2021 Convocation Address Transcript
2021 Presidential Convocation Address
Delivered March 23, 2021
A World of Rehearsal
Greetings, LMU Community!
I will speak today in gratitude, then about rehearsal and evolution. Gratitude:
As part of LMU’s recognition of our history, location, and relationship to the indigenous communities in Los Angeles, I begin with acknowledgement of the Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (that’s the Los Angeles basin and southern Channel Islands). We are grateful to have the opportunity to live, learn, study, create, and be in this place.
Over one year ago, we closed our campuses. We thought our exile would be brief, perhaps just a few weeks or months. No one could have predicted all that has passed since that day, or that twelve months later, I would be delivering our convocation via video with Sacred Heart Chapel in the background, instead of being inside the Chapel with each of you. That also means you might hear some noises, a jackhammer or two, or a drill in the distance. We are readying the campus for our return, more on that later.
We all know that this has been an aberrant year. But hope is on the horizon. We rejoice that case counts are diminishing, that vaccines are more widely available, that we will return to our campuses in fall semester for the in-person instruction and experiences for which we have been yearning.
As much as I am eager to be in your physical presence once again, I recognize that I am blessed to have experienced this extended moment with each of you: LMU community, thank you.
Students, you are leading the way. I have greater faith in tomorrow knowing that you have shown compassion and solidarity—resilience and determination to create the world you want to live in.
Faculty, your sound adaptation to new modalities to meet the needs of our students, to challenge them intellectually while also helping them to succeed in this new environment, fills me with appreciation. And awe. Amidst the record snowfalls in Boston in 2015, I learned how challenging online teaching is—but only for a few weeks, and not for an entire year-plus of three semesters!
Staff, in ways myriad you have made our adaptation to online learning and remote work possible. You have maintained our continuity of operations, our sense of interconnectivity, our Lion pride. Your dedication brightens me. And does so with joy.
Alumni, donors, and friends, your generosity and love have enabled students to achieve their academic goals and soar to the best of their abilities.
I understand that these accomplishments required sacrifice, and that so many of us feel overwhelmed, tired, and depleted. I read the other day that dentists have been experiencing their own pandemic “added value”: cracked teeth among their patients. Even when we sleep, our pressures and stresses remain.
Over the past months, loss of life and economic downturn have dramatically impacted our students and their families; our country and our campuses have experienced a racial reckoning and reawakening more powerful than we have witnessed in decades; and we are still reeling from a tumultuous election and its aftermath, one that divided not only our nation, but also friends and families.
At LMU, a profound challenge of lost revenues required us to enact budget cuts and furloughs that, while necessary, have caused pain for many of our staff and their families. Each day our individual worries multiplied: childcare, eldercare, healthcare, loneliness, loss.
And yet, your strength, your creativity, your flexibility, and your commitment have enabled us to meet these challenging moments and find our way through them—in many ways, triumphantly. Though we are not at the end, just yet, we have traveled far, overcome much, and can finally see a brighter future emerging. Thank you.
On this one-year—plus—anniversary, I invite us to pause and reflect on what we have learned. A word that has echoed in my mind throughout this time, maybe prompted by my musical and learning passions, is “rehearsal.” Ultimately, the challenges of the last year resulted from one commonality: we faced an assay of circumstances for which we had no rehearsal. And yet, our recent experiences are signposts that indicate where we are headed: the future will require us increasingly to adapt, to innovate, to improvise responses to a world we cannot fully anticipate—one that, like the year we just experienced—is one for which we simply.cannot.rehearse.
How do we as individuals, and as an institution, meet—if you will, welcome—respond to—thrive in!—an unrehearseable future?
Though we do not know all that the future holds, we know that the world ahead will continue to be one of accelerating change; unpredictable influences; unexpected events; and unintended, at times accidental, consequences. And, of course, one of emerging technologies and novel phenomena, related or unrelated, that take us well beyond capacities for which evolution via natural selection might deliver us.
We know ours will be a world of climate change and other vulnerabilities to our inherited and built environments, be they natural, intended, or unintended. This world—our coming world—will require creativity, adaptability, and flexibility.
It will be, at least for the foreseeable future, a world of social division and polarization—a world of persistent injustices, including, to our disappointment, systemic racism. This world will require cultivation of courage, solidarity, and intentional—that is, steadfast—anti-racist action.
Most of all, it will be a world of rapid, radical interconnectedness, one for which we cannot prepare by running drills from a standard playbook or by rehearsing our parts in a rigidly framed libretto. Instead, it will be a world that will require informed improvisation, and creativity that harmonizes with ever-evolving contexts.
Only one form of education can provide an effective “rehearsal” for the unrehearsable: That in which we specialize at LMU: a humane education. One that is grounded in the pillars of the liberal arts: the humanities themselves—philosophy, theology, history, literature; the creative arts; the natural sciences; and the social sciences, each of which situates the human experience within the evolved physical and social universes.
At LMU, our distinctive version of a humane education is enlivened by expansive and interdisciplinary curiosity and creativity; an awareness of the dynamic connection between contemplation and action; and a commitment to faith and reason. And not just any faith, and any reason, but faith and reason that actively partner in seeking justice.
Our core curriculum enkindles and sustains our education, and through a collaborative dialogue between the liberal arts (which include our sciences) and our practical and professional branches of study, our education fosters an awareness that no knowledge is practical unless it grapples with questions of meaning and purpose that are fundamental to the human experience. As I like to say, the experience of those here, those to come, and the Earth that serves as our common home.
A humane education teaches us to understand our world and its challenges in depth, and with greater insight and contemplation. It remains the foremost benefit LMU can offer to a world in need—in body, in mind, and in spirit. And it makes our students—our vectors for the greater good—nimbly able to improve our future.
Rehearsal. Let us now speak to Evolution.
If LMU is going to be a leader in offering a humane education that prepares our students to create and improvise in a world of unrehearseable change, we, as a university, must evolve to exhibit the same virtues—intellectual and moral—that we instill in our students and graduates.
Our new strategic plan brings us an opportunity to do this. I thank you for your participation in the planning process, and I know your recent feedback has been valuable to the steering committee as they consider revisions. One theme has emerged clearly from the feedback: strong support for the plan’s three foundational commitments. They are:
- Commitment to an organizational culture of intentional anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion;
- Commitment to a greater openness to innovation and adaptability;
- and Commitment to extending our reach and impact beyond the bluff.
These three commitments help enact my vision for LMU, and I see these as institutional virtues that render us poised to mature further in order to meet a future of flux. As we return to what we call normalcy, we will be invigorated by the spirit of the magis, seeking more clearly how we can continue to evolve to serve our students better.
With our Anti-Racism Project, we have made a start toward upholding anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do—but we have only taken first steps.
With our response to the pandemic and its challenges, we have propagated a culture of continual innovation and adaptability; these, too, are first steps.
In the past six years we have made consequential strides extending our reach beyond the bluff—but there is so much more we must accomplish to realize this vision with impact, so much more of the world that LMU’s educators, students, and alumni can benefit—from and to—and enrich. And so much more of the world that might understand better what we do at LMU. This helps us attract and retain outstanding students, faculty, and staff while raising the value of an LMU degree for future students, current students, and alumni.
These past twelve months have brought us opportunities for rehearsal in light of our essentially unrehearsable future. Our response to that future of flux will, of necessity, be improvisational—but for that reason must be all the more creative and special—yet further evolved. And our institutional commitments to a growing diversity and inclusion, innovation and adaptability, extending our reach and increasing our impact, will rehearse us, if anything can, for the task of creating the world we want to live in. These commitments will strengthen our foundation in a way that will parallel the fortitude that our humane education provides for each of our students.
These commitments speak to why most of us have chosen to be part of LMU, why we are not satisfied with the status quo and the legacies of systemic injustice, and why a few of us may be waking up with sore jaws and broken molars—because we care deeply and want to help realize fully LMU’s potential. I hope that your long days, restless nights, worries, and sacrifices have been punctuated, as have been mine, by occasional epiphanic moments of wonder and revelation, especially as glimpsed through the compassionate minds and intelligent hearts of our students. I hope that you have taken time to thank the people in your life who have stood by you in these extraordinary times, as I do each night when I think about just how lucky I am to be here, with you.
I end as I began: with gratitude for the blessings that remain with LMU, even in this most challenging of years—gratitude for all the things that went right because of what you did when so much else was going wrong—for those who guarded our safety, our institution, and our students’ learning amid anxiety and uncertainty. In gratitude, I see hope and opportunity for us to shape a better LMU—an LMU that can lead the world toward a brighter, more inclusive—hence more just, experientially rich, and creatively powerful—future. Thank you for being with one another—and with me.