My friend and colleague, Dr. Mauri Yla Katola, Rector (President), the University of Lapland, invited me to deliver the ULapland fall Convocation address September 1, 2014. This fall marks the University’s 35th anniversary. Rovaniemi, the University’s home, sits astride the Arctic Circle and is the largest city in Lapland, Finland’s northernmost (and largest) region. The audience included many persons who played a role as founders (e.g., the founding Rector and first Board Chair), Rovaniemi’s mayor, newspaper editor-in-chief, elected officials, faculty, staff, and students.
All speakers preceding me and all who followed, spoke only Finnish, save a student leader who spoke briefly in English about higher education at a crossroads. A 12-piece professional Chamber Orchestra accompanied the procession and played several pieces during the Convocation, including the West Side Story Overture, selected for me by my Rector friend and performed immediately prior to Mauri introducing me.
I began by commenting on the language, starting on the light side:
My Convocation Remarks
“I understood the language – I found it lilting, lifting, inspiring, and enjoyable! And then the orchestra left the floor and the talks began. I soon contented myself with watching people, listening for reactions, and hoping that I would not disappoint when time came for me. Now, it is time. I bring you greetings from Antioch University New England in New Hampshire, northeastern USA.
I want to thank my dear friend and colleague, Rector Mauri Yla Katola, for inviting me. To all of you I extend appreciation and offer congratulations — 35 years is a noteworthy achievement! What a pleasure, honor, privilege, and thrill to be here.
My message is equally as applicable to you as it would have been at my university’s fall convocation two weeks ago. Importantly, we are all fellow citizens of this Earth. We are fellow travelers – in time; in spirit; in purpose.
I will talk about new beginnings – for you; for me. I’ll speak to our responsibility to be Earth Stewards. To our imperative to serve to our capacity. To our shared focus on the future – winning victories for humanity! And, I will mention our individual and collective life’s journey – leading us to where we need to be.
What credentials do I bring to the lectern; who am I; what am I? The answer is that I, like most of you, wear many hats and represent multiple roles. Here is my own list of descriptors, not exhaustive: university president; forester; scientist; educator; husband; father; grandfather; lifetime steward of nature and natural resources
Today marks a new beginning for you. Fall Convocation ushers in a new academic term. You are welcoming a new student cohort. You are forging and refining a new set of dreams and aspirations. Much lies ahead during your anniversary year.
This also stands as a series of new beginnings for me. First, my wife and I experienced a life-changing incident May 3, 2012. As we returned from an evening walk through campus (Urbana University in Ohio), the driver of a sports utility vehicle ran a stop sign, plowing into us and propelling us through the air many meters onto the pavement. The driver shifted the vehicle into reverse and sped away from the scene, as we awaited our ambulance transports to the hospital. A neighbor, who witnessed the assault, noted in retrospect that we “were caught by angels.” The event served as a very serious wake-up call, opening our eyes to the reality that life is fleeting; life is fragile; and life is precious.
In his novel, The Natural, Bernard Malamud speaks through his lead character, “We have two lives… the life we learn with, and the life we live after that.” As we recovered, Judy and I vowed that we would live this second life in a manner that is more purpose-driven, passion-fueled, and faith-based.
We reflected on the words of Helen Keller, a 20th Century American author, lecturer, and political activist, who at age six lost her sight and hearing to a high fever. She observed during her later years, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” As a result of the accident, I now choose a ‘Daring Adventure.’ No, not dangerously daring, but boldly daring. We have chosen to be daring and driven to making a difference in the world!
That daring acceptance led me to seek new employment that would open doors to making a greater difference. Now, I have been at such an institution since July 1, 2013. My presidency at Antioch University New England is in full alignment with this second life. Antioch’s founder, Horace Mann said to the first graduating students (1859), “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity!” That strong sentiment toward service to humanity remains in our DNA 155 years later.
We’re a graduate student only institution (1,000 students; 2/3 Master’s and 1/3 doctoral), holding to the tag line, “Because the world needs you now!” Our adult, working students are drawn to us either because they have already reached an inflection point in their lives/careers, or because they seek to transform their life and career
A new beginning means new dreams and visions. Each of you has dreams; dreams for career/life/service. I urge you to embrace them; cling to them; cherish them; and bring life to them. Napoleon Hill said that dreams and visions are “the children of your soul.” I say to you, nourish those children!
I, too, have my dreams and visions: to leave this world a better place for my passing. I am determined to give full measure to living, and to making a positive difference. I am committed to tapping the power and the passion of my dreams and visions. I hope you are as well!
Our AUNE tagline, again is “Because the World Needs You Now!” That applies to all of you – the world does need you now!
Our Imperative to Serve to Our Capacity
My university and yours view education as a learning process – a process that distills to three verbs: See; Feel; Act. Seeing means to view beyond superficially, to see multiple dimensions, and to secure understanding and evaluate implications. It implies seeing deeply enough to feel empathy and generate a desire to address the issue. And it entails translating that desire to action. Effective education is a process that enables us to see; implores us to feel, and inspires us to act.
We can’t each save the world – instead, we can individually do our own small part. We can’t just Hope that tomorrow will be brighter; we must Act to make it better.
Yanee, the student who spoke prior to me, hit a seminal point. Yes, “all education is at a crossroads.” In fact, our life, our society, our future – all are at crossroads. Our politicians cannot and will not take us to a brighter future. It is, instead, up to us – up to you. It’s time for Your (really, for Our) Daring Adventure to begin!
We must act with the strength of our convictions and to the level of our capacity, all in service to humanity. Service to a future that only we can shape; service not in the future, but service today, for the future. Service aimed at “winning victories for humanity.”
Being an Earth Steward
I end with two quotes, the first from mid-20th Century Pulitzer Prize winning author and playwright, Louis Bromfield. Bromfield bought an old, worn-out, exhausted farm in the US Midwest in 1938. He devoted his life to rehabilitating the land on Malabar Farm, the name he gave to his property. He said, in 1945: “The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished…. The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of the Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.” May those words serve as a metaphor for your life; and for mine.
I urge you, as you launch this new academic year (and celebrate the University’s 35th anniversary), to be prepared. Be prepared to leave your own mark on some small corner of this world! Dedicate yourself to a higher calling – a greater purpose. Be prepared to make a difference in the lives of others. Begin your own Daring Adventure!
I’ll close with a final quote, one that applies to my own life, to my career, and to my vocation. Douglas Adams, in The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, observed, “I may not have gone where I intended to go; but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
May this Convocation begin your journey – to where you Need to Be!”
A new friend at the University of Tromso in Tromso, Norway presented to me a book of Sami (Northern Scandinavia’s indigenous peoples) Proverbs. The author starts and ends his book with complementary proverbs. The Sami are historically nomadic, following their reindeer herds across the seasons from summer grazing areas to wintering grounds. The opening proverb states, “It is better to be on a journey than to stay at one place.” I’m reminded of my own nomadic career track that has taken Judy and me through eleven interstate moves. Our journey has taken us “home” to Antioch University New England.
The final proverb echoes the first, “A flying bird will always find something, a bird that only stays home will find nothing.” Had we stayed where we grew up in the central Appalachians, we may indeed have found nothing. Instead, our flying has landed us at a place where we need to be! We found a place we did not know existed.
I am grateful to Rector Yla Katola for inviting me to Rovaniemi. I also appreciate Outi Snellman, Director of International Relations, ULapland and Vice-President Organization, UArctic, for arranging logistics for my visit. And to Pierre-Andre Forest, UArctic Senior Administrator, I extend sincere appreciation for serving as tour guide, interpreter, and fellow forester as we explored the northern stretches of Finland, Sweden, and Norway following the Convocation.