August 24, 2006
Good morning Regent Stallings, Provost Jones, University Faculty and Administration, and most especially, Freshmen in the fall of 2006.
Today we gather to celebrate Freshmen Convocation, to focus our thoughts and unite our minds as we begin the new year. We represent, in our professional and private experiences, enormous diversity of moment and of place.
For Regent Stallings, this is your first visit, our first opportunity to welcome you to your Laredo university. We are grateful for the candor and hard good sense you bring to every deliberation, and look forward to hearing from you in a few moments. For some new faculty, this ceremony marks the first event in your new Laredo university.
For others, today is the beginning of your career as a University professor. Other faculty members today continue several decades of noble effort to lead and guide and inspire your students. And, like the faculty, many staff members and many administrators today continue a long history of service to this University and its students. Others are joining our band for the first time.
But it is for you Freshmen, those of you sitting directly in front of me, that we prepare this event. Some of you today will feel very much at home, having already begun your University study in classes of concurrent enrollment.
Others of you are at this moment anticipating that first step into a University classroom. Some of you are from Laredo, and are familiar with the beautiful buildings that make our campus. Others are here for the first time, perhaps wondering how quickly these halls will become familiar ground. Some of you come having left a record of outstanding achievement in high school.
You have medals and certificates and pictures which document your precocious successes. Others look back, perhaps with some disappointment, on your high school years, recognizing you have yet to feel that inspiration which turns study into joy.
Men and women of diverse circumstance, we come together as happy beneficiaries of that most marvelous gift the University conveys upon all of us: new life. Each year we gather to receive that gift, our past triumphs a very real part of us and of society…our dreams hazy, but very much ready to come to life. What we wish we had done better now lies behind us.
Edward Said, the late and great philosopher and critic, describes as two opposed realities what today the University brings together for us: the realm of nature and the realm of human history. On the one hand, Said tells us, we are each a body, bounded by natural laws, whose “health, its care, composition, functioning, and flourishing, its illnesses and demise, belong to the order of nature.”
The realm of history, by contrast, defines how we "understand that nature... how we see and live it in our consciousness, how we create a sense of our life individually and collectively, subjectively as well as socially.” In the realm of nature, we inherit a created order; in the second, history, we become the creator.
The yearly renewal of University life -- this ceremony -- holds before us, with great pageantry, these two realities: nature and history.
The first is clear enough. In our bodies, a part of nature, we are able to look to another year. What we make of this year, the history we create, will be our life.
Freshmen: Forget both the awards and the admonitions of the past. Focus now, today; on the life you will make here, the person you alone can create.
Faculty and staff, we have just finished a year of astounding success. Let us today resolve to embrace even loftier goals than ones we have previously pursued. The citizens of Texas have given us the best possible nature for creating new life—this magnificent campus.
Freshmen: Today you join staff, faculty, and older students in taking possession of this beautiful body, these fermosas salidas, these stunning surroundings.
Freshmen: You also join us today as together we write afresh our history and create anew our lives.
Cervantes tells us in words we have inscribed over one of the doors in the Student Center: “Cada uno es hijo de sus obras.”
We are what we do. We are each the child of our work. We create ourselves in our work. The University gives us the forum to mount our history, the body to support our effort.
Manos y corazones, a la obra! Hands and hearts, let’s get to work together!