As we say “thanks and best wishes” to the Class of 2014, the University of Rhode Island is preparing to welcome the Class of 2018 to the campus. Your Class promises to be another superb addition to our vibrant and diverse community. I have enjoyed the opportunities to talk with many of you already during your visits to the campus, and look forward to welcoming you in September when you arrive. You will have a busy and all-too-brief summer to prepare and get organized, and I know you are excited and enthusiastic about joining the URI community. We are delighted that you have selected the University of Rhode Island.
I suspect that one element of your excitement and enthusiasm is your recognition that you will be changed, perhaps even transformed, by your experience here, and that upon graduation in 2018 you will be a different person than when you arrive this fall. That certainly was the case for me. Allow me to share with you some of my story.
When I was born, my father was farming cotton in the Central Valley of California. Like many young men of his generation, he had left high school early to enlist in the armed forces following the attack on Pearl Harbor. No one in his or my mother’s family had been to college. Eventually he left farming to pursue a life as a minister, and for that he felt he needed a college education. So we left the Valley and temporarily moved near Riverside, a small, mostly agricultural town that was just beginning to experience the explosive growth that has long characterized southern California. He managed three small children and two jobs while attending college. Twice he had accidents and totaled two cars by falling asleep at the wheel. I don’t remember much about those incidents except my mother’s fear and worry. But my father was convinced that a college education was critical to our future and was determined to succeed. He did, and his graduation was a very proud moment for him and my mom – I remember that clearly, even though I had absolutely no idea at the time what a college education was.
Subsequently, my closest grandmother (my mom’s mother) decided to pursue a nursing degree. She went to Porterville Community College part time while working at a state hospital facility. By then I could read and found some of her nursing textbooks fascinating, and she encouraged my interest. She then bought us two different sets of encyclopedias, and encouraged me to explore them, which I did, reading practically everything from A-Z. My father, mother, and grandmother insisted that “going to college” was essential and that education was the key to my future. They demanded that all other goals must be secondary. It wasn’t really presented to me as a choice, and I am glad that it wasn’t. Very few of my extended family went to college, but it was, without any doubt whatsoever, the best course for me and my brother and sister.
You, the members of the Class of 2018, will discover at the University of Rhode Island what I discovered at University of California, San Diego: that higher education has the power to transform your life, and help you to become a different, and better, person than you otherwise would have been. I could not have imagined, as a kid growing up in mostly small towns in rural California, that I would become a scientist, a professor, a Vice President and ultimately the President of a research university. Even as a first-year student at UCSD, I had no firm idea of what I would do after graduation. UCSD offered what appeared to me as a universe of opportunities, just as URI does. It was the exhilarating experience of doing research as an undergraduate that set me upon the course to where I am today.
You must, of course, be willing to embrace and engage the opportunities that URI provides, just as the Class of 2014 did. If you do, you can dispense with all the limitations that may have been imposed upon you, and create your own future. That is both the promise of higher education and a promise you must make to yourself. You cannot purchase your education, but we can help you create it. We are partners in this endeavor. It will be a lot of work, and sometimes all consuming, but you need to remember that the work itself is not the goal. The goal is to become the person you aspire to be. Do not let yourself be distracted from this goal. We will be there to help. Welcome to the University of Rhode Island, and best wishes for your success.