(Convocation Speech, September 7, 2007)
Most of us know the experience of hearing children ask repeatedly “Are we there yet?” during long and, for them, seemingly endless car trips to visit grandma or another historic monument. Whether it’s eagerness or impatience that prompts the relentless inquiry, the cumulative effect on the occupants of the front seat can be –at best—fatiguing. Distractions like games and videos are merely feeble and ineffective consolation for children who simply have no understanding of time and distance. One hour may as well be a lifetime; one mile, a trip to the moon. Think of the narrative in Hebrew Scriptures describing Moses’ endless effort to appease his people while they wandered around the desert for forty years. These are people who spent a lifetime asking “Are we there yet?”
We are all people on a journey, for that is the very nature of the intellectual life; moreover, we spend our lives attracting companions—students—and hope that they too will become life-long adventurers on this pilgrimage. The historic pace of the University of San Diego has been anything but leisurely. So many of you in this assembly have been more than mere witnesses to the rapid growth and development of USD; you have been and continue to be the pace setters, a great cast of characters that would have given Chaucer new material for a sequel to the Canterbury Tales.
This academic year marks the 35th anniversary of the merger between the University of San Diego College for Men and School of Law and the San Diego College for Women. When the university announced the merger during the summer of 1972, President Hughes wrote that “A great city deserves a great University.” On behalf of those of us who have been privileged to come to this great university since that time, I want to thank publicly the men and women professors and administrators who were present at the beginning and continue their amazing service to this university. Please stand as I read your name: Professor Lawrence Alexander, Professor Dennis Clausen, Dr. Thomas Cosgrove, Mr. Nicholas De Turi, Professor Iris Engstrand, Professor Brigitte Heimers, Professor Richard Huffman, Professor Patrick Hurley, Professor Herbert Lazerow, Reverend Jack Lindquist, Mr. Roger Manion, Professor Jack Pope, Professor Norbert Rigali, S.J., Mr. Federico Rocha, and Professor Curt Spanis.
I am also honored to add that the leader and shepherd of our merger could be with us today, President Author Hughes and his wife Marge. Please join me in acknowledging our gratitude for their dedication to this university.
What you and your predecessors have accomplished is nothing less than amazing, given the youth of this university. Over forty thousand alumni, whose average age is under forty, living and working around the world are your living legacy. It is no exaggeration to acknowledge the global impact of your teaching, scholarship, and mentoring.
Over the last four years I have marveled at the progress you have made toward our strategic directions: For example, our commitment to academic excellence can be measured by the increasing academic profile of our incoming students, the superb recruitment and retention of top-flight faculty; the increase in scholarly and creative work available in the public domain; and the increasing national recognition and rankings of academic programs. The quality of the student experience has been greatly enhanced by the collaborative work between faculty and student affairs professionals, resulting in more integrated learning, improved advising and career services, huge investments in technology and commitments to other capital projects meant to serve better all of our students. The creation of the International Center leverages many of our existing programs and promises to improve the global competencies of our graduates. The emerging Center for Catholic Thought and Culture will insure that the work of the university task force on Catholic Social Teaching continues. Similarly, the newly commissioned President’s Advisory Board on Inclusion and Diversity will assist in sustaining our commitment to these values. This semester alone, we mark three major milestones: the launching of the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, the dedication of the new home for the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, and—with your help—the conclusion of the University’s $200 million comprehensive campaign. These are simply examples, not at all an exhaustive list of your collective efforts.
While it may seem to some of you that we have too much in common with the nation’s airports; that is, always under construction, I prefer to think we share a vision of this university that continues to keep us moving. The vision of our founders--Mother Hill and Bishop Buddy—was bold and extended well beyond even their own horizon. Their’s was a vision of life that, in turn, inspired a grand plan for higher education. While neither of them articulated a systematic philosophy of education, they and their colleagues created this university out of a conviction that every human being is sacred, created in God’s own image, and, as such, worthy of love, of dignity, and of justice. The University of San Diego was born from that vision of life. The implications for education are profound.
A university that holds steadfastly to the principle of human dignity honors its students by offering an education of the highest quality, not compromising on excellence. This pattern was set early on by the Sisters working at the women’s college who insisted on creating beautiful spaces and gardens for their students, sacrificing their own material comfort in that effort. Why? Because if you believe that human beings deserve intellectual, aesthetic, physical, and spiritual nourishment, you must feed them. Thus, the university maintains a core curriculum for undergraduates designed to explore the human condition in all its dimensions; it offers a rich calendar of theater, art, music; it invests in places and people dedicated to sport and recreation; time and space, set aside for prayer and worship.
A university that believes human beings are created in and for community takes the principle of human solidarity as the starting point of its educational mission. It places a premium on the personal encounter between professor and student, defining its mission on behalf of the interpersonal, the relational. Its professoriate invests personal time and interest in its students’ development; its residential community and professional staff nurture young adults through the challenges of learning how to live among and for others; it offers support for adult students to help mitigate the inevitable strains on their marriages, children, and work during their years of study. Moreover, the sheer “catholic” sensibility of the university positions it squarely in solidarity with its global neighbors, attentive to them in its teaching, research, and outreach.
A university whose mission proceeds from a desire to enhance the human condition knows the place of justice in that endeavor, champions the principle of human agency by insisting that students learn to think critically, to inquire freely, to take responsibility for their own learning and responsibility for the welfare of others. It seeks justice through the teaching and research of its professional schools by preparing its graduates to improve the human condition through their own scholarly and applied work, recognizing that justice cannot prevail without the rule of law and the essentials of health care, education, and stable economic and social systems. Such a university acts justly when it recognizes the inequities latent within itself and seeks to remedy these by attending to the voices of all its constituents in its deliberations and decision-making. Thus, the academy exists as a public trust, represented by men and women trustees, advisors, and visitors from the local region, from the nation, from the international community who seek your best scholarship, your service, and your graduates to nourish a world community that hungers for justice.
A university that embraces a mission this bold is a university of men and women who rarely stand still; they are—you are—on the move, knowing that there is no satisfying answer to the question “Are we there yet?” It is for me a great privilege and joy to know that you are my companions along the way.
Mary E. Lyons, Ph.D.
University of San Diego