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Brown shows humor, inspiration at his first Matriculation

New president urges students to experience Beantown

President Robert Brown greets students at Matriculation for the Class of 2009. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

By the numbers, it is the brightest class BU has ever admitted, and on Monday 4,200 students were officially welcomed at Matriculation by school leaders.

President Robert Brown, who assumed his duties on Thursday, welcomed the class of 2009 with words of wisdom couched in a collegial delivery.

“You and I have more in common that you might guess,” he said. “I am matriculating with you.” Reminding students that they were at Matriculation to “begin this great educational journey,” he asked, “Are you ready to begin?”

Not expecting a call-and-response format to an ancient ceremony, students offered an uncoordinated, if sincere, “Yes.” Brown seemed to sense that the students were caught off guard, and responded, “You must not have had your caffeine yet today.”

He went on to share the history of BU, and encouraged students to make the most of their college experience and tackle what cartoon character Pogo called “insurmountable opportunities.”

“Here are some goals I suggest,” he said, “Grow in a multitude of dimensions, but maybe not your waistline. And take advantage of BU and its setting in the great city of Boston,” noting local attractions including Terriers games, Red Sox games, theater, and other cultural offerings.

“Second, push yourself to reach as high as possible in your studies. A university is a meritocracy; where you come from and what your parents’ income level is does not matter. What matters is your performance in classes and special projects. Make it a goal to do your best; to excel to the highest level possible.”

Robert Pinsky, a CAS professor and former U.S. poet laureate who has taught at BU since 1988, offered an indiction with somber roots but a hopeful heart. He quoted Michelangelo, who wrote about being so uncomfortable while painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling that he was sure it compromised his work: “I am not in the right place. I am not a painter.’”

But for those who aim to do great work, it is human nature to seek difficulty, Pinsky said. “If any of you has never felt this way,” he said, referring to the self-doubt that even Michelangelo experienced, “possibly you don’t belong here. What you are seeking here is a worthy difficulty.”