

Welcome to the University of Oregon.  You are entering our community of scholars, you are joining the academy.  And we are honored you have come.

Your class can become the best, the brightest, the most accomplished, the most innovative, the most entrepreneurial, the most devoted. It can be all those things, because remember – you all belong here.You have earned the right to be here because of the potential you have already demonstrated. You now get the opportunity to make the most of your considerable talents.  Your class will always be special to me as we both go from being freshmen to advanced students.

Your journey is just beginning. Grab the proverbial steering wheel, find your path, take a few detours, remember to wear your seatbelt, and above all, enjoy the ride!