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Note: More information about President Monaco’s Inauguration is available here.

Anthony P. Monaco
Inaugural Address
October 21, 2011

It is an honor and a privilege to stand before you today as the 13th President of Tufts University. I am grateful to the Trustees, faculty, student, and staff representatives who chose me for this role. Thank you for your trust and confidence.

It is also a pleasure for me to thank my distinguished guests, President Tilghman, a fellow geneticist, and Professor Shuttleworth, whose work explores the relationships between literature and science.

I am also grateful to all those representing other institutions of higher education and learned societies—led, in order of their founding, by my Oxford colleagues Vice Chancellor Andrew Hamilton and Registrar Ewan McKendrick.

It is a delight to be surrounded by my family and friends today. Thank you for sharing this occasion with me. Thank you, also, to everyone in the Tufts community for the warm welcome you have given to Zoia, the boys and me.

And it is wonderful to see so many Tufts people here today—particularly my predecessor, Larry Bacow, who guided and strengthened this university. Thank you, Larry.

This is an interesting time for anyone to begin serving as president of a university. Employment prospects for young adults are currently dim, yet tuition and research costs are still rising. Some have argued that higher education is our economy’s next great bubble. At the same time, the world is facing great challenges that require highly trained individuals who can work across disciplines, as well as universities that can marshal their resources to solve complex problems.

As I begin my tenure as President of Tufts University, it seems an important moment to remind ourselves of the value higher education offers to individuals—and to our society as a whole.

At its best, higher education offers a chance of freedom to any deserving young person, the freedom to escape the limitations of one’s knowledge or experience or social class—and to live up to one’s abilities.

I am forever grateful for the opportunities my own education has afforded me. I came from a family where education was highly valued, yet my siblings and I were the first generation to graduate from college. It was the mentorship of teachers, family and friends, and a generous financial aid package that allowed me to be the first in my family to attend a private university.

Without that help, I probably would never have become a scientist, would not have had the opportunity to explore the origins of disease, and certainly would not be standing before you today. I believe in the importance of higher education to individual lives. College can make all the difference in the world.

Before Charles Tufts donated 20 acres on Walnut Hill for the founding of Tufts University in 1852, he was reportedly asked what he was going to do with the hill. “I will put a light on it,” he replied.

Today, there are thousands of lights on this hill—young men and women determined to benefit the world by educating themselves.

One of the most beautiful things about Tufts is that from the very beginning, no one with abilities was denied the chance to shine here. The Universalists who founded Tufts were aptly named. They embraced those shunted aside by society. They fought hard for abolition. And they ordained one of the country’s first woman ministers. Unlike most institutions of higher education, Tufts was inclusive from the start, offering admission to students from all cultures, religions, ethnicities, and financial backgrounds.

Diversity remains one of Tufts’ proudest traditions, a defining characteristic of this university. This tradition promotes excellence, advances social mobility, and allows our students to become true leaders.

However, Tufts represents more than an opportunity to educate oneself. It offers a place to be oneself. We value people regardless of their beliefs, cultural background, ethnicity, or gender or sexual identity. Those who are oppressed and stigmatized within the broader society are welcomed at our doorstep.

We feel passionately that they should be able to study in an environment free of discrimination. We welcome discourse and dissent—but we will not tolerate disrespect.

Tufts is a community, above all, where freedom of expression is cherished. One of the great joys of my new role is approaching my office every morning with one question in mind: “What will the cannon say today?” Tufts tradition is that any student who wants to paint the cannon outside my office in Ballou Hall, can do so overnight. Some mornings, I arrive to read a message of support for our LGBT community; others, a cheer for the women’s soccer team.

But I never see the cannon, in all its fluorescent glory, without being reminded that you must have the courage to express yourself if you are going to make a difference.

When I say that universities like ours are places where individuality can flourish, I’m referring to our faculty as well. Our faculty are encouraged to follow their own passions as teachers, scholars and researchers. They push the boundaries of their disciplines with the academic freedom to pursue questions that they see as important.

Universities like Tufts inspire personal exploration. When undergraduate and graduate students arrive at Tufts, their first priority is to chart their academic course. But our students also have the chance to participate in a vast array of athletic and club teams; drama, art and music groups; and service activities.

This participation is characterized by a sense of discovery as vibrant as that found in any classroom. If you visit the music and drama corner of campus in the evenings, you can feel the buzz. The energy is palpable. I believe these cocurricular activities are a key part of what makes the university experience so valuable.

In almost all of these activities, our students are not merely mastering an art or a sport, they are developing the personal skills necessary to make an extraordinary contribution to the world. They are not just practicing music or rehearsing a play to become brilliant performers. They are contributing to a brilliant production. They are not just training hard to become elite athletes. They are training together to bring their team to new heights. They are learning how to rely on others and how to be relied upon. They are learning how to lead. And let us not forget, they are also having fun!

By the time they graduate, thanks to their experiences in and out of the classroom, Tufts students have the confidence and creativity to set aside conventional wisdom and push the boundaries of our collective knowledge outwards. They can critically evaluate complex information in novel ways in order to find new answers to old puzzles.

They are prepared for fulfilling lives and successful careers. They are also ready to take on the most daunting challenges that our society faces.

It is clear that higher education is tremendously valuable to individuals. But how does the university as an institution contribute to society?

First of all, the scholarship and research that take place in universities across a wide range of fields enable us to address the world’s most difficult problems. Climate change, infectious disease, financial volatility, the fragility of new democracies: All of these challenges are complex and multi-faceted.

They require us to assemble many different kinds of knowledge. Standing alone, traditional academic disciplines can generate only partial answers. Increasingly, what is required is the collaboration between multiple disciplines. And at Tufts, we are building bridges between academic silos in order to tackle serious global problems.

Almost a billion people worldwide lack access to clean water. This is a complex issue that encompasses politics, climate, engineering, medicine, and agriculture. So Tufts has brought together six different schools in an initiative called Water: Systems, Science and Society.

Recently—under the direction of faculty from the Fletcher School, the School of Engineering, and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy—students in the program were involved in an agreement between Jordan and Palestine to collaborate in the management of water resources.

This is the first step in a plan to bring together other countries in the Middle East, where conflicts over water are common—and clean water is often scarcer than oil. Cooperation there will improve many, many lives.

Professor Richard Vogel, who serves as the faculty chair for the program, has said that when it comes to daunting problems like this, “It takes a university.”

I couldn’t agree more. Only a university could assemble the range of expertise required to address water resources worldwide. I would like to see even more interdisciplinary programs at Tufts—programs that address multiculturalism and globalization, as well as issues in environmental, life and health sciences. If we focus on shared goals and integrate our activities across our schools, we can greatly amplify Tufts’ impact on society.

What is it that gives us the confidence to wade into some of the planet’s toughest problems?

From its founding, Tufts has viewed learning as a step towards active citizenship in the world. The Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service—the only university-wide program of its kind—serves the entire Tufts community, educating all of us about opportunities for civic engagement. We are also home to the Fletcher School—the first graduate school of international affairs in the country. And our Institute for Global Leadership teaches students how to think beyond boundaries and act across borders.

Many students choose to come to Tufts specifically because of this long tradition of active citizenship. And when they see that the people around them need their help, they do not hesitate. More than a decade ago, Tufts medical students founded the Sharewood Clinic, which is now staffed by medical, dental, and pre-med undergraduate students. This clinic provides free health-care services to people in our neighboring communities. It gives our students valuable clinical experience—and a chance to explore the fundamental reason they chose health care as a career.

Ultimately, active citizenship is part of our Jumbo DNA. It is passed from one generation to the next. Our students take it with them on graduation day, along with their diploma. And our alumni become ambassadors for Tufts’ mission in their local communities and on the world stage.

Among them, we count . . .
• the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served Presidents of both parties with his insights on poverty in America;
• Pam and Pierre Omidyar, who created the Omidyar Network to catalyze global economic, social and political change;
• and the Reverend Dr. Gloria White Hammond, who founded “My Sister’s Keeper” to lend a helping hand to women in the Sudan and around the world.

We are immensely proud of their achievements. They built on what they learned here to improve lives globally.

Universities like Tufts are one of our society’s wisest investments. They develop civic-minded people. And they generate the knowledge that allows those people to lead us into the future.

I feel as excited on becoming the President of Tufts as when I embarked on the journeys that led to my most significant scientific discoveries.

In that work, I was able to build on the knowledge of the past. In the work that now lies before me, and all of us at Tufts, I start from the foundation of excellence that has been built here over the past century and a half.

Today, we have the chance to use the broad and unique talents of this university to address the problems of our times with creativity and courage, and, in the process, to reimagine ourselves and our society.

I am inspired by the opportunities that lie ahead. I am dedicated to making this great university even greater. And I am confident that the light that is Tufts will continue to shine brightly, here and throughout the world.

Thank you.