Six weeks ago I started thinking seriously about my New Student Convocation speech, and how I might welcome first year students and transfers to Franklin & Marshall College.
I thought back to the year before, and how it seemed right at that time to play a mash-up from DJ Dangermouse’s Grey Album of songs from Jay-Z’s Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album, symbolizing the way the young and older—students and professors—mash-up ideas, culture, sensibilities and experience to create intellectual meaning neither party could invent on our own. The message sought to urge students to meet their faculty, mind on mind, right away.
This year, as we celebrate our 225th anniversary as a college, it seemed right to invite the new students to go meet their institution, right away. After all, we were founded at the birth of a new nation, before America had ratified our Constitution, thanks to a gift from Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. That’s a legacy that would expand anyone’s sense of the power of this place.
I decided to draw the students into our history by telling the story of one of our greatest and most representative alums, Major Dick Winters ’41, who passed away in early 2011.
Major Winters was a hero on June 6, 1944, or D-Day, and throughout the year-long American campaign in Europe to defeat the Nazi regime. Many will recognize him as the central heroic figure from the book and television mini-series Band of Brothers.
Dick arrived at F&M in 1937, the year of the College’s 150th anniversary. He came from very modest means and worked his way through college while committing himself fully to catching up academically, which he did. I can’t help thinking that he was like most students we teach today—confident that education would be a ladder to economic opportunity, personal growth, and service to others.
Dick couldn’t have known the extraordinary ways he would climb that ladder of learning in the years right after college. Nor can our students know the uses to which they’ll put the education they create here.
But they can allow themselves to be inspired by those who came before them—those who made the College, like Benjamin Franklin, and those the College has helped to make over the centuries.
There’s a new monument bearing Dick Winters’ likeness on the sacred soil of Normandy. We can all learn from it. We can also learn from the mindset of Maj. Winters whenever he set out on a new task: Always do your best, in everything you try.
I think Benjamin Franklin and John Marshall would be proud.
Leave a comment
Through this blog, I seek both to express the meaning that our community of students, faculty and professional staff make on campus together and also to add a more intimate educator's perspective to the national dialogue on issues affecting college students and alumni. I invite you to share your comments and engage with other readers as we explore issues related to the greatness of youth, life at Franklin & Marshall College, academic excellence, supporting faculty and student research, increasing civic outreach among students, and providing support for students' personal and professional development.
President, Franklin & Marshall College
Receive an e-mail when new posts are published.
- DanPorterfield: I wish these people would lower their hands during my personal concert with Bruno Mars at the Posse… http://t.co/q1lT14EHIM May 23, 2013
- DanPorterfield: RT @TimOBrien: Did You Graduate in Four Years? Congratulations. via @bloombergview http://t.co/3XhvuVplFo May 23, 2013
- DanPorterfield: Here's 6 @VanderbiltU Posse Scholars all grown up and succeeding in academia, film, & business. #whyitworks http://t.co/P6HvXCZarl May 23, 2013