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2007 Convocation Address

President Scott S. Cowen
President’s Convocation for New Students and Their Families
Tulane University
August 25, 2007


The Habits of the Mind and Heart


It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome the class of 2011 to Tulane University. Today, you join a community of scholars that has flourished since 1834, when Tulane was founded as the Medical College of Louisiana. Over the past 173 years, Tulane University has developed into one of the most selective and distinguished private research universities in the United States.

I am certain your class will add to this legacy of accomplishment and distinction. I can say that with confidence even at this very early date, because you are among a very select group of students to graduate from high school this year. Your academic credentials, along with your list of contributions to the communities where you live and went to school, support my lofty assessment.

From my perspective, you are the very BEST entering college class in America and there is none other I would rather have. Why? Because you chose to come to Tulane University in New Orleans at this unprecedented moment in history, as a major American city moves forward with the rebuilding that will determine its future course. This choice to come here at this time speaks volumes about your character and your personal values.  

I believe your undergraduate experience will be unlike anyone else’s in the world. Not only will you have a myriad of intellectual opportunities provided by the university; you will also have the opportunity and obligation to participate in the greatest recovery of an America city since the Civil War.

Imagine what you will be able to tell your relatives and friends when you graduate from Tulane University.  Your Tulane experience will go a long way toward developing the habits of the mind and of the heart that will serve you well your entire life.

As I was preparing these remarks, it dawned on me that since you were born, probably about 1989, a great deal has significantly changed in the world.

For one thing, you've grown up with the Internet. Were you aware that the World Wide Web was born in 1989?  For students just a few years older than you, "surfing" was something done in the ocean, "browsing" was done in a bookstore, and a “blackberry” was something you baked in a pie. You grew up with a whole new vocabulary and skill set that folks like me and your parents had to learn.  As hard as it may be to believe, words and phrases like social networking, text messaging, and blogging are as young as you are!

There was also a very famous boy born about the same time as you—his name is Harry Potter. You have grown up with him, with your own studies in "muggle" schools mirroring his coming-of-age at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

You grew up with grunge rock and boy bands and hip-hop music, and never knew a time without video games. You grew up with Seinfeld and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. By the way, before you, people actually had to READ Lord of the Rings to know the story.

You have never known a world divided by Cold War politics, as your early years already saw the total collapse of Eastern European and Russian communist systems and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But you also have never known a world without AIDS.

You have never known a world without the threat of terrorism hanging over it. You were 4 when the World Trade Center was first bombed and only 12 when New York and Washington, D.C., suffered through the horrendous events of 9/11.

You have never known a world without conflict—for more than a third of your young lives, America has been in active military conflict in the Middle East.

And you have never known a world without the threat of global warming and the despair of natural disasters, from the tsunami in Southeast Asia to destructive hurricanes in the U.S. with names like Hugo, Andrew, Georges, Rita and—a name especially sad to New Orleans—Katrina.

In fact, you have never known a U.S. president that was not named either Bush or Clinton!

All of those things—the good and the bad—have helped to shape and develop the amazing young adults that you have become.

But the fact that you have come to Tulane University in New Orleans to study and make a difference in the world as we rebuild this great American city—says a great deal about you.

It says that you are smart.

You are courageous and resilient.

You are adventuresome.

You are empathetic and compassionate.

You want to shake things up.

You want to change the world.

Hopefully, this burning desire to change the world will be a lifetime aspiration.  It will be an integral part of your Tulane experience.

Today, you begin a partnership with Tulane University with the goal of developing the Habits of the Mind and Heart to change your world and that of others, and to become global citizens ready to take on the mantle of leadership in your chosen career and in the wider community.

Habits of the Mind are developed by partaking in the extraordinary intellectual activities of the university both in and out of the classroom.   Education is a gift, and it is your responsibility and obligation to take learning seriously and completely.  Do not waste this opportunity.  

Learning is not about just getting good grades. It is about stretching and challenging your mind, experiencing the diversity of intellectual opportunities provided on campus and in the community, and applying yourself to the fullest.  

Regardless of your academic interests, I urge you to take courses in other fields, attend campus lectures, read widely, and constantly seek knowledge wherever it can be found. It is knowledge that will allow you to succeed and make the world a better place. Be inquisitive, ask questions, and intellectually challenge yourself and your friends beyond your own comfort zones.

Habits of the Heart are developed through your interactions with others, giving of yourself and spending your time out of the classroom wisely and responsibly. These habits include wisdom, integrity, social consciousness, judgment and perspective which, when combined with knowledge, will assist you in making a difference in the world.  It is these attributes that will also make you an effective leader and a success at whatever you endeavor.

The most effective leaders are those with a both a strong mind and heart.  Those that can be the most dangerous often have a strong mind and no heart. Of course, those with a good heart and weak mind should be loved while those with a weak mind and heart should not be encouraged to run for public office, regardless of party affiliation.

In the next few years you will have an opportunity to have a positive impact on people whose lives were devastated by Katrina. Your public service will be substantive, rigorous and life altering not only for those whose lives you touch, but for you as well. You will do things not expected or required of other college students.  Yet, in the process, you will develop the Habits of the Heart sorely needed in society if we are to deal with problems ranging from global warming to seeking peace and justice throughout the world.

By the way, while you are developing your Habits of the Mind and Heart, I also want to assure you that you will be having fun. New Orleans is an iconoclastic city with a unique culture and heritage—a heart and soul that Katrina could not destroy. Part of your education will come from being a New Orleanian and experiencing the uniqueness of this city and region. New Orleans is unlike any place you have ever been, and I want you to partake in it responsibility and carefully. It is the only city that I know of that can lay claim to its own music, food, architecture, and language.  

Finally, I also want to welcome the parents of our newest students to the Tulane community. As a parent of four children, I know what you are going through as well.  I also want to assure you that your children will be fine here and that you also will be going through a wonderful transition.  I hope you enjoy it as much as my wife and I did.  My only advice is not to get a dog to replace the kids.  We did that and found ourselves being possessed by this big loveable animal that takes more of our time and money than the children she replaced.  But then again, the dog never talks back, always loves us, has no interest in using a cell phone, and keeps us walking every day.  All and all, it was not a bad swap.

Those of us on the stage today are totally committed to making your Tulane experience one of the most meaningful moments in your life.  If there is anything we can do to assist you in getting the most of this special opportunity, please let us know.

It is with great joy that I now pronounce you all Tulanians and welcome you to what I have no doubt will be the time of your life.

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638 info@scottcowen.com