Scripps College New Student Welcome August 24, 2017

Good morning new students and families! Welcome to Scripps College! Incipit Vita Nova: Here Begins New Life.

This is the motto engraved on Scripps College’s seal. Today, it is also symbolic of the personal journey each of you are starting as first-year students at Scripps.

You are embarking on a new life.  What do you want that new life to be? How can you be intentional about creating it?

By choosing Scripps, you have already made a choice about the kind of New Life you were seeking. For those of you who were here for admitted student day last spring, I suggested to you that you stop by Honnold Gate, and that if what was written there spoke to you, then we had something to offer you.

The inscription reads: “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.”

Your application to Scripps College was successful because you’ve demonstrated an ability to think clearly and independently, and to demonstrate confidence, courage and hope in many facets of your life. I’m also certain that you and your families are investing in Scripps because you want your time here to contribute to your ability to think all the more clearly and independently and to exit Scripps four years from now with an even greater abundance of confidence, courage, and hope.

For each of our students, the path toward these outcomes is slightly different.  We each need to make different stops and take different turns. But there are similarities in our journeys. None of your journeys will be a straight line. The formation of a new life is never simple or obvious.  If you ask the mothers in the room, they will tell you that the delivery of new life is often accompanied by pain.

There will be days here at Scripps when you can’t figure out how you will ever form the life and the habits of the mind that you came here to create.  There will be days of frustration, pain, irritation, and exhaustion.

The source of those difficulties will vary—sometimes it will be academic, sometimes social, sometimes political.  But, those times of uncertainty are an important part of how you achieve Ellen Browning Scripps’ greatest wish for you—to design a life of clear and independent thinking so you can be confident, courageous, and hopeful.

While I can assure you of the twists and turns ahead in your journey, I also have some advice about how to find your way.

Both for mnemonic reasons and because here we are in Claremont where we are always talking about the Cs, that advice comes in the form of four Cs.

So, first, Commitment.

Commit to the new life.  Commit to clear and independent thinking.

That may mean rejecting intellectual trends in favor of discovering your own perspective; or relentlessly exploring topics that interest you; or immersing yourself in experiences that stimulate your mind. You won’t get there if you don’t decide that you must.

Second, Conscientiousness

To get there, you will need to be conscientious.  The rhythm of a day or week of College will feel very different than high school.  Your relationships with your professors and the staff who are here to help you will be different than your relationships with your previous teachers or your parents.

Sometimes students can interpret this shift to mean it is okay to skip class or not to do the reading.  It may seem to you that no one notices. But, let me assure you, it is noticed.  Probably even more noticed than in your previous life. The classes at Scripps only work if students are present and have not just read the assigned reading, but have really thought deeply about it before they come.  And, there is not a substitute for either of those things—not talking to a classmate, not watching a video, not looking something up online.

The entirety of this experience requires that you show up and you engage—in class, in clubs, in your residential hall.  Commit to it, and be conscientious about it.

Third, Compassion. 

Sometimes people make what I think is a mistake. They think compassion is soft, while independent thinking, confidence and courage are tough, and so they see them as incompatible.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

To be confident and think clearly, you need to understand people beyond yourself.  The better you understand others, the better thinker you will become. To get there, you much push yourself to understand those most different from yourself. Compassion is the beginning and the basis of understanding the human condition.

Compassion is the foundation of the community we seek, the community that allows for the personal and intellectual journeys you came here for.

Our goal as a community is to build understanding, bridge differences, and nurture an environment of intellectual engagement and shared discovery. Our community plays a front and center role in our pedagogical process—it is the way we achieve our goals—and so we protect our community fiercely and we will continue to do so.

Recent events in the country remind us how important it is to loudly proclaim that Racism, bigotry, and hatred are anathema to Scripps and have no place here. Compassion will not just produce the community we strive for here, but will deepen and broaden your understanding of the world.  It is through compassion for many, that you can achieve independent thought, and then courage and confidence.

Compassion is hard, though. Hard because of the barriers and obstacles between people.  In today’s world, a common response to not understanding others is to get angry, to yell, to be outraged and tell others they are wrong and then to turn away.

I encourage you while you are here at Scripps to turn toward that which you do not understand.  Rather than dismiss or disparage, seek to analyze and comprehend.

So, fourth, and finally, cultivate Curiosity.

Embrace ideas that make the least sense, and challenge yourself to become curious, question, and seek to understand. That curiosity can fuel all the other Cs. With curiosity, you will become more compassionate, more conscientious, and more committed.

Intentionally, carefully, and empathetically approaching that which you understand least can be difficult, talking with those whom we most disagree and seeking knowledge from them, scary, but if you learn to do that here, you will not just have a richer life, you will have much of what it takes to truly produce the world you want to see.

Incipit Vita Nova.  What New Beginning will you have here at Scripps?  There are so many possibilities, so many things to do, so many directions to go.

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is getting to see the adventures you choose here as you design your new lives. I look forward to watching your lives take shape and sharing the journey with you over the next four years!

Incipit Vita Nova.