2003 Convocation Address

President Scott S. Cowen
President's Convocation for New Students and their Families
Tulane University
August 23, 2003

A Wave Hello

It is a great pleasure for me to officially welcome the classes of 2007 and 2008 to the Tulane community.

Today, you are 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 100,000 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, on paper, it is the most academically qualified class 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 rank you among the very top of all test-taking students.

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. Broadening your intellectual horizons, and further developing your leadership and interpersonal skills are the most important things you should focus on. In fact, Tulane University exists to assist you to enhance your capacity to think, to learn and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom. These attributes have always been important but now take on an even greater degree of relevance in a world characterized by the tragic events of 9/11 and its implications for the future.

You now have a wonderful opportunity to develop the habits of the mind and heart that will prepare you for a life of leadership and advanced citizenship in a global society. As you are about to embark on this wonderful journey of development, 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. When I came here 5 years ago I 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. As a parent, I can attest to the importance of this point. I also believe it is a worthy goal in the name of enlightened self-interest.

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. Enjoy the wonderful cultural diversity of Tulane and New Orleans. Tulane and New Orleans are very diverse communities and we feel this diversity is a very unique aspect of the Tulane learning experience.

No doubt, you have read and heard a lot about the topic of affirmative action in recent years. Regardless of your views of the subject – there is one irrefutable fact that you should be aware of – the more diverse a community, the more student learning is enhanced. We deeply believe in this philosophy at Tulane and encourage you to embrace it as well.

Tolerance, inclusiveness and understanding of differences often lead to enhanced self awareness, community well being and progress.

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. Remember that you are part of a community of scholars and a neighborhood of citizens just as you are at home. Treat this community and neighborhood with respect and remember the golden rule – do on to others, as you would have them do onto you. Tulane enjoys a mutually supportive relationship with our neighbors – please respect that and adhere to it while you are here.

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 and underage 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.

We are prepared to do whatever it takes to make our campus and students safe from excessive and underage drinking. 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.

Fun is serious business in New Orleans, and you will be able to share in the excitement and vitality of this truly unique city. Just do it safely and with judgement.

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 four 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, and athletic events
  • The first year experience events, including the TIDES 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.

Before I conclude, I would like to add a few words of hope and advice to the parents in the audience. Whether this is your first child you’re seeing off to college, or the last, this is a bittersweet passage for you. I am not sure I can comfort you at this time other than to share my own experience as a father of four, all of whom have now completed undergraduate school. When the first one left we were sad for the first 48 hours until we realized that life at home was easier and much more simple. By the time the last one left, we had a smile so wide on our faces that we had to hide it for a few days for fear people would construe us as uncaring parents. Life has never been better.

I should warn you, however, that they do tend to recycle themselves after a few years and go back to school or even return home for a time, but the life of an empty nester can be nirvana. Enjoy these times. I know we sure have.

Welcome to Tulane. You are now officially part of our family and will remain a part of it for the rest of your life. We are proud to have you here and look forward with great joy to the years ahead.

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