Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

F&M 2011 Convocation

Convocation address given by President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D. on August 30, 2011 at Manning Alumni Green.

The Beatles, Jay-Z and You

[Before delivering his Convocation speech to new students, Dr. Porterfield was preceded by a three-part speech by Associate Professor of Biology Rob Jinks and two of his students, Chris Fiorentini and Abby Benkert.]

Thank you, Abby, for that gracious introduction. Thank you Professor Jinks, Chris and Abby for your inspiring talk, for your work together, and for demonstrating to our newest students the power of student-faculty collaboration at F&M. Thank you to the orchestra and to all who sang, performed or conducted today.

Thank you, Orientation Planning Directors, for a welcoming and well-run orientation. Thank you, Hall Advisors, Prefects, and Dons, for building community.

Thank you, professional staff, for keeping us safe, warm, fed and powered up during the storm.

Thank you, Daniel Lugo and the Office of Admission, for finding greatness. Thank you, faculty, for cultivating greatness. Thank you Shadek-Fackenthal, for containing greatness. And thank you, Ben and John, for guarding greatness.

Thank you parents, families, teachers, coaches, schools, communities, cultures, religions, nations, for providing us with this greatness.

Members of the Class of 2015 and transfer students, you have come a long way to reach this moment. You have achieved at very high levels. You have set a vision for yourselves. You have dealt with difficulty. You have persevered. I want to encourage you to take in this moment -- this place and space and time -- and let yourself feel deeply the significance of the transition you’re making, the defining moment in your lives that this ceremony represents.

And to help you do that, I would like to begin my remarks today by inviting you to look forward in time...

[The students then heard a 30 second clip of “Pomp and Circumstance” while Dr. Porterfield walked to a platform located in the student seating area to continue his speech.]

Congratulations, members of Franklin & Marshall’s Class of 2015, for all you have learned and done and given and grown these past four years on campus. You have gained expertise in your fields. You have written theses of distinction. You have gained faculty mentors for life and made lifelong friends. Congratulations on all the meaning you have made--

[A loud scratching noise interrupts Dr. Porterfield’s remarks.]


Whew, thank goodness your college years didn’t go THAT fast. But, as Alumni Board President Amy Francek ’97 told you last night when you watched alums 80 years old sing the alma mater with so much feeling, these years will go in the blink of an eye. This is your one and only undergraduate education. You are entering a land of opportunity here at F&M: What will you make of this time? I would like to offer you four thoughts.

First, look at those two words on Keiper Hall: “Liberal Arts.” This is a tradition of education that goes back to antiquity -- a mode of learning based on broad general study in core disciplines, an approach prized for promoting rational thought, a cultivated intellect, restless questioning, and intellectual freedom which are the bases of both personal formation and the flourishing of a well-ordered society.

With love, labor and faith, this multi-millennial tradition of learning lies that the very core of what’s best in our humanity. Because of the power and place of the liberal arts tradition, we begin your advanced learning with an academic convocation. We ask you to don robes to signify your joining an academic community and the tradition of liberal arts education. We ask you to accept responsibility here for the core values of this tradition: For intellectual freedom, for rigorous thought, for openness to new ideas and new ways of learning. For academic integrity, for honesty in all that you say, do and write. For freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of expression—and for protecting unpopular ideas. Your acceptance of that responsibility is part of the meaning of this Convocation.

Second, look at Old Main. Look at Shadek-Fackenthal Library. Look at the statues of Ben and John. You are in a particular place -- an iconic American college -- created in 1787 with the Enlightenment confidence that reason and the life of the mind were fundamental to the new democracy. Our namesakes are two of the core creators of America; two who defined the idea and practice of American democracy.

The stones of Old Main were laid in 1854. You stand before those stones now. This place was created generations before any of us and will be here for many centuries after we are gone. And so, as inheritors of the Franklin & Marshall tradition, a place built by the founders and dreamers of a new nation, we commit ourselves to the highest possible standards of conduct: We learn rigorously, we care for one another, and we treat all with respect and civility.

This place is our shared responsibility, all of us here today -- students, faculty, professional staff, alumni, trustees. It is because we share responsibility for this place that we hold this convocation right here, in our place of institutional origin. That is why we give you a cord today with your college house colors. That is why we sing the alma mater. Because you join the members of this community as stewards of all that Franklin & Marshall is and can become.

Third, look at the faculty assembled behind me, in their varied and splendid robes, reflective of their advanced learning and intellectual distinction. The faculty embrace the core mission of this distinct College and the larger liberal arts tradition. Each is a master teacher, but our role is not only to teach.

Each professor is also a scholar and creator of knowledge. They are intellectual leaders. Yes, they teach, their role is also to create ideas, to interpret history, to develop art forms, to be discovers of the natural and physical worlds. In this way they are categorically different than all the excellent teachers you’ve had before. Let me display for you just a sample of the intellectual work of our faculty:

Nick Montemarano, in English, author of this collection of short stories, If the Sky Falls.

Meredith Bashaw, in Psychology, author of the article, “The Social Organization of a Stable Natal Group of Captive Guyanese Squirrel Monkeys.”

David McMahon, in Religious Studies, author of the book, The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

Andrea Lommen, in Physics and Astronomy, author of the article, “Detection, Localization, and Characterization of Gravitational Wave Bursts.”

A major portion of their role as faculty is to create knowledge. They are doing the work of the College when they break ground intellectually. And as they do that, because they are F&M faculty, they will involve you in their work.

And from that truly special faculty relationship, you will learn about the culture of evidence. You will learn how different faculty view knowledge differently. You will learn about the eminence of formulating an hypothesis, testing it, and after failing to validate what you hoped you could prove, putting that idea down and approaching the problem for another angle. We think of you as not just the kinds of thinkers who can answer the questions we ask, but as having the power of mind, with training, to be able to formulate questions no one has asked in order to find answers no one’s thought to look for.

We asked Professor Jinks, Chris and Abby to speak with you today in the format they used because we want you to create here, for yourself, that kind of mentoring relationship with the faculty of your choosing. We see that relationship as the heart of what we do, and it is the greatest opportunity we extend to you, but you have to be active leaders like Dr. Jinks said and meet these scholars in their offices, because if you want to maintain a distance from the faculty, these scholars will respect your decisions as adults and won’t try to require you to go the extra mile.

And this leads to my last point, which is that you learn and remember how it is we actually think of you as new students.

I’d like to play a one-minute portion of a second musical selection to get you in the mood for the major piece of advice I have for you today. To give the song meaning I need to set the context. In 1968 the Beatles released a landmark piece of music called The White Album. (This was back in the day when there were things called “albums.”) It was part of a body of work that invented the genre of rock. Thirty-five years later the rap star Jay-Z released another landmark piece of work called The Black Album. It, too, was part of a body of work that invented a major musical genre -- hip-hop.

A year after, in 2004, an emerging artist named DJ Danger Mouse was spinning cds in his garage, soaking up The Black Album and its many meanings, when out of some inspiration that can’t be taught he thought of fusing these two cultural touchstones. Over a feverish two weeks DJ Danger Mouse mashed up songs of the Beatles’ White Album with songs from Jay-Z’s Black Album to create an original set of songs he called The Grey Album. At the time, this was not strictly legal … but DJ Danger Mouse created a masterpiece.

Let me play a minute of one song, “December 4th,” in which, set to the music of the Beatles’ song “Mother Nature’s Son,” Jay-Z tells his listeners about his childhood.

[The students then heard the first 60 seconds of the song.]

I picked this piece, where Jay-Z raps about his troubled childhood, and later includes his mother in the song as a speaker, partly because -- like Jay-Z -- you each have your own stories, and we want to hear them. But I also picked a song from The Grey Album to exemplify how we think of you in another way: Students, you are Jay-Z. The faculty is The Beatles. Together we can create meaning and knowledge that neither of us can make alone.

We don’t see you as passive vessels simply to teach and test. We see you as co-creators and co-discovers. We respect you as equals. We chose you out of 5000 applicants because we think you have the qualities of mind and heart to be active learners in this community, with each other and with the faculty, to truly benefit from this experience. The respect of these learned faculty is a great resource. You’ve earned it. You’re now full partners. This time and place are yours. We wish you the very best. Thank you for listening.

  • The Beatles, Jay-Z and You
  • A printable file of the remarks delivered by President Porterfield at the Franklin & Marshall College Convocation ceremony on August 30, 2011.

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