Liberal Arts Are Essential, Gonzalez Says at Convocation

A liberal arts education is the best possible preparation for a world of globalization, growing diversity, bewildering technological change, and political polarization, Occidental College Dean Jorge Gonzalez told the Class of 2014 at the College's annual Convocation ceremony.


"We can't predict the future. If you came to Oxy thinking someone will teach you all the answers, then you are naïve," Gonzalez told the first-year students assembled in Thorne Hall to mark official opening of Occidental's 124th academic year. "What you really need is the ability to learn how to learn, how to adapt, and that is exactly what a liberal arts education gives you. It will teach you how to read, write and speak effectively. It will develop your critical and analytical skills. These are skills that will serve you well regardless of what kind of profession you enter."

Before delivering his remarks, Gonzalez presented Occidental's two top teaching prizes to three faculty members selected by their peers and by students for their outstanding work in the classroom, in conducting research, and in the life of the College.

Amy Lyford, associate professor of art history and visual arts, and Dennis Eggleston, professor of physics, were presented with the Graham L. Sterling Memorial Award. Established in 1972 in memory of former trustee Graham Sterling, the Sterling Award is bestowed each year on one or more professors with a distinguished record of teaching, service, and professional achievement, as selected by faculty members.. Lyford and Eggleston were each presented with an engraved silver platter as well as a check for $1,000. Another $1,000 will be deposited into their department's account.

Caroline Heldman, associate professor of politics, was presented with the Linda and Tod White '59 Teaching Prize. Established in 2008, the White Prize is awarded based on the votes of sophomores, juniors and seniors, who are asked to nominate teachers who have the ability to engage students and increase their learning, as well as showing a real concern for individual students.

Superb teaching is only part of what Occidental offers, Gonzalez said. "We place special attention on diversity and global issues, and we are located in one of the most dynamic urban centers of the world," he said. "Los Angeles offers you the world within five minutes of campus, an incredibly rich setting you need to take advantage of."

But such a rich academic and urban setting is meaningless "unless you interact with it," he added. "One of the greatest skills you can develop is the ability to have deep conversations with people who are very different than you. It takes talent to learn from people with different backgrounds ... by the end of the semester, be sure you make a friend from a very different background."