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August 27, 2014

A very warm welcome to you, the Tufts Class of 2018, and our entering transfer students; to parents and family members; and to our faculty and staff as we formally begin the academic year. It is an honor and a privilege to address you on this joyous occasion.

Entering Tufts students: You have a great journey ahead of you. You will leap into campus life starting with your classes and making new friends. You will explore an immense range of activities on campus that play to your existing interests. And you will also find opportunities to delve into areas completely novel to you.

The academic community you are joining is truly collegial. Tufts is comprised of people who share genuine concern for each other and the world in which they live and work, and who take great pride in the academic mission of the University. By participating fully and collaboratively in their studies, in their groundbreaking research, and with communities both near and afar, members of the Tufts community are having a great impact on society.

That obligation to society is rooted in our Jumbo DNA. In fact, it goes all the way back to the university’s founding by the Universalists in the 1850s. They were far-sighted in their dedication to social justice, the abolition of slavery, and an education that was accessible to men and women of any creed or social background. Our founders challenged their era’s stereotypes, and the character and values they set for Tufts continue to this day.

Tufts is a great university because it relies on its historic traditions to enlighten action on the most important challenges of our own era. And you will see Tufts itself continue to evolve over the next four years:

  • Next year, we’ll complete work on the new classrooms, labs, and student spaces in the Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex—“CLIC”—at 574 Boston Avenue.
  • During your time here we’ll open an important new Science and Engineering Complex that will support the newest directions in interdisciplinary teaching and research.
  • In fact, even our loyal mascot Jumbo is keeping up to date. Behind you, at the edge of Barnum-Dana, you’ll see the site where a spectacular new bronze sculpture of Jumbo will be installed this fall.

An important part of our founders’ legacy is Tufts’ commitment to active citizenship. I hope all of you have had a chance by now to read this year’s Common Reading book, The Other Wes Moore. I certainly found it sobering, thought-provoking, and moving. One lesson that the story of the two Wes Moores brings home, is the tremendous impact that volunteering, civic engagement, and public service can have in transforming individual lives, and ultimately our society, for the better.

I hope that all of you will embrace this important part of the Tufts tradition. Through Tisch College, the Leonard Carmichael Society, and a host of other student-led organizations—as well as the projects you will initiate yourselves—Tufts will give you a chance to have a meaningful influence on society from your first days on campus.

Having that kind of an impact on the world, now and in the future, will depend on your working with, and learning from, your peers. And as Tufts students, you will find that your classmates have much to teach you. As Dean Coffin confirmed, you are surrounded by students from numerous different geographic, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds—to say nothing of the countless life experiences that make us distinctive.

What unites Tufts students is the sense of purpose they bring to their individualism. Here, you will gain knowledge from your fellow students, trade stories, and hear viewpoints that are different from your own. Sitting next to you in these chairs are men and women with experiences in societies and ways of life you have never undergone. Benefit from their insights and it will enhance you as a person.

To do this, you’ll have to test the stereotypes you may hold. College provides an exceptional opportunity to challenge your predetermined beliefs about the world. It’s also a time to confront your ideas about other people and yourself. Understand that what you first see in your peers, is a limited indicator of their perspectives and experiences. Get to know one another. You’ll be surprised to find ways that your fellow students are similar to you, ways they diverge from you, and how your peers from comparable groups differ from one another.

I hope that your whole Tufts experience—including academics—will be marked by openness to transformation.

At Tufts, we don’t instruct students on what to think. Instead, our teaching is designed to produce intellectual self-reliance—to teach you how to learn and how to take charge of your thinking. We want you to be independent in your assessment, critical in your analysis, and innovative in developing solutions. We strive to help you develop these skills here at Tufts, and we hope you’ll retain them for life. They will continue to serve you as you navigate a world that is constantly and rapidly changing.

Your Tufts experience will be distinguished by the opportunity to engage fully with your professors. Besides their enthusiasm for teaching, Tufts faculty are passionate about scholarship and research, and they bring that excitement into the classroom. They will expect you to challenge them, just as much as they challenge you.

You should start by developing a rapport with your professors outside the classroom. Go to office hours. Take them out to Brown and Brew, or the Library Café and let Tufts pick up the tab. You can have a go 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 and one that was formative in my career choice. So, take advantage and participate in the academic interests of Tufts faculty in the years ahead.

You should also consider the guidance of your professors and mentors when you’re choosing courses and fields of study. I’ll never forget when my undergraduate biology advisor recommended I take a course on genetics. Having decided to study Neuroscience and behavior, I could not understand what significance genetics had for the understanding of the brain, and we argued about it. I mean really argued about it. Little did I know I’d 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, have confidence in your advisors and professors to help you find your path of study. They have experience and wisdom, and they want nothing more than to help you succeed.

You must also ensure not to stereotype yourself, and settle for a static college experience. You may make strong friendships and find co-curricular activities you are passionate about early in your time here. Those early selections can be enduring and wonderful. But don’t allow yourself to fly on autopilot for the next four years. Each year of college should bring new friends, new opportunities, and hopefully, a new outlook. Remember to stay receptive to all the opportunities that will be revealed during your time here. Remain open to new and transformational experiences, and your adventure may take you down roads you never dreamed of traveling.

All of these experiences, of course, will transform you. It can be frightening to experience discomfort in order to allow ourselves to develop. Don’t fight this change; embrace it. Use it to gain knowledge about yourself: your strengths and your weaknesses. And as you develop, be willing to change your existing beliefs. At times self-discovery will be tough, but with confidence and an open mind, you’ll acquire a depth of character and a fullness of personality of which you will be proud.

You should also remember that you won’t be embarking on this journey alone. You will form close friendships and make many enduring relationships during the next four years. The bonds you will form as you help one another grow will fortify your friendships for many years to come. These friends will be with you through all your major life events from new jobs to career changes, from marriage and new families all the way through to seeing the next generation off to college or the workforce. I still get together with my roommates and friends from college, and you will too.

Being a Jumbo is a lifelong connection. It starts here today 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 association. Tufts is continually growing, and from here on out, you’ll be a part of shaping this community just as this community will shape you.

Entering Tufts, you are also saying goodbye to your families and friends, many of you for the first time. 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. It’s important to remember that it’s up to you to make good choices. Though there are others around you to offer guidance, no one but you can keep you healthy and safe and successful. Over the next four years, you will learn how to become self-sufficient.

But we don’t expect you to learn this alone. This week’s Orientation programs are designed to position you not only for academic success but also the personal growth that comes with leaving home and entering college. They will also help you learn about what it means to join a new community. And the opportunities to learn will continue with special programming for your Class over the first two months of the semester, covering topics such as Sexual Misconduct Prevention, Healthy Living, Active Citizenship, Social Justice, International Focus, Academic Excellence and Sustainability.

You have important choices to make about how you live. At, Tufts we want to support you in making healthy choices.

Some of those choices will be about drinking. I urge you not to put yourselves, and others, at risk by drinking too much. The consequences can be much more severe and long-lasting than how you feel the next morning. The myth that “everybody does it” is just that—a myth. The large majority of your fellow students have had a great Tufts experience without drinking too much during their time here. And it would break my heart to see any of your lives forever altered because of alcohol.

You will also be making important choices about how you conduct your intimate relationships. I hope that mutual respect and consent will be your guide and goal: it is not only the right way to behave but the path to meaningful relationships. For the last year I have been personally chairing a university-wide Task Force of students, faculty, and staff committed to preventing sexual misconduct. We take every allegation seriously, conducting full investigations and providing the support and resources our students need and deserve.

We also expect you to be responsible neighbors. Tufts is fortunate to have strong relationships with the residents of Medford and Somerville. They take great pride in the university’s presence in their communities and the partnerships we have developed. Don’t let them down.

Now, parents: bringing your sons and daughters to campus is one of the biggest changes you can face in your lives. The car will seem emptier on the way home and the house will seem quieter this evening. Although it’s not an easy transition, your children’s independence here on campus is an important step towards responsible adulthood. You must truly let go. Don’t worry. They will sort out their classes, their activities, their friends, their social life, and even their laundry. Give them that freedom and you will be astounded at the result when you see them at Parents Weekend or they visit home on 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; though it just might be difficult for them to admit it.

Class of 2018, before you go off to explore the campus with your new classmates, don’t forget to call 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 time as President and many of them have said to me: “Tufts changed my life.” As you chart your course over the coming years, make sure you open yourself up to all the new friends, new disciplines, new challenges, and new activities here at Tufts.

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

Thank you.