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Welcome Remarks to the Class of 2014/15

 

It gives me great pleasure to formally welcome you to Tulane University as the class of 2014.

The academic community you join today was founded in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana. In 1847, the Medical College merged with the University of Louisiana, a public university, and finally, in 1884, we were transformed into a private university named for our benefactor Paul Tulane.

Now, for you trivia buffs, there's an interesting story about Paul Tulane, who worked as a trader and cotton merchant here in New Orleans for many years but who was actually a native of New Jersey. In his later years, he approached his own alma mater, Princeton, and offered them a sum of money if they'd rename the university after him. Obviously, since Princeton is still called Princeton, they turned him down—something he took quite personally.

But Paul Tulane was persistent. In 1884, he offered the money instead to the state of Louisiana to name a university in New Orleans after him. The state was already stretched thin in the post-Civil War economy to adequately fund both the University of Louisiana and LSU, so they funneled the money to the University of Louisiana, privatized it and renamed it Tulane University.

Still, Tulane never forgot Princeton's refusal. After his death, he was buried in Princeton but with his back turned to the university and his face pointed toward the South.

There are many lessons in this story but one of the key ones is to never disappoint or rebuff someone from New Jersey. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should add here that I was born and raised in the Garden State myself, and I can't help but think Paul Tulane would be amused to see another Jersey boy at the helm of his university.

The second lesson from this story is to understand how a single person can change the course of history if they have the vision, determination and perseverance to achieve regardless of the obstacles confronted.

Today, each of you becomes a member of a scholarly community that has evolved into one of the most respected and distinguished universities in the U.S.  One noted for its academic excellence and unprecedented commitment to community engagement-locally and around the world.

Tulane University received 44,000 undergraduate applications for your class.  This is the highest number of applications to any private university in America  and makes us one of the most academically selective institutions in the world.  Therefore, each of you is among the "best and brightest" students to enter college this fall.  Consequently, your class will no doubt add to Tulane's legacy of accomplishment and distinction.  

Your academic credentials and list of contributions to the communities where you lived and went to school support this lofty observation.  However, from my perspective, you are not merely among the best; you are THE BEST entering college class in America. Why?--because you chose to come to Tulane University in New Orleans at this historic moment, which demonstrates to us your character and personal values.  

You chose Tulane because you know an education is more than acquiring knowledge or perfecting a skill. A true education is a transformative process, which facilitates your ability to make substantive lifelong contributions to your chosen profession and to society in general. 

Next week we will commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, an unprecedented event in the history of this country, a disaster that was both natural and manmade.  In the past five years, this city and university has risen from the floodwaters to achieve things people never thought possible in the aftermath of the storm. 

Katrina nearly destroyed Tulane. But it also made us stronger and better.  It instilled in us a sense of confidence and commitment to community unique in higher education.  These qualities define who we are and our expectations for one another.  It is one of the factors that motivated many of you to come to Tulane.  You wanted to make a difference in the world, to embrace our community commitment, and acquire an education borne of a myriad of experiences both in and out of the classroom.

In the next few weeks please visit the exhibit in the LBC, which tells the story of our Katrina experience, and to listen to our oral history on the web.  This will give you a fuller understanding of why we are who we are.

Of course, as we recognize the Katrina anniversary we are confronting the impact of the worst oil leak in the history of this country.  This manmade tragedy has significantly damaged our seafood industry, unique ecosystem, and the lives of thousands of people.  This disaster, much like Katrina, will further test our will and resilience.  To overcome it will require another heroic commitment by all of us, including you. Yet, we will persevere, we will once again identify and create opportunity from tragedy, and we will use the experience to further strengthen ourselves and our communities.

As soon as possible, go to Tulane's home page and click on the link that describes Tulane's response to the oil leak.  Learn what we are doing and determine how you might get involved. Your talents and passion are needed.

As you learn about and reflect upon the community you have joined, I want you to know that I have a single aspiration for each of you during your Tulane years. It is gain knowledge and skills that will allow you to become engaged citizens and leaders of the world.

To achieve this goal, you must focus on two things. First, partake in the extraordinary intellectual activities of the university both in and out of the classroom.   Learning 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, take courses in other fields, attend campus lectures, read widely, and constantly seek knowledge wherever it can be found. Knowledge is power that will allow you to succeed and make the world a better place. Be inquisitive, ask questions, and intellectually challenge yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Second, enhance your emotional intelligence through your interactions with others, engaging in the community, and using all of your time wisely and responsibly. Emotional intelligence consists of attributes such as wisdom, integrity, social consciousness, judgment and empathy. This intelligence when combined with knowledge, will make you an effective leader and a success at whatever you endeavor.

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 many people. Your community engagement will be substantive and life-altering for you and those with whom you interact. You will do things not expected or required of other college students. 

 


I also want you to enjoy New Orleans. New Orleans is a truly unique city. It is the only city I know of that can lay claim to its own music, food, architecture, and language.   I can virtually guarantee you that you will come to love Tulane and New Orleans and your experiences here will be with you the rest of your life.


Finally, I 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 hope you enjoy your transition 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 chapters of your life. 

 

It is with that commitment and with great pride and joy that I now pronounce you all Tulanians and formally matriculate you into our community.

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