Dean Lloyd W. Chapin's Remarks
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Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
August 11, 2006
What is a college? Why enroll in one? Often the answers to those fundamental questions are given by comparing colleges to other kinds of enterprises or human relationships.
One answer is to think of a college as a business or, to be more precise, a service industry. The faculty, supported by the staff, provide a service - education. Students, and indirectly their families, are the consumers. The product is a series of course credits or semester hours and ultimately a degree.
There is an element of truth in this way of thinking about colleges. Faculty memebers are indeed service-oriented. They have a strong sense of vocation as teachers and scholars. They have undertaken a lengthy and expensive education to prepare for careers that offer a relatively modest financial return. Their primary rewards come from living the life of the mind and helping their students to be all they can be.
Students and their families are, in an important way, consumers. A good college education is expensive and often involves sacrifice. There are lots of choices about the right college in which to invest. Students and their parents expect competent instruction in comfortable, attractive, safe surroundings.
Receiving a degree is important. Earnings over a lifetime will be significantly higher. Those who hold degrees are likely to enjoy a greater social status and better health.
And yet the analogy of students to consumers and the degree as the product they purchase has a serious flaw. The great nineteenth century writer John Ruskin put it succinctly: "The primary reward of human toil is not what you get, but what you become by it," which is to say that ultimately the product of a college education is not a degree. The product is the student, the graduate. The goal of a college education is not to generate prestigious degrees, but excellent people, fully realized human beings, educated men and women.
I have always loved what one student wrote about his faculty mentor: "She saw more in me than I saw in myself. She got more out of me than I thought I had to give."That is our goal as a faculty and a college: to get you to see more in yourself than you thought was there and to accomplish more than you thought you could.
The poet Robert Frost once famously wrote, "Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in." Frost is really talking about a family, a set of relationships characterized by ultimately unconditional support, There may be difficulties and disagreements, but finally the bonds are a given, unbreakable.
We like to talk here about being a part of the Eckerd College family. You are going to find that this is a caring community. We provide a lot of support to one another in good times and bad. And this is a family relationship that extends around the world because of our international emphasis.
I will never forget sitting alone in the International House in Tokyo, Japan one morning trying to decide how to tackle a Japanese breakfast with chopsticks when I heard a voice say, "Dean Chapin, what are you doing here?!" and looked up to discover Sam Wilkin, class of '85, who it turned out was visiting Japan as a business consultant.
In coming days you will discover a a host of people - your mentor, resident adviser, autumn term activiators, student affairs staff, and many others - who have your welfare at heart.
And yet this comparison of the College to a family also has serious shortcomings. In a biological family, membership is a given, inescapable. On the other hand, to be a member of an academic community is a privilege. To be sure, one chooses, but one is also chosen, one is selected for admission. And privilege implies responsibility. Being a member of the Eckerd College family means meeting certain obligations - academic obligations, but also obligations for personal integrity and respect for others. That is why early next week you will be asked to sign your commitment to observe the Eckerd College Honor Code and Statement of Shared Commitment.
My favorite way of thinking about a college, especially a liberal arts college, is as a center for celebration. By that I mean something far more profound than partying. I mean a deep, joyous involvement in life at its best.
College life is marked by rituals of celebration: this Ceremony of Lights in which we celebrate the arrival of new students; Fall Convocation in which the entire community celebrates the beginning of the academic year; the Festival of Hope in November that highlights Eckerd student involvement in community service; the Festival of Cultures in April produced by our international students; and Commencement, that great celebration under the big top on the campus's South Beach when we celebrate the end of one period and the beginning of another.
But I want to encourage you to think of all four years here - every class and lab and research project, every co-curricular activity and service project, every athletic contest, every gathering in the residence halls or the student center - as a celebration.
These four years are the time in your life for you to make full use of your capacities as a human being to explore and learn, to imagine and construct, to analyze and critique, to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and others, to ponder the great questions of meaning and purpose, and to engage in service to the neighbor in need.
The reason I like this way of thinking about the college experience is because it suggests that college is something more than a preparation for something else, something more important. Going to college is an end in itself, a precious opportunity to celebrate what it means to be a fully realized human being, to develop what we at Eckerd believe are your God-given talents.
To the Class of 2010 we say may the next four years be challenging, joyful and richly rewarding. We who welcome you today look forward to sharing this great adventure with you.