Opening Convocation

August 23, 2023
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Welcome, Class of 2027! 

I’d like to echo Drew and Professor Baltaduonis in expressing how excited we are for you to join this special academic community. You are at the start of what is sure to be an extraordinary journey of growth and self-discovery.

And, wow, what an introduction you have had to Gettysburg College.

Most of you arrived on campus just a few hours ago—a place you will call home for the next four years. In fact, if your experience proves to be anything like that of our 32,000 alumni, this is a place you will call home for the rest of your lives.

A new community, with new friends, new faculty, and new surroundings.

This is certainly a moment of profound change for each of you. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to navigate this change alone.

We are all in it together.

Of course, this includes our newest Gettysburg parents and guardians, many of whom are celebrating here with us. Students, will you please join me in giving your loved ones a big round of applause for all they’ve done to help you to reach this important milestone?

Thank you!

Parents, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the change this whirlwind day represents for you all as well. I’m sure it brings a rush of emotions and memories.

You may have even caught yourself being more than a bit nostalgic about those tender early years. Nights when you would carry your child in your arms, up the stairs to their room and read to them their favorite bedtime story.

How familiar it must have felt to this morning, as you carried belongings up the stairs of your student’s new residence hall and entered their room for the very first time. While you probably didn’t read them Goodnight Moon as you might have when they were little, that’s okay. It is now their time to write their own story.

As the father of two college graduates myself, I want to thank you for entrusting us with your student as they make this significant life transition.

They have earned their spot at Gettysburg College. They are ready.

Class of 2027, let me now turn my attention to you and ask you all to consider this: On August 23, 1966—57 years ago this very day—NASA captured a photo that would forever change how we as humans view our world and our place in it. The hazy, black and white image was the very first photo of Earth from the Moon’s orbit. It was transfixing.

To me, the photo offers three guideposts for how you might approach your years ahead at Gettysburg. Three pre-requisites for creating change in ourselves and in the world around us.

The first is to harness the power of curiosity. The starting point for any transformative education.

We explore space for many reasons, but foremost is an aspiration to broaden our understanding of how everything works. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, the search for knowledge not to advance some utilitarian goal but simply for the sake of knowledge itself. A 12th Century French Abbot, Bernard of Clairveaux, defined this as the essence of curiosity. It is no coincidence that one of the Mars rovers was named Curiosity.

Curiosity opens every door. Asking the question “why” leads us to ask “why not.” It encourages us to dig deeper, to follow new leads. That’s where true comprehension lies. That’s where true learning lies.

But curiosity also takes effort, hard work, determination. The easier path would be to settle for our first answer, to just accept whatever our instinct tells us.

President Kennedy made this point in his very distinctive style when he said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I’m confident of this: any effort spent in pursuit of curiosity will be more than rewarded in the breadth and depth of knowledge that you’ll obtain here. It will ready you to take on whatever life offers, and to ask the sort of questions from which authentic change occurs.

There’s a second guidepost I see in the NASA image, and it relates to a willingness to change our perspective.

With the picture we were no longer looking at the vastness of space from our home planet. We were now looking at our home planet from the vastness of space.

The image encouraged us, once again, to challenge our assumptions about the centrality of our place in the universe, the sense of who we are, of how we fit on a cosmic scale.

If curiosity is essential to authentic learning, then its close companion is an openness to new perspectives.

Your class has students from 33 states and 34 countries. Collectively, your class comes to Gettysburg with a remarkably vibrant tapestry of outlooks, life experiences, ambitions, and trepidations.

I urge you to embrace this diversity. We learn best from exposure to difference, when we are open to views beyond our own. It encourages us to question our assumptions, to ask those “why not” questions, and to have a more fully developed appreciation for the nuance, complexity, and richness of society.

Like curiosity, engaging in a diverse environment takes work and initiative. It can be tempting to do what is comfortable, to seek out the familiar. But if you resist that temptation, if you actively try to see the world through the eyes of another, you will realize the fullest measure of your education. You’ll strengthen this community. You’ll be ready for an increasingly interconnected society and world.

I’ll offer a third and final thought inspired by that 1966 photo. Grainy as it was, the image reinforced how extraordinary our planet truly is and how we must do everything that we can now to ensure its brightest future.

And it’s that sense of service to something greater than ourselves that speaks to a core commitment of a Gettysburg education.

Just up the road from here, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most important speeches in American history. Tomorrow, we will gather together to hear his words anew during our annual First-Year Walk. He articulated in that address a set of values that matter as much now as they did then—a commitment to advance the “unfinished work.”

It is that same commitment that shaped the life of another leader who was profoundly influenced by his time in Gettysburg, President Dwight Eisenhower.

And it’s those values that continue as our north star today.

This is a refrain you will hear throughout your Orientation and over the next four years. A call to action. One answered by Gettysburg College students, to be sure, but by our devoted faculty, staff, and alumni as well.

As Gettysburgians, we step forward when the world needs us most.

Curiosity. An openness to diverse perspectives. A commitment to something bigger than one’s narrowest self-interest. If you approach your time here with these commitments in mind, your education will blossom. You will be ready to bring about the change society needs.

It all starts with the courage to try.

So, get involved. Join our Garthwait Leadership Center and Cross-Disciplinary Science Institute. Experience GIV Day through our Center for Public Service, and Democracy Week through our Eisenhower Institute.

All of it makes a difference. All of it matters.

By stepping forward for others, you will also deepen your understanding of this extraordinary world in which you’re a part; and you’ll develop the knowledge and enduring skills needed to contribute to our world ethically and effectively.

These are the anchors of our Gettysburg Approach. And your class will be the first to reinforce them through our new Guided Pathways.

As Professor Baltaduonis alluded, more than 75% of your class has opted in to the Pathways. That’s remarkable. It speaks to your investment in yourself, in your education, and in your aspirations upon graduation.

Every student in the Guided Pathways will be supported by their own Personal Advising Team, consisting of a Faculty Advisor, a Co-Curricular Advisor, a Career Advisor, and after your sophomore year, an Alumni Mentor.

This is a team that will offer you 360 degrees of support throughout your Gettysburg experience.

You’ll find that a Gettysburg education is personal and timeless. We take pride in that.

Let me conclude.

Class of 2027, none of you is here by accident. We chose you. Like NASA’s camera tilted back at Earth, we see something extraordinary in you.

And it’s for good reason.

It’s because of the countless “small steps” your class has taken to get here.

Your leadership. Your drive. Your empathy. Your creativity. Your resilience.

That we see the promise in you to take a “giant leap” during your time at Gettysburg. To embrace this moment of change and become the person all of us believe you can be. Indeed, to rise to the “unfinished work” still before us as a nation, a society, a planet.

We know you will.

Congratulations, Class of 2027—and welcome to Gettysburg College.