Matriculation: Welcoming BU’s Newest Students
President Brown tells freshmen “You have the potential to lead”
The air outside was thick with humidity, but the atmosphere inside Agganis Arena was charged with energy and hope. Exultant members of BU’s incoming freshman class, numbering 3,900, gathered there Sunday afternoon for the annual Matriculation ceremony. “We believe you have the potential to lead, and your BU education can help you live in this world and lead in it,” said University President Robert A. Brown to a crowd dotted with students wearing Terrier red and FYSOP (First Year Student Outreach Project) blue. Brown was joined by a group of professors, University officials, parents, and extended family members who listened to words of inspiration, caution, and reassurance, and rose to their feet in a thunderous ovation for a select population of young people on the verge of their greatest adventure to date.
Led by an effervescent Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), dean of students, the freshmen advanced up Commonwealth Avenue to the arena to the upbeat strains of the BU Marching Band. Brown welcomed them with a condensed version of the University’s evolution from a mid-19th-century seminary to the diversified mini-metropolis it is today. BU, he told them, “is a major research university with a broad array of programs in professional education, research, and scholarship,” but simultaneously dedicated to providing a liberal arts and sciences foundation for all its undergraduate students. The theme of the importance of a broad academic foundation was threaded throughout Brown’s remarks, as he noted that with the future uncertain, students should be prepared for, and open to, unexpected career twists and turns.
Addressing the crowd, student speaker Richa Kaul, (CAS’16) an economics major and president of the Student Government, described BU as “not just my school, but my niche, my home, my Boston University.” She recalled the daunting experience of starting at BU and leaving the security of family and home. “At the beginning, everything is new, from the times you have to Google Map where your class is to bonding with your roommates,” but it all soon becomes the norm, she said. Kaul quoted Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s comments at BU’s 141st Commencement this past May: “Good citizens don’t just live and work in the community—they build community.” Those words, she said, are just as relevant for those beginning their BU adventure as it was for those concluding it. Kaul urged the freshmen to break out of their molds, to be more open to new opportunities, friendships, and passions. “Whoever you are,” she said, “I know that you will find a place at Boston University.”
Though many incoming freshmen have already set their sights on fields like law, medicine, and management, Brown urged students to use BU’s resources to broaden their horizons. “What I am speaking of,” he said, “is the rest of your college education, the classes you take that are not related to your major, and the other activities that round out your education and enrich your years at BU.”
Citing some “overarching goals” students should keep in mind if they are to become productive, competent, and humane in their careers and personal lives, Brown offered five suggestions. First, he urged freshmen to study the great traditions of thought that are the foundations of world cultures. “Second,” he said, “learn to distinguish between logical and illogical arguments, to struggle with the balances between individual freedom and collective responsibility.” Everyone needs to be scientifically literate, Brown added, to understand the nuances of matters like climate change and energy resources. He implored the students to learn to write clearly and easily. “IMHO, which stands for In My Humble Opinion when texting, will never be effective as ‘I think,’ as strong as ‘I believe,’ or as powerful as ‘I know,’” he said, to vigorous applause from parents. Finally, he encouraged mathematical literacy, saying, “You need to hone your quantitative reasoning skills to be successful in today’s world.”
Welcoming the newcomers on behalf of BU faculty was Carrie Preston, a CAS associate professor of English and the director of graduate studies for the Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies program. Preston consulted her iPhone for the University provost’s assignment to her. (“A blend of wisdom, humor, and anecdote.”) “Which reminds me,” she said, “check your email. Or even make a call,” she added, to hoots and applause from parents.
A medical school dropout, Preston said students could learn from her own history, and her pursuit of studies of theater and gender, and the fact that, according to her mother, she is “a doctor who doesn’t help anyone and teaches a dance form no one wants to see.” I hope, she said, “you will fail at something,” and learn from it as she did. She told the members of the Class of 2018 that she hoped they would also fall in love with a subject, a career, a person. And to parents, she said, even if your children take an unexpected path, be proud as long as they follow that path with care. More than anything, Preston told the assembled freshmen, “we want you to learn to be a good student,” and embrace learning, in class and out.
This year’s greeting from alumni (BU has nearly 307,000 around the world) came from Mary Buletza (SMG’80), president of the BU Alumni Association. This is “the most expensive non-reversible choice you’ll ever make,” she said. “And you chose wisely.” Paraphrasing former President Ronald Reagan, she said, “You have a rendezvous with destiny.”
As he does each year, Brown lingered for a bit on a topic he admits he wishes he didn’t have to discuss: binge and underage drinking. “I ask you today to act responsibly,” said Brown. “Through your behavior, represent yourselves, your families, and your university well.”
Brown lauded the 1,000 FYSOP freshmen who spent four days performing more than 25,000 hours of community service in the Boston area the previous week. And he reminded the group of the opportunities to “become engaged in the city” through BU’s Community Service Center. Students can “experience the world at Boston University,” Brown said, and they can also follow in upper classmen’s footsteps—some 2,500 of them just last year—by taking advantage of BU’s 98 Study Abroad programs.
The theme of the day seemed to be flexibility, self-reliance, and openness to new passions and paths. On one succinct, lighthearted note of inspiration, Brown surveyed the nearly full arena and shared the words of the major league catcher and malaprop king Yogi Berra: “If you see a fork in the road, take it.”8 Comments