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President Donald R. Eastman III

President's Remarks

43rd Convocation

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

A very warm welcome to each of you at this formal opening of the 43rd academic year of Eckerd College.

The Eckerd College Convocation calls together the whole community for the ritual launching of the academic year, and the convocation address provides the president an opportunity to give voice to a sense of where we are and where we expect to go together this year. Over time, the Eckerd Convocation address has assumed its own conventions: It should be a combination of assessment, expectation and ambition; it should be accessible both to learned faculty and to the faithful attendees from the baseball team regretting their neckties and dreaming of athletic glory; and it should, perhaps above all, be brief.

Last year was one of great change and excitement for many of us, particularly for me. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other. Faculty, individually and in groups, gave me frequent and informal seminars on the College and its issues. The founding faculty treated me to dinner and a roundtable discussion about the original vision and values of this College and provided an immensely useful and memorable review of the early history of Florida Presbyterian College and of their continuing hopes for it. Trustees have spent hours with me reviewing both pleasant and painful memories of the College's brief -- but colorful -- history. Alumni have regaled me with tales of life among the palmettos, sandspurs, and fiddler crabs -- and with stories of mentors who informed and changed their lives. Donors have shared with me their hopes and dreams for this special place. The executive staff, collegial chairs, and Faculty Coordinating Committee have all given me superb lessons in institutional memory and aspiration. Students expressed the wish to be treated like the adults they are in their residential environment, and we agreed and programmed accordingly. We opened Triton's Pub in December and had an energetic social season on campus, which will be even richer this year. Bill Covert and ECSAR staff and students taught me how to operate a boat and to navigate the challenging waters of Tampa Bay. I am all too well aware that the extraordinary young men and women of ECSAR lie in wait for that amusing day when they must rescue me, red-faced, from a sandbar somewhere.

I am grateful for all these moments that have informed and enriched my understanding of this special place, and I will continue my "Eckerd education" in a variety of ways this year, including having luncheon discussions with the entire faculty in small groups, visiting dorms for small group discussions with students, and meeting with a newly reorganized board of trustees. What are the primary lessons of my freshman year at Eckerd? I believe that, for me at least, they include these five:

1. Our Trustees have distinguished themselves by their commitment to this College when the chips were down. Their resolve and support have been heroic. In particular, I want to thank Chairman Miles Collier and Vice Chairman Grover Wrenn, for their exceptionally thoughtful and unstinting leadership.

2. Our superior academic program changes the lives of fine, young and not-so-young people every day. Its quality is fundamental to the meaning and purpose of Eckerd College.

3. Alumni care about the College more than they show and more than many of them know. One of my major priorities this year is to connect personally with increasing numbers of our alumni and to encourage them to increase their participation in our work and in their financial support of the College.

4. We are a different kind of church-related college, where matters of religion, spirit and faith are greeted not with embarrassed silence but embraced as essential to the human condition, and discussed and debated and explained as a major feature of the landscape of art, culture and politics. Our object is not conversion but education, though one may beget the other, and our subject is the spiritual life of the world--a topic that has been on particularly lurid display over the past year.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this College is tough! It can take a hit -- and has, in fact, taken body blows that would have destroyed a place with fewer strengths, fewer committed trustees and alumni, and fewer faculty with deep commitment to the world-class quality of its programs and its teaching. Together we are strong, and together we have a great future.

This past year we made significant progress on five major projects: We reorganized the governance structure of the Board of Trustees; we created a physical master plan that evolved from conversations with all sectors of the community and that will over the coming years transform our campus into a model of environmental thoughtfulness; we developed a plan for the new library, also with broad campus involvement; and we began to employ a whole new approach to student life, based on treating students as adults and expecting them to act accordingly.

The appearance of the campus has also been a major focus and is showing great results. Our food service folks have become media stars, featured in a front-page story in The Triton, as the quality of food and service at the Pub and the cafeteria continue to improve and earn the compliments of customers.

This fall, just in time for the beginning of the semester, we completed work on the renovated and enlarged student workout facility. And we will break ground on December 5th for our technologically cutting-edge library that will provide new dimensions for intellectual life at Eckerd.

We have also begun a sophisticated study of the image and positioning of the College that will provide us with critical information as we move toward developing new marketing, recruiting and strategic plans.

But perhaps our greatest accomplishment over the past year has been to come closer together as a community, following a tough time for our College and during a dark time for our nation: The coming together of this community -- faculty, secretaries, accounting clerks, groundskeepers, cooks, housekeepers, administrators, students, ASPEC members and all others -- has been essential to the success of this college, and has been a great personal and professional experience for me as your president and colleague.

We are engaged in a great enterprise at Eckerd College, one that requires not only vision but dual vision (not to be confused with double vision). This dual vision requires us to keep one eye on survival -- always a great challenge for young liberal arts colleges, even those that seem secure beyond measure, behind their fat endowments and reputations. The other eye, however, if we are to remain true to our founding vision, must remain focused on becoming and being recognized as one of the great liberal arts colleges in the country -- still an achievable ambition, and one in which this college has made extraordinary progress in its four quick decades of institutional life.

We will do that by remaining focused on our core values, which I described at our Opening Convocation last year as residential, global, spiritual, environmental and personal.

  • Residential: Our Dean of Students and his staff have made great progress in elevating the physical facilities and programming for residential life on campus. Long-range planning for developing a new generation of student facilities will begin this fall.
  • Global: Our students now come from an unprecedented 68 countries, and our curriculum is not shy about requiring engagement with not only the Koran, but with the sacred texts of all the world's great religions. Unlike too many officials and institutions in contemporary America, this College believes that one important way to combat terrorism and religious fanatics is through discussion and debate open to all ideas and persuasions.
  • Spiritual: We embrace our connection to the Presbyterian Church because we believe that, in the words of William Evans, President of Augsburg College, "faith is a form of knowing, not an alternative to it, and that it is [often] through the faith side of cognition rather than the reason side that the beckoning voice of [a true] vocation comes." The 160 freshmen who followed Brian MacHarg "Into the Streets" during Autumn Term have begun to experience the richness of spiritual life at Eckerd.
  • Environmental: Beth Forys, Peter Meylan and David Scholnick have worked with me to recover more than half of Palm Hammock from the College Landings Development Plan. They know, as I do, that the fragile paradise of coastal Florida requires educated, as well as passionate, planners and defenders. They helped set the stage for a campus master plan that respects and uses the native environment as a classroom. Our location and our marine and environmental programs provide us not only with a dramatic strategic opportunity, but also with a sacred educational duty.
  • Personal: No value is more vital to a liberal arts college than affirming the fierce individuality of each student as he or she seeks understanding, fulfillment and character. No member of the Eckerd community has done more to develop and display our College's uniquely personal standard of attention to and support for students and their parents than our Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, who today would have attended his 34th, and last, convocation as a dean of the College if he were not on jury duty. Please join me in saluting one of the heroes of this College, a man whose character and dedication are an inspiration and model to us all: Dean Dick Hallin.

As we struggle to build a first-rate college and a caring community on this sandy soil populated by palmetto and sand spurs, and students and scholars mostly from somewhere else, it is hard not to be instructed and moved by the famous words of the great professor and theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, who, in fact, taught some of our Eckerd colleagues:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.

As many of you know, the best colleges embrace what is called "shared governance," which means that trustees, faculty, administrators, staff, and students all participate in running the place. You may also know that the Greek root of the word governance is ku•ber•nay -- meaning, "to steer," as the helmsman with his hand on the tiller steers a boat or a ship. I am ever aware that, as your President, I hold the position of helmsman in trust, ever dependent on the personal and institutional support of the Board of Trustees, and in the service of faculty, staff, and students. May each of you find fulfillment and success and community in our work together this year. Thank you.