2000 Convocation Address

President Scott S. Cowen
Freshmen Convocation
Tulane University
August 26, 2000

A Wave Hello

It is a great pleasure for me to officially welcome the classes of 2004 and 2005 to the Tulane community.

As I look across your faces today, I am both proud and envious. Proud because you are among the best and brightest students anywhere. As you sit here today, your potential is unlimited, and you hold the keys to opening and realizing all of your dreams. Whatever you can imagine for yourselves, you can make possible. The only obstacle to you realizing your personal vision lies within each of you. If you have the desire and discipline to achieve your goals, you will. If not, the next several years will be a disappointment. Don't let that happen to you.

I am also envious because you are about to embark on one of the most exciting and memorable times of your life--a time of unprecedented intellectual and personal growth.

While you explore your independence, you are also joining the community of distinguished and accomplished people who have preceded you since the founding of this institution in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana, and the subsequent creation of Tulane University in 1884 and H. Sophie Newcomb College in 1886. We have more than 91,000 living alumni located around the world, many with distinguished careers in virtually every walk of life. I hope and expect that many of you in this class will join this distinguished group in the future and that process starts today.

Let me tell you about the quality of the class that you have joined. First, it is among the largest to ever enroll at the university and, more importantly, on paper, it is also among the highest quality classes in this university's history. Virtually every student in the audience graduated at least in the top 25% of their graduating class, most in the top 10%. Your average SAT's put you in the top 5 percent of all test-taking students. And, as a class, you are among the top 5 percent of college bound students in the U.S. this year.

Of course, this performance is what earned you admission to Tulane University. Today, all of this is behind you and you start with a clean slate. Obviously, not all of you will be able to be in the Top 5, 10, or 20% of the class during your time at Tulane. The key to the next few years is what you make of the experience afforded you. What you learn and how you broaden your intellectual horizons are the most important things you should focus on.

As you are about to embark on this wonderful journey, there are 10 pieces of advice I want to share with you. I fondly refer to them as President Cowen's advice to the new Tulanian.

President Cowen's Advice to the New Tulanian

1. Eat well. This is an easy thing to do in New Orleans. I came here 15 months ago was 5'8" and weighed 150 pounds. Now I could be the starting right tackle for the New Orleans Saints. I certainly have grown in stature since being in New Orleans.

2. Don't do anything you think would upset your mother or father, depending on which one is most anxious about what you are likely to do. You might sacrifice some fun, but you will give your parents peace of mind.

3. Graduate on time. If it takes longer it will prematurely age your parents. Empirical studies by first-rate scholars have conclusively proven this point.

4. Don't overdose on New Orleans. New Orleans is like a terrific meal; if you eat too much too quickly, you are going to get sick. Instead, enjoy all of its dimensions during your stay with us. It isn't going anywhere.

5. Enjoy every minute of every day because these are the best of times. Freedom and independence are everywhere, yet you still have your parents as a safety net. Don't abuse the privilege.

6. Don't do drugs, don't drink if you are under age and don't abuse the privileges of alcohol when you become of age. I don't say this to be difficult. I say it because all of us at Tulane genuinely care about your safety and well being.

For many of you, this is your first real time away from home. No doubt, there will be many temptations and social pressures you will face. I ask you to confront these with thoughtfulness, confidence and respect for yourself and others.

I want you to have fun while you are at Tulane. If ever a city was attuned to having fun, it is New Orleans. However, I want you to act smart and responsible while you are having fun and I want these times to be safe.

Alcohol and drug use are hot topics on campuses across the country, and Tulane is no exception. Excessive drinking and drug use account for more campus crime and student deaths than any university cares to admit or tolerate in the future. At Tulane, we have spent a lot of time discussing these issues and changing our policies to strongly discourage excessive drinking while having zero tolerance for drug usage of any kind. We are unforgiving when it comes to the use of drugs and increasingly intolerant of excessive drinking.

If you have a problem with alcohol or substance abuse--or you develop one--please come forward at any time and we will do everything in our power to assist you. We want you to be safe and healthy, and we are here to help you if you will allow us.

As a parent as well as university president, I am so concerned about these issues that I am working with a group of students, faculty and administrators to review our campus policies. We are prepared to do whatever it takes to make our campus and students safe from excessive drinking. We don't do this to be difficult or to curb your fun; we do it because we genuinely care about your well being. I hope that for the vast majority of you in the audience these are non-issues because you already adhere to a code of behavior that make them unnecessary. And I hope we will keep the lines of communication open--your thoughts and comments on these issues are important to us.

So I hope I didn't put too much of a damper on your prospect of fun at Tulane and in New Orleans. Fun is serious business in New Orleans, and you will be able to share in the excitement and vitality of this truly unique city.

7. Don't keep small, gnawing pets such as hamsters in your room. Hamsters get loose and eat money--which is why college is so expensive. Actually, this bit of advice is not original to me. The author Roy Blount Jr. wrote it. Which reminds me to tell you to do your own work and properly credit others when you rely on them. If you don't, you are going to get in trouble.

8. Partake of everything on the Tulane smorgasbord. Learning takes place both in the classroom and outside of it. Make sure you avail yourself of everything this great university has to offer.

There are at least three things I would personally like to see you get involved with:

  • Leadership development
  • Community activities: CACTUS, college community outreach programs
  • Campus life: social and professional activities, sporting events, and the first year program

9. Aspire for greatness--you all have it within you. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin: "Blessed is he that expects nothing, for he will never be disappointed." Disappointments, mistakes and mishaps are mere steps on a journey to greatness.

10. Say hi to the President when you see him. He loves the attention and cares deeply for students. You will make his day, and this is always a good thing.

I end with the words of Mr. Spock: "Live well and prosper." You are beginning the journey of a lifetime. Also, write and call home often--it will pay dividends with your parents, especially when you request more money.

Welcome to Tulane.

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638