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August 29, 2012

A very warm welcome to you, the Tufts Class of 2016, our entering transfer students, your parents, family members and our faculty and staff as we officially begin the academic year. It is an honor and a privilege to welcome you on this happy occasion.

Tufts Class of 2016, in your quest to find the most exciting residential campus to learn, perform research and engage with society you had to make choices. Many of you will be asking yourselves questions like, “Have I made the right choice?”…“Will I be able to cope with Tufts’ high academic standards and still have time to relax with my new friends”…“Has someone in the Tufts Admissions Office made an error?” I asked myself some of those same questions after I was chosen as the President of Tufts. After getting to know Tufts’ students, faculty, staff, and graduates, I was reassured that Tufts was the right choice for me, and you will be too.

You will enjoy your courses and still find time to have an enriching social life. You will be able to take advantage of a wide range of activities, sports and clubs on campus that play to your current interests. And you will also find opportunities to explore areas that are completely new to you.

You are entering a collegial academic community—people who care deeply about each other and the world in which they live and work, and who take great pride in the academic mission of this University. By engaging fully and collaboratively in their studies…in their groundbreaking research…and with communities both near and afar…they are making a great impact on society.

That commitment to society is embedded in our Jumbo DNA. In fact, it goes all the way back to the university’s establishment by the Universalists in the 1850s. They were progressive, even visionary, in their dedication to social justice, to the abolition of slavery, and to an education that was open to men and women of any creed or social background. The tone they set for Tufts has endured to this day.

This fall will give most of you a unique opportunity to act on Tufts’ commitment to active citizenship, by voting in the upcoming election. The world is facing great challenges. We must address such difficult issues as global warming…financial turmoil…shifts in the government of nations…and great disparities in health care. Voting is a critically important way you can make your voice heard on questions like these that will profoundly affect your generation. I hope you will take advantage of it. The website of our Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service has all the resources you will need to register, or to request an absentee ballot if you are already registered back home.

As Jumbos, you will be able to engage with big questions like these in many ways: Tufts, with its international perspective, is actively engaged with all of them. Meeting the challenges facing our society requires us to go beyond individual areas of study or traditional academic disciplines such as history or sociology, chemistry or engineering. It is excellence and depth in our disciplines, however, that allow us to work together to find innovative solutions.

You need to consider this issue when choosing your courses and eventually your major. I suggest that you study a diverse set of academic subjects in the beginning to broaden your intellectual horizons. In your second year, when choosing your major, try to focus and consolidate your studies on what you think is important and feel passionately about. By studying that discipline in depth, you will come to know its strengths as well as its limitations. In your final years at Tufts, after you have begun to master your discipline, expand your horizons again. Prepare yourself to make your mark on the world in whatever profession or career you choose by studying multiple approaches to appreciating the human condition and the world around us.

In choosing courses and areas of study, you should listen to the advice of your mentors and professors. I will never forget when my undergraduate biology advisor told me that I needed to take a course on genetics. Having decided to study Neuroscience and behavior, I just could not see what relevance genetics had for the understanding of the brain, and we argued about it. Little did I know that I would spend the remainder of my career using genetics as a powerful tool to understand the workings of the brain and how it affects our behavior. So trust your advisors and professors to help you find your path of study. They have experience and wisdom.

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Tufts experience is the opportunity to engage fully with your professors. Besides their passion for teaching, Tufts faculty are excited about scholarship and research, and they bring that excitement into the teaching arena. They will expect you to challenge them just as much as they challenge you. Get to know your professors outside the classroom. You can invite them for a break in the Library Café and Tufts will pay. You can try your hand at research with them through the Summers Scholars Program. I first got involved in research by working in a lab over the summer as an undergraduate. It was an exciting experience which was formative in my career choice. So, take advantage and get involved in the academic pursuits of Tufts faculty in the years ahead.

At Tufts, we do not tell students what to think. You have to learn to think for yourselves. Our teaching is designed to produce intellectual self-reliance—to teach you how to learn and how to take charge of your thinking. We encourage you to be independent in your judgment, critical in your analysis, and innovative in developing solutions. We work to help you develop these skills here at Tufts, and we hope you will retain them for life. They will continue to serve you as you experience a world that is constantly and rapidly changing.

As you enter Tufts, each of you is a unique person influenced by your family background and upbringing, your life experiences, your interests and your set of friends. Don’t be self-satisfied with that person and seek out only fellow students who are familiar to you. Break out of that mold and enjoy the diversity of your classmates, who bring to this community cultures, beliefs, and experiences you have never encountered before. Make friends outside your comfort zone. First recognize and be tolerant of those whose backgrounds and beliefs are different from your own. Then move from understanding and tolerance to the joy of making new friends that you could not have possibly made unless you enrolled in a global university like Tufts.

Challenge yourself both inside and outside the classroom. It is really the reason you have come to Tufts. And you will be amazed at the outcome.

You will make many close friends during the next four years. These friends will be with you through all your major life events from new jobs to career changes, from marriage and new families through to seeing the next generation off to college or the workforce. I still get together and correspond with my roommates and friends from college, and you will too.

Being a Jumbo is a life membership. It starts over the next four years and extends beyond graduation—because as alumni, we want you to remain engaged with the University and its mission. We hope that you will remain active citizens throughout your life, as a natural outgrowth of your involvement in clubs, activities and community service on campus. You will be ambassadors for Tufts in everything you do, and we are immensely proud of that relationship.

Entering Tufts, you are also saying goodbye, most of you for the first time, to your families and friends. You will now have responsibility for everything from eating right, keeping fit, and getting enough sleep to doing your own laundry and getting to classes on time. Although each of the residence halls has resident advisors or RAs to help you in many ways, you will learn over the next year how to become self-sufficient.

Self-sufficient, yes. But also remember to look out for each other. Use your cell phones and social media to let each other know your whereabouts, especially if you are off campus. There is a community of people who will help keep you safe: a network of fellow students, RAs, campus police, and Tufts staff. But there will be temptations, and situations both on and off campus where you could find yourselves in a difficult spot. Use your judgment. Drinking will be one of those temptations. Let me warn you now that binge drinking can land you in the hospital unconscious and in need of emergency care. Don’t do it. Nothing good will come of it and you may regret it for a long time afterwards.

College is a very special time, and Tufts is a unique place. But that does not mean that the usual rules of social interaction do not apply. We expect you to respect the law, and our neighbors off campus. Please live up to the standards by which we judged you on your application, and which your families expect of you.

Now parents: bringing your sons and daughters to campus is one of the biggest changes in your lives, too. The car will seem emptier on the way home and the house will seem quieter this evening. Although it is not an easy transition, your children’s independence here on campus is an important step towards responsible adulthood. But you must truly let go. Don’t worry. They will sort out their classes, their activities and clubs, their friends, their social life, and even their laundry. Give them that freedom and you will be astounded at the result when they visit home at their next break. That said, it will not be easy to say goodbye. I know that my mother cried the whole way home after dropping me off at college. It must have been one of the longest drives of her life. So whatever you promised, it is OK to share that emotion with your sons and daughters today. Secretly, they expect it and want it; just make sure you have plenty of tissues on hand, and rehydrate well afterwards.

Class of 2016, before you go off to explore the campus with your new classmates, contact your parents this evening after they get home and make sure they are OK. You are not the only ones who are experiencing a big change in your lives.

I have met many Tufts alumni during my first year as President. Many of them have said to me: “Tufts changed my life”. As you chart your course over the coming years, make sure you allow your experiences at Tufts to change your life. Open yourself up to all the new friends, new disciplines, new challenges, new activities and sports here at Tufts.

I look forward to getting to know each of you better during your first year at Tufts. Today, you begin a new chapter of your life and it is a privilege to be part of it.

Thank you.