The Colgate Scene
November 2002

Always straight onward and upward

The following are excerpts from President Rebecca S. Chopp's inaugural address. The complete text of the speech is available.

I want to comment about what was, is, and will be through tracing the slight differences in meanings of three terms used for this occasion: inauguration, investment and installation. For all three words describe our days present and still to come. I want to use each word to suggest where we pause this moment, between a past of promise and a future of hope.

Today is an installation, a putting in place, of a new president. We gather together in this splendid place knowing this new president today joins much in place! Colgate has many things in place already and for that I -- and you -- give great thanks. I join a wonderful faculty whose members join together in teaching and research in what appears to be the best of the world of liberal arts and the best of research institutions. The intimacy of faculty teaching students links with the adventure of discovery across the fields of the world's disciplines of research. While colleges and universities around the country permit and even encourage their students to spend time abroad, our faculty go with our students: teaching, mentoring, serving as a safety net and a nudge to get out and explore. While faculty at too many colleges and nearly all universities simply let students take what they want, our faculty hold fast to the hard work of an interdisciplinary core that provides a common conversation, a common focus of knowledge, and ongoing spaces of connection and intersection. I unite with what has already been installed at Colgate: a wonderful faculty who provide an education that will gain in value even as it lasts a lifetime of experiencing the world.

Colgate's 15th president catches up with Gail O'Day, a professor at Emory University's Candler School of Theology, and former student Alicia Franck, vice president for institutional advancement at Emory, during a reception and barbecue at Watson House. Nate Biddle offers a lesson in football tactics and strategy to his mother, Rebecca Chopp, during the Raiders' 38-6 Homecoming victory over Columbia.

Today also invests me as president, with the powers of authority (be that as they are!). In a very real sense, we celebrate today that education is, at its heart, an investment, a willingness to take what is most sacred and dear and let it grow, develop, lead. I debated whether or not to bring up the word since our markets make us, or almost all of us, quake and quiver at the word right now. But education is our investment in democracy and our investment in our children and this, too, must be celebrated and renewed at this time. The most important investment we make for our future, the future of our country, and our children's future is education. Or, as Chesterton noted, "Education is simply the soul of society as it passes from one generation to another."

We invest in our students so that they will be informed world citizens and ensure the future; we also invest in them so they can lead successful lives as they define success (in a reflective manner, of course). One tradition we must never change: our alumni are highly successful, be it on Wall Street, in the Peace Corps, in publishing and writing or in the theater; in the professions of medicine, law and teaching; or as mothers and fathers raising future Colgate students! Liberal arts colleges carry these two obligations: to invest in students so they can live a life worth living and to invest in students so they can create a world worth living in. Plato was correct when he observed, "The directions in which education starts a man will determine his future life."

President Rebecca Chopp (right) and Susan Henry Crowe, a friend from Emory University, converse in Watson House on the morning of Chopp's inauguration. Frederick H. Thibodeau gives a congratulatory hug to his wife, Rebecca Chopp, shortly after her inauguration.

Finally, today is an inauguration: a time to foretell the future. The word inauguration, from augur, means to read the omens. It is a time to mark a bold new embrace of the future from the loving, strong traditions of the past and present. Emily Dickinson's insightful line: "The possible's slow fuse is lit by the imagination," reminds us that this event is about the courage to claim new possibilities. Helen Keller's lovely line, "One can never be content to creep when one feels an impulse to soar," reminds us that this event is about our aspirations and our aims.

I invite you to join with me in a partnership for promoting Colgate in the twenty-first century. Alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, citizens of Hamilton: Let us work together to continue our traditions revised, renewed, reclaimed for the twenty-first century. As those who followed before, let us build Colgate with imagination, investment, creativity, ambition and hard work. Our school is strong and robust: let us use our resources to provide an education for engagement and fulfillment, for service and success, for responsibility and for freedom.

I end not with my words, but with the concluding words of President George Merrill at his inauguration in June 1899, some 103 years ago. "True to its past, Colgate University will advance to even higher ideals and larger work. Many years ago I was climbing the steep ascent from the little town of Eisenach to the castle of Wartburg, in which Luther wrote his German Bible. Wearied with the climb, at the steepest place I asked a little girl by the roadside if I was on the right path. `Immer hinuas und hinauf' was her reply. `Always straight onward and upward.' At many difficult places in life's way, the words of the child have rung in my ears. I hear them today again for myself and for our university. The way has been marked out before us and the steep steps ahead have been pointed out. It is ours to attain them. Just because good men [and women now] and true have labored here so long and gained so much, the obligation is upon us to go higher still."

As Colgate's fifteenth president, I say to you: We will do so.

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