Skip to main content

First Collection 2011: President Rebecca Chopp

After an introduction by Dean of Students Liz Braun, President Rebecca Chopp (2:50) warmly welcomed the Class of 2015 to the "distinct community" of which they are now a part. "We are distinct in the clarity of our mission," she said, "we teach only undergraduates, and we believe passionately in the power of ideas. We are also distinct in the clarity of our values... respect for the individual, consensus decision making, simple living, generous giving, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and what our Hicksite Quaker founders called the 'amelioration of suffering' and what we now call civic and social responsibility." Provost Tom Stephenson and Kenyetta Givans '12 also joined in welcoming the Class of 2015 to Swarthmore. The a cappella group Sixteen Feet closed the ceremony by leading the class in singing the Alma Mater.

President Chopp's full remarks

Welcome to Swarthmore College. We-the faculty, staff, your fellow students, and alumni (all 22,000 of us!)-are delighted you are here. We are excited to welcome you into this community and to support you as you develop into your unique Swarthmorean self.

Swarthmore-as you are undoubtedly beginning to learn-is a very distinct community. We are distinct in the clarity of our mission: We teach only undergraduates, and we believe passionately in the power of ideas! We are also distinct in the clarity of our values, values that hearken back to the Hicksite Quakers, the community of Quakers that founded Swarthmore. Our values are held firmly and expressed consistently in our practices: respect for the individual, consensus decision making, simple living, generous giving, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and what our Quaker founders called the amelioration of suffering, or, what we now describe as setting the world aright and anew.

In 1854, Martha Tyson and Benjamin Hallowell began convincing their fellow Hicksite Quakers of the need to found a college in order to prepare citizens to be both intellectually and practically trained to meet the challenges of that time. This nascent idea prompted a rigorous series of meetings and conversations that ultimately led them to conclude that "the best interests of our Society demand an institution where our children can receive an education, in its true sense, by the simultaneous cultivation of their intellectual and moral powers."

And those words, Class of 2015, fully express the long legacy that you inherit today, embodied by the vibrant community you join this evening. 

Ten years following this landmark statement, Swarthmore was officially chartered in the state of Pennsylvania, which means that in 2014, during the second half of your junior year and the beginning of your senior year we will be celebrating the College's 150th anniversary, its sesquicentennial. Such a significant milestone offers us a distinct opportunity to reflect on our rich traditions and most deeply held values. It also affords us the chance to imagine what the future can be and what Swarthmore must do to embrace the challenges before us and before higher education in the coming years.

Last year, we began a communitywide strategic planning exercise. We began by looking carefully at external factors that would play a significant role in determining our future direction, such as trends in technology, changes in the nature of teaching, learning, and research, and the uncertain economic climate we now confront. Throughout the process, we continually returned to one fundamental question: How can we best educate our students to become stewards and citizens dedicated to the pursuit of a more just, civil, and sustainable world? 

We asked hundreds of students, faculty and staff members, and alumni which values they most closely associate with Swarthmore. The responses were remarkably similar. Our shared values include a commitment to rigorous inquiry and imaginative thinking; providing students the opportunity to learn about self and the world; a moral commitment to make the world a better place; facilitating access to a Swarthmore education; and upholding the Quaker values I described earlier.

Parker Palmer, a noted educator, observed that higher education at its best is "centered on knowing the great things of the world." 

Swarthmore's heart and soul is about knowing the great things-large and small-of this world and beyond, since we also offer astronomy! In your four years with us, you may become fascinated by recording a vanishing language in linguistics. Perhaps you will discover that you have a gift you didn't realize in computational physics or organic chemistry. Or maybe you will awaken a passion for Balinese music or Shakespeare that will be nurtured, encouraged, and honed here.

Swarthmore is unabashedly and unashamedly an intellectual community with a deep passion for ideas.  Learning, we believe, is intended both for the development of the individual and for the betterment of society. Our Quaker motto "Mind the Light"-represented by the lighting of candles this evening-expresses our belief that you must search your conscience, develop your own ideas, and express your own opinions and perspectives.

In addition to knowing and discovering great things, we are also about living in great ways together. Since 1864, we have inspired intellectual discovery and growth, and we have also cultivated the moral sense of how to live in a community engaged in the world. We will ask you to listen respectfully and carefully to others and to engage in civil discourse at all times, no matter the vigor of your belief or the depth of your passion.  We know that others will help refine your ideas by expressing perspectives you have never heard before and by questioning deeply held beliefs you have never had challenged before. In our close-knit community you will be exposed to an abundance of talents, passions, and world views. You will be safe to explore and encouraged to imagine new ways of looking at and experiencing the world. We warmly welcome you into this fertile world of ideas, imagination, collaboration, and exchange.

Another of our most deeply held values is our longstanding commitment to access-to ensure that all young men and women have the opportunity to attend this college with its commitment to rigorous inquiry and living and growing together in community. We value access because it provides the opportunity for individuals to benefit from our distinct college and for all community members to be enriched by the experience of living and learning in a truly diverse community. Whether participating in a course on economic development in the Third World, on creating robots in engineering, or understanding the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, hearing perspectives and questions from a variety of different individuals enhances and in many ways defines the liberal arts education you will receive here.

You will flourish here because of the superb learning experiences you will have in your classes and labs taught by the most exceptional faculty anywhere in the world.  Whether participating in a project at the Eugene M. Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, playing on the soccer field, organizing a social event, directing a play, or just having another random middle-of-the-night conversation in your dorms, hearing the hopes and dreams, thoughts and questions from those who are different from you will make a difference. In addition, learning to live with those who are different from yourself, learning to live in a community that cares for itself and that engages with the world, and learning to live in a sustainable fashion with the earth, these are the opportunities we most want to present to you in order that you become future leaders, stewards, and citizens of the world.

Tonight, we gather with hundreds of new classmates and friends. We light our candles to represent the responsibility we have to think for ourselves. We light the candles, one from another, to represent that we live together not as one light, but as many dependent one upon another to learn and live together. I hope your first year is filled with light-even or especially in times of darkness-and I hope that you enlighten and are enlightened by those around you.

I look forward with great anticipation to your contributions to the Swarthmore community during these next four years. Together we will celebrate the College's great traditions and determine its future aspirations. Like so many Swarthmore generations before you, I know that each of you-individually-and all of you-in community-will soon discover "the great things of the world."

First Collection 2011: President Rebecca Chopp

Audio Player Controls
0:00 / 0:00

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing