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President’s Convocation Address 2009

08-28-2009

Graduation begins today.

Two years seems like a long time, doesn't it?  Four months can even seem like a long time. But I can tell you one truth that all of us sitting here before you know: as you grow older, the passage of time seems to accelerate. In fact, many of you may have noted that feeling yourself.  When you were young, the drive to your grandparents' house probably seemed to take forever.  Now, it may well seem like this past summer was over before you knew it.

Well, I am here to tell you that the next two to four years at Gordon College is going to fly by. And the end of this semester will be here in no time. In fact, when October 8th gets here, and it is already midterm, you are going to find yourself wondering how it could go by so fast. And I'm afraid many of you are going to find that you are way, way behind in your academic work.

It begins innocently enough. Mom and Dad aren't around to wake you up or to make you leave your room. Some faculty may not take attendance. It is very easy to begin to think -- hey, I don't need to go to class today. I've got a friend in class and I'll just get her notes and instead, I'll go do something else. But what we sitting before you know from experience is that this is a recipe for failure. Students who miss class fare worse than those who attend. Far worse. Ask your professors; they'll tell you. If you miss class, you miss important lessons, lessons that you cannot get on your own. That's not to say you should come to class when you are ill: you should not. But save those absences for when you really are sick, or you will find yourself falling farther and farther behind.

But merely attending class is not enough. You have to be prepared when you get there. You have received a syllabus for every one of your classes. Use that syllabus as your guide to the readings and assignments and stay ahead of the class. Reading afterwards is a very poor substitute and will lead to poor performance. Read ahead and participate in classroom discussions. Ask questions. One thing that I have discovered in my years of teaching is that students who don't read the assignment don't ask questions, unsure, I suppose, if they were asking a "stupid question." Read and ask questions. And when you do that, you're going to find out something important: these professors are very interesting, very smart, enthusiastic, and eager. Engage them in discussions about their subjects and you will learn why they love their disciplines and why they love to teach.

So here is what you will need to do to be successful and to graduate: The first and most important realization you need to have is couched in the very notion of this talk – that you must choose to be successful. Notice that when you make the decision, the responsibility lies within you. That is a critical concept. You must take responsibility for your learning. How do you do that? Well, in part it means giving up some of the tricks you have learned from the past, the coping mechanisms that you have developed to maneuver through schools. You know what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the excuses for late papers, the stories for why you missed class, the tardies, the last-minute study habits, all the tools you used to slip through the school system when you encountered difficulties. I want to impress upon you that these great professors simply do not play that game. When you rush through a paper because you procrastinated, you will not automatically be given a rewrite opportunity. There will not be extra credit assignments because you didn't keep up with the reading and tried to cram at the last minute. They will expect your best work at all times -- in fact, I insist that they do just that, because I know that challenging you to do more than you thought you could means you will have a much better academic experience here.

But doesn't Gordon College care? Oh, we do. Among the tools you have at your disposal that will help ensure that you graduate is the opportunity to revise and upgrade your study skills.  Taking notes from involved lectures, outlining the texts, anticipating and writing mock essay question exams , setting up study groups -- these are just a few of the skills you need to learn to be successful in college.  Mere memorization simply will not be enough to make you successful in college.  You will need to practice critical thinking study skills to be successful. You will need to learn just how to go about writing a college-level theme.  You have to know how to apply the proper formula to the algebraic problem to achieve the correct answer.  There are a number of skills that may be new to you.  But you can learn these skills.  And, the good news is we have folks here who are prepared to help you learn these skills and many more.  And that is precisely what this talk is all about.  The faculty and staff of Gordon College have instituted a great many programs that are available to you to help you succeed.  The Student Success Center provides you with a great many resources for improving your skills and thus improving your chances for success, including tutoring in math and writing and sciences and workshops on how to upgrade your study skills.  FYE classes help you navigate the curriculum and find all the resources you have. Live and Learn Communities provide support with a faculty mentor. Honors classes give you the opportunity to engage in challenging, in-depth discussions. Learning communities allow you to transfer learning and concepts across disciplines and to create peer support systems.  All of these resources will help you be more successful. We want you to be successful and that is why we offer these resources to you. And there are many more.

Underlying these recommendations to you is the concept of responsibility.  Perhaps the most important tool you can employ to be successful at Gordon College (or anywhere else, for that matter) is to recognize that you are responsible for the quality of your work, and thus for the evaluation of that work, that is, the grade you receive.  Once you accept that you are responsible, all of the other tools that do work will come into play. You will study harder and more diligently because you know that is how you will be successful.

So the message today is, Graduation Begins Today.  And the question you need to ask yourself is, what have YOU done today to make that graduation happen? Today we are kicking off a program that will involve all aspects of your college career at Gordon.  Graduation Begins Today: What have YOU done to make your graduation from Gordon College come true? We will be telling you through banners and signs across the campus about programs available to you.  You will be reminded by advisors and faculty and staff about special opportunities to enhance your chances to graduate.  We will be sending you letters and emails about activities that will strengthen your academic experience. All of these will be available to you.  But you must choose to take advantage of them. You must take responsibility.

Graduation Begins Today: What Have YOU Done to Make it happen?