Pelton Speaks at Family Weekend Breakfast

Good morning and welcome. As you must know by now, I am both a president and a parent of an Emerson senior. So, I speak to you today through the lens of both.

My first 100 days in office have been focused on enhancing our collective sense of community, while seeking to understand Emerson’s specialized disciplines and the industries that inspire the shape of our curriculum.

I've also made a special point of getting to know as many students as possible because, after all, they are what Emerson is all about. I shook hands with each member of the Class of 2015 as he or she began orientation for first-year students, and I met informally with many of them in the weeks that followed at a series of receptions at my home for new students and leaders of student organizations. I’ve also started holding office hours that are open to all students.

I hope and believe that these modest initiatives will enhance the quality of their educational experience and will, in turn, encourage them to remain engaged with the College long after they graduate.

A great American philosopher, Bill Murray, had this to say about his college experience:

“I didn’t know how to study, but I liked the lifestyle. You could dress any way you wanted. I was wearing pajamas and a sport coat to school and pajamas and loafers to formal events. I didn’t get college at all, but it got me out of the house.”

Well, I hope you will agree with me that while pajamas and loafers may serve useful functions, college and life in general is about more than that.

At Emerson, it is about the pursuit of knowledge in communication or creative expression, the fields in which Emerson specializes and excels.

These fields have always been important, but never more so than today.

I need not tell you that we live in a world of unrelenting change.

Communicators wield enormous power. They define the world in which we live, or more precisely, how we view that world. They frame the issues we address and how we respond to them. They present products and services that shape human culture. They enable democracies to function by creating informed citizens. And, as we have seen in the last several months, new channels of communication, in the right hands, can empower communities to unite and topple oppressive governments.

The creative arts, including writing books and poems and producing films, tap into universal human emotions and aspirations that can unite people of divergent backgrounds and beliefs. Art has the capacity to elevate the mind, connect us to life’s enduring themes, and humanize the landscape of historical events.

Emerson’s mission is to educate the people—our sons and daughters—who will solve problems and change the world through engaged leadership in communication and the arts—a mission informed by liberal learning, recognizing that the world is still in want of clear-headed citizens, tempered by historical perspective, disciplined by rational thinking and moral compass, who speak well and write plainly with hearts warmed to the transforming power of virtue and beauty—no matter their discipline or profession.

Emerson is a student-centered place of learning, but the faculty represent the heart of its academic enterprise. Emerson demands much of its faculty. It takes a very special person to teach at Emerson. They shape what we teach and how it is to be taught.

That is why we must invest in our faculty to ensure that they have the support and resources they need in order to teach well, advance their research and creative work, advise students, and be good citizens of the College.

We must also invest in our students and seek to enhance their educational experiences, both in and outside the classroom. Education does not stop at the classroom door or when they leave Emerson’s glorious creative laboratories and clinical spaces, but rather it extends profoundly into their co-curricular life. We need to make sure Emerson’s curriculum and the architecture of their social life are organized so as to contribute meaningfully to their growth and development and put into play the fullness of their potential as leaders and shapers of society through communication and the arts.

We must invest in diversity and take advantage of the increasing globalism of contemporary life. The very best students want to study at colleges and universities where diversity is represented in several dimensions and where there are plentiful opportunities to live and study in academic environments beyond American borders.

We must invest in programs that drive innovation and create new strategic alliances and partnerships—at home and abroad—that will leverage resources to further Emerson’s evolution as one of the nation’s leading institutions of higher learning in its specialized fields. 

Finally, we must invest in the community itself by identifying and creating communal spaces that contribute to good conversation, to the sharing of important ideas and to building trust and community.

Samuel Johnson once said, “Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful. There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified and new prejudices to be opposed.”

And if you believe the headlines, it would seem that we live in a time when integrity and moral courage among corporate and, lately, media leadership are in danger of extinction. I urge our students, as the next generation of leaders in their chosen fields, to model ethics and exhibit moral courage in all that they do.

It is my hope that many of them will use their Emerson College education to nurture a more creative and civic-minded impulse, one that would lead in the face of change and act responsibly in an increasingly complex world. 

It is my hope, in contrast to Bill Murray and his pajamas and loafers, that they—with heads to think and hearts to feel—will come to know that their responsibility is not to extract, but rather to add value to human society in their professional and personal lives.

Among the many things that I have learned in my first 100 days, I have been especially pleased to come to know and appreciate the crucial role that parents play in supporting Emerson, as donors, as mentors, and in many other ways. Many of you are already involved with the College, and I invite each and every one of you to spend time identifying how you might join other parents in sustaining Emerson’s margin of excellence.

The arts and communication—in their various forms—are at the heart of the fast-paced change and convergence of the media and digital technology, challenging how we know and think about the world, transforming societies, in ways not all of which are positive.

Our educational mission at Emerson is to educate the people who will lead in the face of change. To do this, they must be introduced to the best that is known and thought in today’s multicultural world, to the ideas that will liberate them from old modes of inquiry, to the ideas that will quicken their imagination and creativity and awaken them to the endless possibilities of wonder and hope.

As I have said elsewhere, Emerson is a special place—a magical place, really.

Today, I am reminded of the importance of legacy and the powerful lessons of history. We have all arrived at this wonderful moment together because of countless gestures of hope made by the generations that preceded us: the baby born, the family begun, the College founded, the care and nurturing of our schools, our communities, a wonderful variety of faiths and, of course, our families and their families before them.

There is a Vietnamese proverb that says, “When eating fruit, remember who planted the tree. When drinking clear water, remember who dug the well.”

With your help and inspiration, we will remain faithful to the authenticity of Emerson’s mission, a mission that has nurtured its steady progress to a place of distinction and excellence, while, at the same time, we forge new paths of inquiry and discover new academic opportunities. We will raise the bar high and seek the most noble of our aspirations with common purpose and common hope. We will be cutting-edge and occupy with confidence those intellectual liminal spaces that liberate us from the confinement of our narrow rooms of thought. We will be dynamic and forward thinking, not only distinctive but distinguished, not only excellent but extraordinary. For the history of Emerson College instructs us that when this great College meets its challenges head on with vision, courage, and integrity, it will flourish beyond measure.

I wish to thank you in advance for your support and look to the future with hope and optimism, knowing that we are—all of us: students, parents, professors, alumni, and friends—that we are not merely a congregation of individuals devoted to self-cultivation alone, but a commonwealth of learning, a place of beauty, a place of light, liberty, and great promise.

Thank you for joining me today. I look forward to many more opportunities to meet and engage with you on the College’s future.

Thank you and good cheer.