University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

Provost David V. Rosowsky's Remarks

Good evening.

Before I begin my remarks, I want to take this opportunity to introduce the academic leadership of the University of Vermont – the Deans.

Deans at the University of Vermont are responsible for nearly every facet of your educational experience; they are the leaders of our colleges and schools, and they are dedicated to your success. Many of our deans are here with us today. Deans, as I call your name, please stand. Once I’ve introduced the full group of deans, I will ask that you join me in thanking them, in advance, for all that they do for our students.

  • William Falls, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
  • Cindy Forehand, Dean of the Graduate College
  • Luis Garcia, Dean of the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
  • Nancy Mathews, Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
  • Rick Morin, Dean of the Larner College of Medicine
  • Patricia Prelock, Dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences
  • Mara Saule, Dean of Libraries
  • David Jenemann, Acting Dean of the Honors College
  • Sanjay Sharma, Dean of the Grossman School of Business
  • Scott Thomas, Dean of the College of Education and Social Services
  • Cynthia Belliveau, Dean of Continuing and Distance Education
  • Thomas Vogelmann, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

These are your academic deans. They are here to ensure your access to a world-class education and your four-year pathway to graduation. They have worked with their faculty to develop the remarkable intellectual journey that begins tomorrow. Please join me in thanking our deans for their leadership.

As provost, I serve as the Chief Academic Officer for the University of Vermont, and as such, I am responsible for the academic mission of the University and ensuring that we provide a world-class environment for learning and discovery for our students, and for teaching and the pursuit of scholarship and research for our faculty. But in addition to my formal titles, and my role as Chief Academic Officer, I also serve – unofficially – as UVM’s Chief Optimism Officer and cheerleader-in-chief. If you want to learn more about all that is happening at the University of Vermont, what’s new on our campus, how our Division I Athletics teams are doing, or where to go to get the best cup of coffee (or ice cream) on campus – I encourage you to follow me on Twitter (@UVMprovost).

I want to use my remarks this evening to talk about our first-year reading: A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel.

I would be remiss if I did not begin by underscoring the ubiquitous safety issue the book explores. Recall the statistic that in 2007, 11% of drivers at any given time – that’s 1.8 million drivers – were using a phone. That is scary, unimaginable, and unacceptable. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to overcome this temptation.

But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Because to overcome the temptation means working against our own neurology, our primitive instincts, and our deeply rooted need for connection. Acknowledge that reality by putting the phone in the backseat before you slip into the driver’s seat.

But in addition to that – and again, that is no small thing, if you leave here this evening with only a resolve not to text and drive, that will be enough – but in addition, I want to speak to what the book refers to as our power to attend.

In A Deadly Wandering, Richtel speaks of the onslaught of information we receive from electronic devices. The onslaught, he writes, “taxes our ability to attend, to pay attention, arguably among the most important, powerful, and uniquely human of our gifts.”

This very moment that we are experiencing right here, right now is remarkable. We are gathered to acknowledge the incredible journey upon which you will embark tomorrow. Only about 7% of the world’s population has earned a college degree. Just 7%. You are here to become among those very privileged and very few.

And yet, I know, that right here, right now, in the midst of this remarkable moment, some of you are scrolling through your phones, or reading a text, or composing a tweet. You’re here, but you’re not fully present.

Among my many wishes for your next four years is that you give this experience – your studies, your faculty members, your classmates, and yourselves, the gift of your attention.

During the next four years, you will be exposed to scientific fact, artistic interpretation, historical context, mathematical analysis, philosophical perspective, political dialogue, and a broader range of people, cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, and ideas than you may ever see again.

Pay attention. Immerse yourself in the vastness of this experience. Wallow, reflect, ruminate, and contemplate without interruption. Think deeply. Let things simmer.

Your education here at the University will, of course, be rich in technology. And I have no doubt that a number of you will invent new technologies, perhaps even while you’re here, designed to enlighten, or explore, or amuse, or connect.

But you must acknowledge the limits of your beautiful, stone-age brains, and the challenge our space-age technology presents. As Richtel writes, “…even though technology is not classified as “addictive,” some neuroscience points to stark similarities between how technology use and drug use trigger chemical release in the brain.”

“The fear is that we grow so accustomed to frequent bursts of stimulation, we have trouble feeling satisfied in their absence. Think about it: you hear the ping of an incoming text or call, you respond... And each time you respond, you get a hit of dopamine. It’s a pleasurable feeling, a release from the reward center. Then it’s gone. There is no incoming text, no stimulation. You start to feel bored. You crave another hit.”

Pings happen. We know that. And we know that they aren’t going to stop. But we also know that as good as they may feel, ever-present pings diminish our capabilities for deep comprehension, and compromise our ability to reason. And developing your ability to comprehend and reason is precisely why you are here.
During your four years at UVM, you will have access to majors, minors, certificates, courses, lectures, symposia, seminars, service-learning, teach-ins, performances, field trips, internships, games, teams, clubs, dinners, and debates.

There are no limits to what you can achieve while you are here. But we only provide you, as students, with access to all of this. The value only exists if you take full advantage of what we offer, if you make purposeful choices, if you are present, if you pay attention.

Of course, our connective technologies can and will support your educational experience. But be aware of their potential to impede meaningful personal, social, and intellectual connections with your faculty members, with your classmates, and with your friends. Give these people the gift of your undivided attention, and expect the same in return. Because these four years are fleeting, but those substantive human connections will transform and transcend this short time you have with us.

So, Class of 2021, you have my best wishes for the academic journey that begins tomorrow. We will follow you with great interest – we will be paying attention – and we will support you every step of the way.

Welcome to the University of Vermont!

Last modified August 28 2017 08:46 AM