2006 Convocation Address

President Scott S. Cowen
President's Convocation for New Students and their Families
Tulane University
August 26, 2006

Making History and Making a Difference

It gives me great pleasure to officially welcome the classes of 2010 and 2011 to Tulane University. The Tulane community you join is a proud, accomplished and historic one. Our university was founded 172 years ago as the Medical College of Louisiana. Since that time, the university has evolved into one of the most distinguished, respected and well-known institutions in the United States and world. 

Today, you begin a journey—one already taken by the thousands of Tulanians who have preceded you. Tulane University’s alumni have gone on to highly successful careers in every walk of life and stand among the most accomplished alumni groups in the country.  I know you will join this distinguished group in the future. 

Your class is testimony to our ongoing strength, for it is one of the most accomplished to enter any university in the country this fall as measured by your academic achievements in high school and in your communities.

Much is expected of you, yet it will require a great deal of will and strength of character to realize your awesome potential.

The fact that you are here today at Tulane and in New Orleans already tells me that you have strength of character. Because you are here at this time, we already know that you will be remembered long into the future as one of Tulane’s most historic classes. And there is no other entering class in America that I would rather have than you because you have already demonstrated the academic and personal characteristics we so admire in students.

You enter your college years at an interesting time in our country’s history. The tragedy of 9/11 still looms large in our minds and hearts, our country is in a war against terrorism, our troops—many of whom are your age—are engaged in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are witnessing enormous health and economic disparities in the U.S. and around the world. 

You also arrive in New Orleans and at Tulane in the aftermath of the worst urban disaster in American history.  You join a university community that endured and survived what no other major research university has ever experienced, and the existing students you meet and the professors whose classes you will attend are nothing short of heroes.

Let me tell you a little about what we have been through in the last year, and just a few of the heroes with whom you will be sharing your college experience.

After Katrina struck and several levee breaches in the area inundated much of the city with water, the Tulane community was scattered across the country with virtually no means of communication. A dedicated team of faculty and administrators and volunteers coalesced in Houston to work toward putting the university system back together, while an amazing group of staff members who had ridden out the storm on campus stayed here to oversee the rebuilding and renewal. Meanwhile, we were forced to close for the fall semester—the first time a major American university has had to do that since the Civil War.

In the meantime, Tulane faculty, staff and students were working in myriad ways to contribute. To mention just a few:

  • Twenty Tulane undergraduates who are certified as emergency medical technicians returned to New Orleans immediately after the storm to help in the medical rescue efforts.
  • Our student-athletes carried the torch for Tulane while we were closed for the fall semester—our football team played 11 games in 11 different stadiums last year, none of them in New Orleans.
  • Faculty members braved the harsh conditions in the immediate aftermath of the storm to recover precious research data.
  • Many of our students began fundraising projects for New Orleans-based charities, or donated their time to relief work, or helped New Orleans evacuees living away from home.

Those are some specific examples of heroes among us but, really, I consider all our faculty, staff and students who endured Katrina and returned to rebuild New Orleans to be heroes in their own right. These are the extraordinary people you will be studying, working and living with for the next few years.

We are a community that survived Katrina and has been a model of recovery for others to emulate as we create a new and better future for Tulane and rebuild our city in the process. You, as well as our existing students, will ultimately be the beneficiaries of this transformation and I truly hope you make the most of it.

Make no mistake about it—you are now part of a community that has seen adversity and overcome it, a community that has demonstrated courage and character throughout the past year, and a community that is deeply and passionately committed to this university and to the city of New Orleans. I suspect that most of you already know this, and that being part of this community is one of the reasons you are here. I applaud you for that, and welcome you to our family.

Last spring, as Tulane was in the early stages of its recovery, I was constantly asked one question by parents and students at every forum I attended. The question was:  Given what has happened to Tulane and New Orleans, why should a student attend Tulane? 

My answer to this question has always been the same. As a father of four children and now the grandfather to two others, I have always believed the two greatest gifts we can give our children are a first-class education and a desire to make a difference in the world that allows others less fortunate to have greater opportunities in the future.

If you share my view, then what better time, what better university and what better city are there to achieve these goals than today, at Tulane and in New Orleans?

 In the years ahead you will be exposed to one of the most dedicated and talented faculties in the world. They will provide you an academic education second to none.

You also will have the opportunity to participate in the greatest recovery efforts in an American city in more than a century.

This combination will be a powerful catalyst for your personal growth and development. Imagine the stories you will be able to tell your families in the future and how interesting your graduate school or job applications will be when you prepare them upon graduation.   

The collegiate experience is one of the most exciting, intellectually satisfying and personally rewarding times of your life IF you use the time well. That time starts today, and I have a few things I’d like you to consider doing.

  1. Partake of all the wonderful learning opportunities this university has to offer not only in the classroom but also through extracurricular activities. Tulane is an endless smorgasbord of learning. Go to lectures, concerts, plays, sporting events and art openings.
  2. Get involved on campus and in the community, and make the most of your public service involvement. About 50% of learning takes place in the classroom; the rest you learn through activities with your peers. These experiences will hone interpersonal and leadership skills that will serve you well the rest of your life.
  3. Develop a wide circle of friends from different backgrounds and cultures. You will learn more from those who are different from you than from those who are similar.
  4. If you need academic or personal assistance while you are here, do not hesitate to seek help. There are several places for you to go for help, including the Office of Student Affairs and counselors in the Newcomb-Tulane College.  Don’t wait for a problem to overwhelm you before looking for assistance.
  5. Despite Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is still an iconoclastic city that is exciting and fun-filled. So I must say to you—as I’ve said to our entering classes in the past—enjoy New Orleans but enjoy it in moderation, using common sense and sound judgment. New Orleans is one of the greatest multicultural learning laboratories in the world—enjoy its music, language, food, architecture and magical culture. Go to Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest and the myriad of other cultural events we have here. But do not abuse alcohol, don’t ever do drugs, and don’t for a minute think that drugs or alcohol are the best ways to enjoy the culture of this wonderful city.
  6. Finally, e-mail and call your parents on a regular basis. Trust me—this will make them feel better and more than likely lead to further benefits for you.

I conclude my remarks today with a few observations for the parents. As someone who has been through this on four occasions, I can assure you that your child will be okay and so will you. As a matter of fact, the quality of your life is going to improve dramatically once you leave campus and realize that you have one less to care for at home. If it is your last child going off to college, you will realize an amazing state of happiness and relief. You are about to get a glimpse of nirvana when your leave campus this weekend and realize the freedom you now have.

Enjoy these years.  Don’t get a dog to replace your child—just do the wonderful things you always wanted to for so many years but couldn’t. Being a college parent has its own joys, and Tulane will try to make it as joyful as possible for you as well as your child.

To our students, I say this: one of the greatest journeys of your life has now begun. So go out and take advantage of the unprecedented opportunities in front of you.

I’ll probably see you around campus—when that happens say hello and smile. This will make my day.

Again, I say welcome to Tulane.

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638