University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

Convocation 2013 Closing Remarks

David Rosowsky, Provost and Senior Vice President  

David RosowskyGood afternoon.

I hope you all read Steven Johnson’s book “The Ghost Map” this summer. This book – part detective, part history, part scientific, part social theory, and part futurist – beautifully describes the unraveling of the mystery of the deadly cholera outbreaks in London in the mid-1800’s.

It is also the story of a remarkable time in human history, the foundation of the world’s public health systems, the conflict between emerging scientific and prevailing social theories, and even the underpinnings of today’s broad-based liberal education.

You commence your university education at another remarkable time in human history. A time when the world – the planet – is facing problems of enormous magnitude and unprecedented complexity – what the National Academies has called the “GRAND CHALLENGES”.

The THEMES emerging from the work of Snow and Whitehead as they, individually and ultimately TOGETHER, solved the mystery of cholera, have never been more important than they are today.

On COMPLEXITY – Johnson writes, “Snow was not interested in individual, isolated phenomena; he was interested in chains and networks, in the movement from scale to scale. His mind tripped happily from molecules to cells to brains to machines…”

And on CRITICAL THOUGHT AND INQUIRY – Snow was confounded by society’s willingness to cling to the miasma theory of disease despite substantial evidence to the contrary. Why was this so? Johnson answers, “Some of those forces were ideological in nature, matters of social prejudice and convention. Some revolved around conceptual limitations, failures of imagination and analysis. Some involve the basic wiring of the human brain itself.”

Snow had a remarkable ability to INTEGRATE knowledge, SYNTHESIZE new information and make new inferences, and COMMUNICATE findings, ideas, and solutions to a broad audience.

Snow’s work was not glamorous. It was not quick. It was not easy.

To be certain, his was a great mind, but equally important was his unwavering DEDICATION and his dogged DETERMINATION to solve a problem. To make a difference. To change the world.

This is what the GRAND CHALLENGES will require of you. An ability to grasp complexity, think critically, integrate, synthesize, communicate and work very, very hard.

Fortunately for you – and for us – you’ve come to the right place for that.

The University of Vermont is an historic academic institution. But it is the university’s PRESENT and FUTURE that are most exciting, because YOU are here and because of the good work we will do TOGETHER as a community committed to ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE.

Academic excellence isn’t something that just happens. It isn’t something that is delivered to you. It isn’t something you buy. Academic excellence is something that you must be an ACTIVE PARTNER in creating.

We EXPECT EXCELLENCE from you, and you should expect it of EACH OTHER. We will push you, challenge you and support you, but the drive for excellence must come from WITHIN YOU.

It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to take your place in our history, our present, and our future.

We will provide exceptional learning opportunities. But it is up to YOU to take advantage of these opportunities, to SEEK them out, and to BUILD your own undergraduate experience – one that you will take with you for a lifetime, that will open doors to your future, and that will prepare you to make a difference, to have an impact, and to leave this world a better place for future generations.

So take good advantage of the hours in your day. Understand that if you are taking a five-course load, you should expect to spend an ABSOLUTE MINIMUM of 45 hours a week on your studies. The weekend does not begin on Thursday, and you should decide right now whether Saturday or Sunday will be the day you spend in the library.

This is a remarkable place for INTELLECTUAL DISCOVERY, among the very top universities in the country, and you may never again be confronted with so many opportunities for personal, professional, and scholarly growth.

SEEK RIGOR. Push yourself beyond the minimum number of credit hours; push yourself beyond the constraints of your major and beyond your formal degree plan; push yourself beyond a group of people that think like you, act like you, look like you; push yourself beyond your residence hall; push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

This is a time for intense learning and expansive experiences. This is a time where you will become YOU. Do not waste this time.

And because I want to KEEP IN TOUCH while you’re on this incredible journey, I’m going to give you permission to do something I never, ever want you to do in class. Take out your phone…

Go ahead, take it out. I want you to follow me on Twitter. You’ll find me @UVMProvost.

And let’s take a few PICTURES to capture this moment. The moment your journey begins.

In closing, I WELCOME you all to the University of Vermont. I CHALLENGE you to take full advantage of your time as a member of this great university community. And I URGE you to take seriously this privileged and exciting opportunity to learn, to study, and to grow.

Before you know it, you will be a UVM graduate, distinguished by your education, expanded in your knowledge and in your thinking, and ready to take on the grand challenges.

As the last line in The Ghost Map reads: “Let’s get on with it.”

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Last modified September 13 2013 02:34 PM

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