August 24, 2018
Welcome to all of our incoming students and the class of 2022—the largest and most diverse class in Miami history.
Today, we're all beginning the Miami Experience, together as One Miami. We are sitting in a special place—Western campus, site of the Western College for Women that merged with Miami in 1974. Right on this spot, hundreds of students trained 54 years ago to travel into segregated southern states and register black voters. They were announcing to the world that they would not stand by or submit to racism and injustice.
Three of those who participated in the 1964 Freedom Summer training ultimately gave their lives for what they believed. Those three trees remind us daily of those young men and their bravery and sacrifice. Take the time to learn about Freedom Summer. These were young people, not much older than you, whose courage and sacrifice helped change the world.
Countless other students who arrived at Miami as you are doing now, have made their mark on this place—both in unheralded, everyday ways and in highly visible ways. One of them, our speaker today, has discovered and told the stories that advance the causes of social justice and human equality through his writings of inspiring people who overcame daunting odds to achieve and to open opportunities for others. Wil Haygood, Class of 1976, has devoted his writing talents to telling stories that uplift others. His subjects include Thurgood Marshall, Sammy Davis Jr., and a White House butler with a front-row seat to history over three decades. You may have seen that story in the movie, "The Butler."
Today, we celebrate this convocation—and your journey here at Miami—with Wil at this very special place on campus. They are vivid reminders of our university's commitment to justice, equality and human flourishing.
We are so fortunate to debut Wil’s new book, Tigerland, right here at Miami University. It is the anchor of your first-year reading program. You will read it before others across the country can buy it. Wil made this happen—a gift to the university and a gift to all of us. As this book wins best-selling national acclaim—and maybe a movie, right Wil?—We will be able to say, "We read it here first at Miami University!"
Tigerland tells the story of students at the all-black East High School in Columbus in 1968. They overcame barriers including racism and poverty AND won state championships. Their triumphant stories inspire us and uplift the human spirit.
We are delighted for our students to read Tigerland, because it gives a living, real-world example of how students can rise above struggle, disappointment, and loss to elevate themselves, each other, and their school, all during a conflicted and tumultuous time in our nation's history.
In Tigerland, the students of East High School prove their ability to persevere. We need to be that example today. Rather than blame and excuses, we can respond to the challenging circumstances of our time by holding fast to our core values.
"Love and Honor" is at the heart of Miami. It's not just a greeting or a slogan on a t-shirt. It's a commitment, a promise to each other to work toward the benefit of both individuals and society as a whole.
Today, I want to talk to you about opportunities and challenges—which often are the same thing—and how they help you accomplish three things: elevate yourself, elevate others, and elevate your community.
You will face challenges here that you may not have experienced. Use them as opportunities to elevate yourself. If you don't feel challenged—by your peers, by your professors, by the wealth of new ideas that you encounter at Miami—you probably are not paying attention. Look out for new ideas, and embrace them.
In the classroom, you will learn about thinkers from across history who challenged each other. That's how society progresses—antithesis challenges thesis—leading to a synthesis that is challenged in its turn, and we all become stronger and more united.
Try to understand others' views even when you disagree. As Aristotle said, that's "the mark of an educated person." Across our campuses, you will meet people from all 50 states, from nearly 90 countries around the globe—people of different races, cultures, nationalities, religions and political views—people with different perspectives, economic backgrounds, life experiences, and opinions. Some are first-generation college students, some are fifth-generation Miamians. Engage them all with openness and respect. Listen to their stories, and share your own story with them.
Our Alma Mater envisions a Miami community "of all races, from all nations." It describes the global and inter-connected world of the 21st century—the world where you will live and work.
At Miami, every individual's unique identity is woven into a tapestry of strength and shared purpose, where the beauty of each person enhances the beauty of the whole. You will be far more prepared for that world because you discovered the strength of unity in diversity at Miami University. As you engage that diversity and learn from it, you elevate yourself.
When you engage people from a different experience, you are not only improving yourself, you are elevating others. When we include others, we are included. When we welcome others, we are welcomed. When we listen to others, we are heard.
You will often feel gratitude for someone who took the time to explain who they are, where they're from, what they think—and why. Remember that they are likely feeling the same gratitude toward you, even if they don't say it. Each of you has been enriched by the encounter. Your shared experience can become the basis of an unexpected friendship. You are elevating others.
As part of the Miami community, you accept responsibility to support and care for your fellow Miamians. Take this responsibility to heart. Some of you are away from home for the first time. You are experiencing a new kind of freedom. Use that freedom wisely to make our community stronger.
That responsibility includes standing up instead of standing by when you witness behavior that contradicts our values and weakens our common life. Multiple times every day, you will have opportunities to elevate others, both on and off campus: community service, peer mentoring, and many other groups and projects. You can witness the joy of a person with Alzheimer's who finishes an art project with your help; a five-year-old with autism who receives a service dog you fostered and trained; a Best Buddy community member with intellectual and developmental challenges you never expected to befriend; a classmate who aced a test thanks to your late-night help.
When you capitalize on all of these opportunities at Miami, you do more than participate, you change. You see the direct impact that you can have to make Miami a more vibrant intellectual and inclusive community for all.
Elevate Your Community
Your courage to face challenges, your openness to new experiences, and your generosity with new friends will elevate the Miami University Community. Generations of students have taken advantage of these opportunities before you. You are enjoying the benefits of their actions by being here today. You can join them in making sure that generations yet to come will continue to flourish here.
Our Code of Love and Honor opens with the declaration, "I am Miami." You are Miami. Your actions, your words, and your service define Miami, just as Miami's character and values define you. Together, we build something enduring on the foundation laid by generations before us. They are counting on us to carry on those traditions—to elevate this community to new heights.
When you elevate yourself, elevate those around you, and elevate your community, like those students in Tigerland did at East High, you will experience the best of Miami University.
One Miamian long ago wrote, memorialized on our Oxford Campus: "To think that in such a place, I led such a life." Welcome to that life. Thank you for choosing Miami University. We are delighted to have you here as part of our incoming class and the Class of 2022. We look forward to our journey together.
Love and Honor!