Remarks by President Bergeron
April 16 and 23, 2018
I am so pleased to welcome you on this beautiful April morning and to congratulate you all on your admission to Connecticut College! We had a record number of applications this year and so our admission team worked harder than ever to select your class. What made you stand out was not just your fine high school records but something else you showed us—some special quality in the way you pursued your work in school or out of school; a particular intelligence or humanity that you displayed in your essays; a concern for other people that came through your interviews. These are the things we always look for. They are what Connecticut College students are known for—a winning combination of intellect, humility, talent, and warmth that we know you will continue to develop both here and in your lives beyond college. And it’s because we saw this combination in you that we are so excited to have you with us today. Welcome to Conn!
This is a dynamic time at Connecticut College. Our mission is to educate you to put the liberal arts into action. Since the day this College opened over 100 years ago, we have encouraged students to combine rigorous academics with real-world experiences not just to make a grade, but to make a difference. And in the last few years, we have worked very hard to take that mission to a whole new level.
The most exciting development, of course, is Connections, our reinvention of the liberal arts for the 21st century. I wrote about Connections in the letter I sent you right after you were admitted. Connections allows you to take your academic major and connect it to all the things you are interested in. It’s designed to unleash your power—helping you discover the center of your own curiosity and passion, and then guiding you, along a meaningful pathway, to bring that passion to every aspect of your college experience: to your courses and research; to your teams and clubs and other activities; to your jobs in the local community and abroad; and ultimately into your lives beyond college. I’m talking about a whole integrated journey.
Here’s how it works: in your first year, we set you on your path with a set of specially engineered courses supported by a new, team-based advising system. In your sophomore year, we ask you to take a step back and reflect on the things you care about most. This reflection is an important frame for all the choices you make as a sophomore: the choice of your major; the choice of how or where to study abroad; but, even more important, the choice of that element we consider most central to Connections: the Integrative Pathway.
The Pathway is a set of interdisciplinary courses and other experiences organized around a central theme (for example: entrepreneurship, public health, urban education, peace and conflict, and many more). It is where you will formulate and explore a personally meaningful question over the next three years. In your junior year, you expand on that inquiry through internships and research in the local community or around the globe. And in your senior year, you tie it all together in an integrative project. The goal, in the end, is for every one of you to explore different cultures and identities, for every one of you to grapple with complexity, for every one of you to contribute to the community; for every one of you to put the liberal arts into action in your own unique way. We see it as the new liberal arts for our interconnected world. And it’s unique to Connecticut College.
Not too long ago, I was a guest on a Forbes podcast called “The Limit Does Not Exist,” hosted by Christina Wallace and Cate Scott Campbell. They were asking me all about Connections because one of the conceits of their show is a concept they like to call the “Human Venn Diagram.” They love to see where and how a person’s diverse interests and passions intersect and what unique benefits come from that. In the course of the show I told them about Becca Napolitano, from the Class of 2015, who majored in physics and classics at Connecticut College, while pursuing her interests in computer science, archeology, and also competing as a varsity athlete. She is now pursuing a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering at Princeton, where her research is combining all these interests. What is she doing? Well, right now she is working with a team of artists, historians, writers, physicists, computer scientists, and civil engineers to design a new virtual-reality software that will create 3-D models of ancient archeological sites. Her goal is to make these places freely accessible to visitors around the world. That’s what I’d call putting the world together in new ways.
And this, in essence, is what we are inviting you to do as well. I expect to have hundreds more stories like this—your stories—to tell by the time your class has graduated. But I think Becca’s story is also interesting for the way it shows what can transpire even after you graduate, how the connections you begin to make here will continue to develop in your lives after college.
In fact, we are making some other key investments to ensure that happens. Our new strategic plan calls for facilities, programs, and endowment to enrich teaching and learning across the whole spectrum of the student experience. And the call is being answered. Just a few days ago we announced the exciting news that we had received $20 million to renovate this historic theater, which you are now sitting in, into a new center for performance and creative research. Another project we just completed is the Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement. It’s a vibrant space on the ground floor of the Blaustein Humanities Center and brings together, under the same roof, our language departments; global learning facilities; study abroad offices; our centers for international study and the critical study of race and ethnicity; along with engagement opportunities to work with communities both locally and overseas. The goal is to help all students integrate a meaningful world perspective into their four-year experience.
Developing creative capacities and a global perspective are, of course, critical for your lives after college, and Conn, as you know, has a deep reputation for excellence in career education. We are listed among the top 20 of Forbes’s “most entrepreneurial colleges” because of the percentage of our graduates who go on to own their own businesses. And last year Princeton Review again recognized our internship program, ranking it No. 4 in the country. So, we are building on that strength, too, with the goal of developing the best liberal arts career program in the United States.
This year our career office has new personnel and new resources to enhance employer outreach. And we also launched an innovative program that allows faculty to infuse career-informed learning into their regular courses. The idea is to stimulate work on real-world problems in many professions across the breadth of the curriculum. What started as an experiment with just one course last spring grew to 25 courses this academic year. And there will be more, I’m sure.
These are just some of the ways that we are helping you to make connections, and to make a difference with your education. Discovering what you love will connect you to yourself, to other people, and to the world in entirely new ways.
But there is an even higher purpose. Running through all the work we are doing—and encouraging you to do—is the ideal of full participation. We are committed, as a College, to fostering the kind of learning environment that will allow every one of you to thrive, every one of you to achieve your full potential, every one of you to contribute—to the College, to your communities, and ultimately to a vibrant and healthy democracy.
Each year, Forbes magazine publishes a list they call “30 under 30”—young people across 30 different professions who are making a difference in the world with their creativity and their conviction. This year, there were not one; not two; but three of our recent graduates on that list! Three Camels!
That, to me, shows the outsized influence of a Connecticut College education. And it also, in my view, gives a sense of what it really means to put the liberal arts into action.
I have one last story before I go. The week before last, there was a visiting committee here on campus to conduct our 10-year reaccreditation review. The team came from all the great colleges you’ve heard of, chaired by the president of Smith College. By the time they arrived, they had already studied our very long self-evaluation report. The campus visit was their last step, a chance to get to know the College close-up and understand better how we function.
After three days of being here, President Kathleen McCartney was required to give a report on the team’s findings. She began by telling me: “You have an extraordinary culture here—I’ve never seen anything like it.” She admitted to me, in fact, that some of the team members felt a bit jealous as they spoke with our faculty and staff and saw how connected and engaged our community was in every aspect of the College. But she was especially complimentary of our students, who she found not only smart, but poised, articulate, informed, and, above all, kind.
I, of course, found it quite gratifying to know that they had experienced in their short time on campus something I am privileged to experience every day.
Which brings me back to my first point—why I am so glad that you are here. We chose you for the Class of 2022, because you showed us that you can contribute to this community in just the same way; that you, too, can play a part in the evolution of this great College as you grow and develop here. I think you will come to see what I mean as you meet our award-winning faculty, staff, and students over the course of the day. So, once again, let me welcome you and your families to our campus. I wish you all a wonderful day of talking, exploring, making connections! Thank you!