Fall 2021 Convocation Address Transcript

Fall 2021 President's Convocation Address
Delivered November 16, 2021

Realizing the "Impossible"

Thank you, Executive Vice President and Provost Poon.

We welcome today:
Members of the Board of Trustees: Chair Paul Viviano; Rev. Scott Coble, S.J.; Brian Kabateck, and Rev. Eddie Siebert, S.J.;
From our Board of Regents, Martha Blaney;
We welcome Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Lynne Scarboro;
LMU Faculty, Staff, and Students;
Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Jesuits, interfaith leaders;
Alumni and Friends;
Our LMU Choir, led by Director of Choral Activities TJ Harper and producer/envisioneer John Flaherty!  Thank you for that jaw-dropping performance.  I remain: in.awe!

I thank each of you for joining us this morning in person and via live stream.

As part of LMU’s recognition of our history, location, and relationship to the Indigenous communities in Los Angeles, let us acknowledge the Tongva peoples as the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles basin and southern Channel Islands), and the presence of LMU on this traditional and unceded land.  We are grateful to live, learn, and create in this place.

This SPECIAL place: where so much has changed—yet, guided, continually, by our fortifying Catholic, Jesuit, and Marymount mission and values—which enable us to take on anything.

Please allow me to invite you to close your eyes and imagine what we might have seen, had we stood on this spot twenty years ago.  This outdoor amphitheater and the beautiful Lawton Plaza which surrounds it would have been essentially a parking lot, marking the frontier of what was then thought: possible. 

Who here can remember when William H. Hannon Library was only a longing of the heart, part of efforts to expand the Leavey Campus?  Now look at it.  Go ahead, turn around, take in its beauty as our intellectual anchor, which earlier this year was recognized with the prestigious Excellence in Academic Libraries Award.

Think back to when the Trustees and administration, including Chancellor Cahalan, had the foresight and the courage to invest in acquiring University Hall, enabling LMU to increase our enrollment and impact dramatically.

And in the recent past—but by today’s standards, what may seem ages ago—who here recalls the thrill of the grand opening of the Life Sciences Building or the LMU Playa Vista Campus—spaces that enkindle interdisciplinary collaborations and exemplify how we seek to transform society by nurturing nimble beings who use their imaginations to create the world we want to live in.

And there is more to come.  As our friend, and 14th president, Bob Lawton—after whom this Lawton Plaza is named—once said, “Hilltops are for dreaming.”  To that, I add: for dreaming up—and realizing—the impossible. 

I am ready to realize the impossible.  I want you to join me in readiness.  Understand this might sound daunting, demanding even (especially after the year and a half we just endured), but fear not: we have already realized the impossible, together. 

Overcoming the last 18 months often seemed indeed-impossible: pandemic, global; campus closure; lockdown; online transition; all amidst unprecedented social pressures and stresses (a tumultuous election, a racial reckoning and awakening). We are not alone in surviving this time, but WE—at LMU—did more. 

How did THIS happen?  How lucky are we to be assembled at THIS Drollinger Family Stage on THIS beautiful November day!  I thank former Trustee Karen Dial, the Drollinger Family Charitable Foundation (that’s you, Jim), and the Ahmanson Foundation for making THIS possible, and I thank CFA Dean Bryant Alexander, whose leadership helped land this facility.

And just up Alumni Mall, our new Howard B. Fitzpatrick Pavilion exemplifies LMU as the Creative Campus.  A place where imaginations are nurtured and our students’ creativity, their diverse stories, their magnificent minds and hearts, come...to life.

The realization of the Mbongi Spot, our Black Student Space, has also arrived: a testament to the perseverance, resilience, and focus of LMU’s Black student body. 

Exciting things are happening everywhere you look.  We witness LMU thriving through new interdisciplinary endeavors like the Academy for Jewish Religion of California, and the Center for Media Arts and a Just Society; through new graduate programs in Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Innovation, Global Entrepreneurial Management, and our new online-only doctoral program in Educational Leadership for Social Justice (which instantly doubled our number of LMU doctoral students); to our record-setting grant total of $4.1 million; to our thirteenth client freed from his life-without-parole sentence by our Loyola Project for the Innocent; to our not one but TWO superstar Basketball head coaches,—let’s fill those seats at every women’s and men’s home game this season! See you tomorrow at Gersten, where Men’s Basketball WILL pound that Little Rock—Go Lions!

We hosted the LARGEST event in LMU history, welcoming to Sofi Stadium more than 34,000 guests in person (and 15,000 by stream), family members, and friends of the undergraduate, graduate, and LMU Loyola Law School Classes of 2020 and 2021 for a once-in-a lifetime graduation ceremony—a Mega-Mencement for the ages. 

Our faculty, our student development colleagues, our information technology professionals, our campus ministers, our COVID-support and response teams, our founding orders and interfaith communities, our LMU Vaccination Center, which inoculated over 4,000 staff, faculty, students, and neighbors during spring semester—to you I say:  With each seemingly Sisyphean task, you proved that we can achieve anything, that nothing is impossible for LMU.

Imagine had we predicted the pandemic and its dynamics and divined in advance that we would accomplish all these things and more.  I’m sure many of us would have used the “I-word.”

Yet, Impossibly, remote teaching did not stop our faculty and those who support them from providing the world-class education for which we are known.   

Impossibly, remote learning did not hold our students back from pursuing academic excellence, growing as whole persons, serving faith and promoting justice.  And: landing stellar career and graduate and professional education positions—a continuity of their intended...dreams.

Impossibly, remote work only made our staff more ambitious and creative to assure that we could keep delivering on the LMU promise.

Impossibly, we exceeded our enrollment targets; we returned to campus and to in-person learning and co-curricular experiences, if not quite without missing a beat, then at least without losing the melody.

The world kept spinning and Lions kept doing what Lions do, for and with others!  And here we are today, not quite post-pandemic, but in the home stretch, we hope, toward full recovery.  Despite all odds we emerged fiscally strong, reputationally strong, and competitively strong.  None of these deeds, on their own impossible; all of these deeds, together?  Impossible!

I know these accomplishments were accompanied by sacrifice and struggle.  I see how stretched each of you are; I can feel your exhaustion.  I live it here and there.   I understand that feeling, for I am occasionally struck by it: —at times each corner we turn seems to reveal yet another uphill battle, at times without reward or respite.  But in those moments, when I seek solace and re-center my thinking, I am continually re-energized by the gratitude I have for each of you.  I see your accomplishments, your perseverance, your care for our students and for each other, as proof that indeed anything is possible. 

I am motivated and inspired daily by this moment of opportunity we have together, right now, at LMU. 

Let’s take stock of where we are.  I have spoken, on this Convocation occasion, to the need for the informed and forthright powers of Reason, Imagination, and Ethical Discernment and LMU’s virtuosity with this intellectual trifecta, and the way in which our schools and colleges, our faculty in their scholarship and teaching, are skilled at weaving these fundamentals together—as no other institution can do.

Through our strategic plan and our comprehensive campaign, we are poised to embrace this moment of opportunity in a deliberate way to support and enhance what we already do so impossibly well.

By now I hope you are familiar with our three areas of focus, in our strategic plan. If you’re not, please take note, because the following three commitments will inform and inspire everything we do. 

Continuing to realize the impossible requires that we First. become more inclusive; Second. become more innovative; and Third. extend further our global reach and impact. 

This is our roadmap:

First, Inclusion.  I have heard from many recently that LMU has succumbed to “political correctness,” which has some-how sub-sumed our mission, and that our efforts in DEI are merely an extension of that dissolution of our mission.  NOTHING could be further from the truth.  We advance our proactively anti-racist efforts because our mission and values demand equity for all of God’s creations, with Catholic Social Teaching assuring us that each of us, not some of us, are born in the image of God.  And: We also understand, as persons approaching a future chock-full of challenges that will require human solutions, that diversity is the font of creativity—the gateway to those solutions.  To be ready for the future, not only do we need people from different backgrounds and perspectives; we need all to belong, to be safe, and to be nurtured—to be full participants.  And let us also make no mistake in where our future is headed: Our students—the rising Solidarity Generation, as I call them—demand and expect sophistication in these efforts! 

Politics this is not.  It is instead a fulfillment of Christ's teaching, a pursuit of a best human and Earthly future, and an assurance that we are a place where students can eagerly allow their passions to take flight and soar.

This is why we have made initiatives promoting inclusion central to the new strategic plan and to the campaign.  We will work with our faculty to review our core curriculum, our major and minor course offerings, and our graduate and professional programs to address racism and other forms of oppression; we will expand use of inclusive pedagogies that enhance learning for all learners; we will weave together co-curricular and student life programs that deepen and reinforce these themes.

Now, all persons, born in the image of God, have something to contribute to creating the world we want to live in; but: not everyone is born with or acquires the capacity to afford an LMU education.  When a person can thrive through an LMU education and use it to make that better world, with all in place but the ability to afford LMU, we must build that bridge that carries them to LMU.  This is where our friends and benefactors—especially those who have experienced the value of an LMU education—can share gifts of scholarship support, spanning across those barriers of impossibility, helping those students to realize their potentialities, enabling them to become LMU's signature persons for and with others.

These efforts will help us ensure that the most creative minds—no matter their life stations—can learn here how to symphonize reason, imagination, and ethical discernment in ways that prepare them to lead us into the future.

Second: Innovation.  With the external environment changing faster than we can adapt to it, we must lead our students to think critically and creatively for a future full of flux.  Our students must be prepared for anything.  No institution has a better opportunity to do this than ours.  I have noted before that we are in LA, the Capital of Creativity, and we hover over the Crucible of Creativity, Playa Vista, in which we have a campus.  Couple that with our savvy, dedicated Core Curriculum, and our students' unusual-relative-to-other-institutions-at-which-I-have-worked engagement with that curriculum, and we see a garden ripe for Innovation.

Again, our strategic plan and our campaign offer immediate opportunities for Innovation.  We will establish new interdisciplinary degree programs, new research partnerships, new curricular/co-curricular collaborations; we will fundraise for endowed chairs, and academic programs in areas of promise.  We will build the “creativity-ready campus” by securing gifts to construct an Engineering Innovation Complex and a new Center for Performing Arts.  We will adapt our graduate and professional education offerings to make them more responsive to changing societal needs and the evolving horizons of discovery.

Third: Global Reach and Impact. 

Realizing LMU’s potential for a boundary-less education demands that we drive international learning forward, promoting the global perspectives that will prepare Lions for an increasingly interconnected world.  We can be proud that our Office of Global-Local Initiatives and our participation in the American Council on Education’s Internationalization Laboratory program are expanding our global footprint and are enriching our students’ experiences and their potential to engage the world they are preparing to enter...with Vigor. 

By fundraising for new international student scholarships, LMU will recruit more exceptional student-scholars from around the world who will bring global perspectives, contributing to our collective creative enterprise and seeding future intercontinental relationships.  Our efforts will include enrolling international students with significant financial need, many the first in their families to go to college, so that we can expand our global student body in ways that diversify the perspectives and experiences of all, who learn here. 

We also reach beyond the bluff with our visibility efforts, which support our priorities by uplifting what each of you do.  In doing this, we encounter the world as it has evolved: Assuring people know who we are and what we do is a continuing necessity for us to assert ourselves into the world’s consciousness—to the benefit of strengthening our future accomplishments and future ambitions.

We at LMU are rising: You are already advancing our strategic initiatives.  You are already helping to make us more inclusive; to render us more innovative; to extend our global reach and impact. 

Our Faculty are innovators and creators who thrive with—and bring about—meaningful change.

Our staff are the lifeblood that keeps us running efficiently (expertly!), with equal parts grace and smarts.

Our Students are compassionate, curious, focused-but-open-minded—exemplars of this—emerging—Solidarity Generation.

Our campus is a vibrant, creative hub where compassionate minds and intelligent hearts daily undertake landmark endeavors:

People! like...: Fosse Lin-Bianco, who graduated in May 2021 as an Electrical Engineering major and Dance minor.  Fosse melded his love of math with his passion for dance to envision and create the Acrobatic Acceleration project—a shoe that tracks the acceleration of circus acrobats and uses the results to create digital art pieces based on the performer’s movements. 

Or Veronica Backer-Peral, triple major in computer science, history, and applied math, whose award-winning documentary, “Is Democracy Dying?” examines the nuances of our democracy and how we can preserve it. 

Or CBA seniors Christian Jackson and Dezmin Hemmans, who received a United Nations-backed award for their inspiring work leading the Brothers of Consciousness and raising awareness about systemic racism.  And a lot of money, at that, via Instagram.

These are but three of thousands of examples of our students and alumni inspired by their faculty and student development professionals, galvanized by our Catholic, Jesuit, and Marymount mission, and enlivened by their hopes and dreams to reach beyond what others think possible. 

So, where are we?  Or as I love to say, Where be ye?  Think of this not just as a time of pause, of recalibration, of adjustment to the many “new normals” that now eddy about our existence.  This is also a time where the continuing arc of our work, together with the arc of our speciesial development, followed through with intentionality and purpose, can vault us into new realms...Unfold vexing conundra.  Unravel and reorder social disorder.  Explore where and how faith and reason, and science and religion, can mingle.  This is a moment from which we can, in parallel with our tradition, courageously dissolve today’s impossibilities, and even surface impossibilities of which we are not yet aware-as-existing. 

We will realize the impossible, be it known or yet to be known, together, as we always do.  

And that which we once thought might have been impossible, or that we may discover to be impossible, once our work is complete, will exist with impact long after we are gone. 

Indeed, at LMU, nothing is impossible.  As your president, your colleague, and your friend, I celebrate you for realizing the impossible, and for doing it in the spirit of, and in league with, Love.  Thank you.