Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and Geneva community members gathered on Stern Lawn for Convocation 2008 featuring public intellectual and author Eric Liu.
“This year, I want to start a conversation about civic engagement,” said President Mark D. Gearan, introducing Liu, the founder of The True Patriot Network. “In my judgment, there’s no better person to begin our dialogue for the year than this gifted writer and activist.”
During his address, Liu encouraged the audience to redefine politics, patriotism and public service in moral terms, encouraging the Classes of 2012 especially to consider the impact their decisions have on those around them and the world at large.
“You have to leave the joint better than you found it. How you define the joint is up to you,” said Liu, a former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy advisor in the White House. “You should ask yourselves: ‘What am I doing to make this place stronger?’ Whatever path you choose, this notion of purpose is fundamental. Purpose, a purpose driven life and a purpose driven politics, begin with the simple notion that it’s not about you. “
“We have the privilege to set a standard of excellence in how we engage with each other and the community at large,” Gearan said. “My fondest hope is that you will take advantage of this place and involve yourself in your classes, clubs, teams and residences.”
Student speakers Kathryn Klutts ’09 and Josh Parks ’09 also encouraged those in attendance to try new experiences and take advantage of all the Colleges have to offer, both calling on their summers as Salisbury International Internship awardees.
“I challenge everyone here today to try something new this semester,” dared Klutts. “I have found that pushing your comfort zone is the best way to learn and grow.”
“How many undergraduates get to sit down with a Supreme Court Justice, have breakfast with another on the South African regional court or even have the chance to spend time in Africa at all?” asked Parks. “Fortunately, as members of the HWS community, we all have that opportunity. Take advantage of it.”
During the ceremony, Gearan and Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 awarded the President’s Medal to Liu and Carl W. Fribolin, a Geneva-area entrepreneur and arts philanthropist, in recognition of their transformative lifetimes of service to others.
Other speakers included Provost and Dean of the Faculty Teresa Amott, Professor of Public Policy Studies and Political Science Craig Rimmerman and Chaplain Lesley Adams. Professor of History Gebru Tareke, last year’s recipient of the Faculty Teaching Prize, was slated to offer a faculty address but was unable to attend the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, all in attendance received a copy of Liu’s latest book “The True Patriot,” co-authored with entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. A pamphlet in the style of Thomas Paine, the book argues for a new progressive patriotism and grapples with core American ideals.
“At the level of the head, and more importantly at the level of the heart, something special is going on here,” said Liu of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “This is a remarkable campus and a remarkable group of people. This is a place where service and stewardship are woven into every aspect and every detail of campus life.”