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President Davis-Blake gives the convocation address

'Changing the World Comes in Many Forms'

President Davis-Blake Welcomes New Falcons at 2019 Convocation

President Davis-Blake's 2019 Convocation Address

Alison Davis-Blake

Good afternoon! It’s my honor, as president of Bentley University, to welcome you to our academic community. Today marks a milestone day in your lives: the beginning of your college career. I know you must have a lot going through your minds as you settle into new dorm rooms, meet new roommates and friends, and acclimate to a campus that you will call “home” for the next four years. These first few days will be filled with excitement. But before we get too far into the rush, let’s pause and take time to recognize this moment.

The Latin roots of the word “convocation” mean “to call us together.” We are called together, right here, right now, to mark the beginning of your college career and to reflect on the many opportunities that await you.

You’re joining our community at a special time. Over the past year, our students, faculty and staff came together to revitalize our university mission statement in an effort to better reflect who we are as an institution, and where we’re going. Building on the growth and success of Bentley’s first 100 years, our mission now proudly states that Bentley University changes the world by delivering a transformative business education, integrated with arts and sciences that inspires and prepares ethical leaders who will confront the challenges of today and shape the opportunities of tomorrow.

“Changes the world.” That’s a lofty goal. And it comes with high expectations. But, Class of 2023, that’s exactly what you told us you wanted to do. That’s why you’re here. Sitting here today, you’ve taken the next step in that very personal journey. Our mission is to help you realize what that means and, ultimately, help you identify your personal approach to excellence.    

Your approach to excellence—how you’ll change the world—is a big and maybe even scary idea. But it doesn’t have to be. Changing the world comes in many forms, but it requires excellence. Whether you plan to build a business that changes the opportunities people have, or invent a new system or product that makes peoples’ lives easier, or make a profound impact on one young person’s life through service-learning, you CAN change the world while you’re with us, and long after you cross the stage at commencement. Think of how important that is.

Bentley's Core Values

Like all of you here today, I’m also fairly new to Bentley. I just finished my first year as the university’s president, and I’m very much looking forward to what year two will bring. I’d like to share about how I came to stand before you today. I’ve dedicated my career to higher education because I believe in the transformational potential of a college experience. I chose to come to Bentley because that transformation is so powerful here. Your path to a rewarding career and life-changing opportunity also begins today. As we get started, I want to offer a few guideposts for the path ahead. Three pillars to consider.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said that a complete life is one that is three-dimensional. He described the length, breadth and height of a life well-lived. I think each of us defines those dimensions for ourselves.

For me, the length that Dr. King describes is the commitment to learning throughout our lifetimes. It’s about the need to reinvent ourselves through an openness to learning when adaption is necessary.   

Its breadth is a commitment to wide-ranging inquiry and study. Commitment to learning how to learn and how to reflect upon what we have learned.   

And its height is the aspiration to identify our own approach to excellence and to reach for true excellence in the things that matter most. 

In thinking of Dr. King’s words, I looked back on how I developed my approach to excellence. I’ve spent a great deal of my life in academia. With parents who were academics, I grew up very familiar with universities. Then, after earning my undergraduate degree and then working through postgraduate education, I found myself still continuously drawn to learning. But I had one problem. I never knew what I wanted to do next. What my next job would be. Growing up, I spent a lot of time thinking about that, and in doing so, ended up helping a lot of people figure out what they wanted to do. I found that I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do in my career because I was so busy figuring out others should do with theirs!

But through that process, I learned that I had a gift for engaging people with their own learning. When I looked back at my previous schooling, I saw similar trends. In high school, I spent time tutoring my peers, and found that I was passionate about helping them do things that they thought they weren’t capable of. Before that, in third grade, I was enrolled in a public school in New York City, where I spent time tutoring immigrant children in reading and writing. And while the content we discussed escapes my memory, I still remember the names and faces of those students—Elizabeth from Poland, Carlos from Cuba. I still remember the moment of excitement we’d feel when getting through an obstacle. 

That’s because I was passionate about that process of helping others learn and grow. You may not know what your passion is yet, but you’re sure to discover it throughout these four years by being open to new experiences and by putting yourself into new situations. The more experiences you are open to, the more opportunities you’ll have to find and grow your passions. 

During this year, ask yourself, “When am I most joyful?” Pay attention to those feelings. Those are what will help you define your approach to excellence and become more than just a graduate when you complete your studies. What you’ll learn these next four years will be invaluable. But who you’ll become throughout that process will come to define who you are, and how you’ll change the world. While you’re with us, I urge you to expand, not narrow, your discovery. You’ll no doubt learn all of the tools needed to succeed in your career during your time in the classroom. But the process of finding your passions and your approach to excellence will occur both inside and outside of the classroom. It’ll happen in the interactions you have during lunch or walking to and from class. It’ll happen in a club soccer match or a competitive game of spike ball on the green space. There are so many ways that you can discover what truly matters to you, and I urge you to be open to those opportunities. Now is the time to explore more fully who you really are. Invest in friendships with people who are different from you. Learn from one another. I promise you it will deepen your understanding of others and you’ll understand more about yourself along the way.

Your education should not end after you earn your degree with us. Education is a lifelong process. The world, today more than ever, needs leaders who are lifelong learners.

Of course you didn’t get to this exciting point in your lives alone. Along the way, you had supportive parents, families and others who nurtured you and helped you to learn more about yourself and the world around you, and I want to acknowledge them today. Families, your guidance and support is evident. You have shared your student’s joys, celebrated their successes and helped shore them up when they were a little wobbly. You’ve started them on the path to excellence.

You have built the launch pad and pointed them toward the stars. Now you have the chance and the responsibility to encourage them to make the most out of the next four years. To cheer them on. To help them gain a sense of independence.

And on occasion, to give them permission to fail. Yes, permit them to fail. I know that may seem a little counterintuitive to hear on a day like today, but I mean this: Students, do not be afraid of failure. Failure is an essential part of learning and growing. If we never fail at anything, we just aren’t pushing ourselves enough, dreaming enough or reaching high enough. A life without failure is not a complete life.

Our faculty and staff will be here to celebrate your achievements and, also, to help you when you stumble. With an outstanding service learning center, dynamic study abroad office, nationally renowned career center, and experienced and committed faculty and staff across the campus, you’ll have no shortage of support and opportunities to experience new things. We are here because of you, and for you.

Thank you all for being here today, and for choosing Bentley. We are delighted that you’ll now be a part of this university’s rich history and its exciting future. We’re excited to watch you grow and transform, to watch you identify new passions and build on old ones.

Your education should not end after you earn your degree with us. Education is a lifelong process. The world, today more than ever, needs leaders who are lifelong learners. Leaders who can remain open to new ideas, be focused on excellence, and guide with a moral compass—no matter the obstacle.    

Your years at Bentley will open a world of opportunity for you. I can’t wait to see what your approach to excellence will look like.

Bentley Welcomes the Class of 2023

Bentley University convocation 2019 in the Bentley Arena
Students and families celebrate joining the Bentley community at Convocation 2019 in the Bentley Arena. Photos by Brian Smith.