The constancy of change and its fundamental role in the Occidental experience for each generation of students was the theme of President Bob Skotheim’s speech at Wednesday’s annual convocation ceremony in Thorne Hall.
"The ways in which you are going to change over four years will be the most important aspect of your Occidental experience," Skotheim told members of the Class of 2012 in formally launching the College’s 122nd academic year. "That is what going to college is all about, if it is successful. If you are not changed by it, you are being shortchanged."
Immediately before Skotheim’s keynote address, Dean Eric Frank presented Psychology Professor Nancy Dess with the Graham L. Sterling Memorial Award, Occidental’s most prestigious faculty honor presented annually to a professor with a distinguished record of teaching, service to the College, and professional achievement.
Dess, a member of the Occidental faculty since 1986, spoke with great feeling about being a scientist in a liberal arts setting, an environment she praised for allowing her to transcend disciplinary boundaries, take risks, think broadly and be rewarded for doing so.
In comparing the generation of the Class of 2012 – the so-called "Millennials" – to previous generations of students, Skotheim noted that "Each generation, in effect, tries to solve problems associated with their predecessors and, in so doing, is viewed in revolt.
Using Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset’s definition of a generation as a "species of biological missile hurled into space at a given instant," Skotheim discussed how this latest generation of students might address Occidental’s mission of excellence, equity, community, and service.
"The articulation of the mission, cornerstones, and goals is finite and simple. Successful implementation is infinitely complex, at best a work in progress, like democracy itself," Skotheim said. "So this is the target for the millennial generational missile, in Ortega y Gasset’s phrase."
"The Occidental campus, like American society generally, needs precisely the leadership and followership attributes which are purported characteristics of you Millennials: community-mindedness, sympathetic appreciation of difference, respect for intellectual quality and honesty, veneration of justice, grace and beauty, and dedication to disciplined work. Your challenge as a maturing generation will be to practice these virtues."