Office of the President

Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.

New Student Orientation
June 19, 2012
Trabant University Center

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Good morning, Blue Hens! And welcome to the University of Delaware. From here on out, you’re part of a community that values excellence, that develops potential, and that works for change. You’re part of this community because we asked you in. We asked you to join us, to make us better and bolder by your presence.

I hope getting your invitation—that fat, yellow envelope—was as much of an honor for you as getting your RSVP was for us. You were invited because we knew you’d be a perfect fit—the sort of person who turns a really good party into a great one. We knew you’d enrich this community with your effort, your ambition, and your activism.

Class of 2016
How did we know? Well, we vetted you pretty carefully. Transcripts, essays, résumés, test scores, letters of recommendation—we looked at it all. In fact, we looked at the transcripts, essays, résumés, test scores, and letters of recommendation for 26,707 students. That’s a record number of applicants to UD. You competed against a record number of applicants for a spot in this class. Given that this school has a 269-year history, that’s saying something. And I think it deserves a round of applause.

So here you are—3,855 freshmen from 34 states, and a dozen-and-a-half countries—gifted students, athletes, musicians, actors, writers, researchers, dedicated community leaders and compassionate public servants. How could we NOT invite you to this party?

As your host of sorts, I’m expected to give you some advice. Don’t worry—it’s pretty simple: Continue being the remarkable people you’ve already shown us you are. And make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Because it is exactly that. I’ll share a few ways you can do this.

Acquaint yourselves with talent.
#1: Profit from the brilliance that will surround you here. Every day, you’ll walk into classrooms and labs housing some of the best minds in the country—in the world—right here in Newark. Nobel Prize winners; Pulitzer Prize winners; Guggenheim and Fulbright fellows; members of the National Academies; renowned authors, artists, scientists, scholars.

You’ll have unprecedented access to these giants—professors who will show you what real talent looks like, and who will work with you to develop your own. When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that they’re here expressly to teach you. So be that student who hangs around after class. Go to your professors’ office hours. Ask questions. Take their advice. Really look at their comments on your term papers and test papers, the notes scrawled in the margins of your blue books. Learn from them.

And you know what? Brilliance isn’t packaged only in your professors. Look at your classmates and friends. See what they have to offer you: expertise in an area you lack; a knack for something you wish you could do; talent that eludes you, or that complements your own.

You won’t ever get a better shot at mining knowledge or crowd-sourcing skills. So find out how to collaborate with them, and make something extraordinary out of the fire of many minds working together.

Step outside your major.
Piece of advice #2: Be selfish. Take this time to really figure out what you want to do with your life. Let’s say you were 5 years old when you were first asked what you want to be when you grow up. And say you abandoned cowboy, ballerina, spy, and astronaut around age 9. That means most of you have had just under a decade to figure out your plan B.

And yet, you know what the #1 major at UD is? University Studies. “University Studies” is our way of saying undeclared. And “undeclared” is really just code for undecided. Undecided is okay. In fact, it’s great. College is all about exploring, finding out what you’re passionate about—and then letting your path reveal itself. That’s the exciting part.

And to all of you who are sure about your path, certain of your next steps, and wedded to your future, remember that it’s okay that plans change. Life is often as much about the detours as the mapped-out route.

And one more caveat: Even if your plans endure and you stay the course—even if your major today is the same major you graduate with in four or more years—be open to stepping off the path. I give you permission to untie yourselves—even just briefly—from your program, your department, your college (though I can’t guarantee your parents will be as understanding).

Look at this academic landscape—and your place in it—from a whole new perspective. Synthesize your thinking around some of our most persistent problems, and let those problems guide you as much as pre-requisites and course calendars do. Start with your end in mind. Whatever it is—environmental preservation, food sustainability, arts-rich neighborhoods, educational equity, corporate responsibility, national security and geopolitical harmony, humane health care—start with your end in mind.

Get involved.
Piece of advice #3: Get involved. The first UD students you’ll meet today—aside from the ones sitting next to you—are the Student Orientation Leaders. Senior leaders Maria and Rachel will talk to you after I leave. If you want a blueprint on how to get involved—or a treatise on why to get involved—ask an Orientation Leader. They’re all about it. I’ve seen their résumés, and I’m pretty sure at least three-quarters of them are gunning for my job.

They can tell you about some of the 200+ student organizations at UD, about the service opportunities and why 12,000 students decided to volunteer on campus and in the community last year, about club and intramural teams for those of us not destined for pro glory. If basketball and softball aren’t your thing, there’s badminton, dodgeball, broomball, even corn-hole. (Really.)

No matter what you’re interested in, I promise there’s someone else here who’s interested in it, too. Make a group, make a club, make a movement.

Make good choices.
And my final piece of advice: Make good choices. Protect your character. Pretend your parents are watching. If you don’t think your mom wants to see that YouTube video you made at 3 a.m., don’t upload it. And if you’ve already uploaded it, take it down. Same goes for your Facebook posts and profiles, your photos, your texts, your sexts, your tweets—all of it.

Above all, practice civility and tolerance, and cultivate a reputation for kindness. There’s nothing more worth your effort. And if all your choices don’t work out as you thought they would, or if you’re struggling in any way, understand that you’re not alone. We have a campus full of people who are here to help you. Let them. And if, in turn, you see a friend or a classmate struggling, lend an ear, or a shoulder, or a hand.

UD’s Promise to Students
It might sound like I’ve just asked a lot from you. But I’m promising a lot in return. I’m promising a University that will invest itself in you—in what you want to achieve and the path that takes you there. I’m promising a University that will ask you to make your ideas known, and actively contribute to our campus-wide conversation on important issues.

I promise a University that will celebrate the diversity you bring to this institution—that will make you feel welcomed and valued and included. I promise that top-notch faculty will actually teach you (yes, you freshmen), will actually advise you, and invite you to join their research.

I promise we won’t insulate you from the implications of your coursework. Ivory-tower scholarship isn’t our thing. You’ll be in the trenches, on the job, in the community, putting your ideas to work. I promise a campus that will continue changing and improving. As you walk around today, look at all the construction going on. That’s growth. And it’s all to make this campus more livable and more workable for you, to encourage your connection to UD and to one another.

I promise you an opportunity to join your talents, your intelligence, and your capacity for really hard work to the University’s mission—to partner with us in nothing less than changing the world.

To the Parents
I thank the parents here today for entrusting us with your children. I thank you for fostering their drive, their initiative, and their independence. That last one—independence—is critical. Your children will make mistakes. (See my earlier comment about the 3 a.m. YouTube video.) And I’m glad they will. If it weren’t for our mistakes, many of us wouldn’t learn anything at all.

You’ve gotten your sons and daughters through a dozen-and-a-half years, give or take, and they don’t look like they’ve done too much damage to themselves. Trust them to get through the next four or five or six years relatively intact, and with better judgment. They know you love them. Now convince them you respect their ability to navigate this next leg of the journey themselves.

To the brand-new Class of 2016: Enjoy today’s program and be an active participant in it. Ask as many questions as you need to get the most out of this day.

You’re a Blue Hen now. You’ve come to the party. And I can’t wait to get to know you. Congratulations!

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