I always look forward to the annual Spring Awards Ceremony here at UMPI, not only because it allows us to celebrate the accomplishments of some of the University of Maine at Presque’s Isle most distinguished and dedicated students, but because it allows us to highlight what is best about UMPI: our collective ability to provide a superior education for people who have the dedication and incentive to take advantage of it. Academic excellence —curricular as well as co-curricular—is the heart of a university; and, as a university, we are here first and foremost to help students learn as much as they can and as well as they can. Since 1903, this institution, under evolving names and structures, has dedicated itself not only to meeting the needs of the students and communities it serves, but to help its students succeed when that path to success may itself be a challenge.
College is today society’s chief mechanism for such success—for individual advancement, upward mobility, economic growth and social equity. And, ever since the very first attempts to define the purpose of a college education back in 1828 at Yale University (which actually isn’t that long ago, if you think of it), college has attempted to balance multiple goals. It’s been variously viewed as an institution to form character, refine the sensibilities, immerse students in the “best” that has been thought and said; to think critically and reflectively about values, politics, and society; and to provide an opportunity to grow and mature personally and intellectually. On the one hand, it serves the needs of workforce development and economic and social mobility; on the other, it nurtures democratic citizenship, global perspectives, critical thinking and community service. College is often viewed as resistant to change, and, indeed, it sometimes seems maddeningly impervious to what is happening around it. But things that seem as basic and unchanging as letter grades, departments, majors and the credit hour came to be the norm only a little more than a century ago. Today, pedagogy, delivery modes, assessments, even how we think of career preparation itself, are all being rethought because of a new generation of students with distinct needs, interests and backgrounds.
All of those recognized at last month’s Awards Ceremony—indeed, everyone at UMPI—reflect that new generation of learners, no matter their calendar age. And that’s a very good thing. Because college must change. And it must start by remembering that it doesn’t just “change” those who come to it looking for an education and a better future; college is itself changed by those very people. UMPI is a better institution today than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years before that or back in 1903 when it was first established—because you as students, today, are creating a better future for all of us. All you need do is look at the incredible accomplishments of so many changes this year at UMPI, all of which were driven by student initiatives or interests: from the truly remarkable work of the Inclusion and Diversity Task Force (the “Owl Stand by You” pledge; the Diversity Wall; the Campus Conversations; and so much more—so much so, in fact, that other campuses wonder just how we get so much done!) to the addition of new programs like Exercise Science and Agricultural Science and Agribusiness next fall to the start of a Track and Field team and the great achievements of Softball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Cross County, Golf and the resurging Baseball team. All of this was made possible—and necessary—because of you.
My goal, as president, is to help ensure that UMPI not only meets your needs, but learns from you, so that we can in turn help your children, the next generations, build a stronger and more successful Aroostook County, state of Maine, United States and a better global community. Our goal has always been—and should always be—not only to help you learn, but to learn from you—not only to conserve and dispense knowledge and skills—to reinforce values of civility and inclusivity and care for our fellows and our world—but to constantly remake ourselves, this institution, to meet your hopes and dreams and expectations. I want to know, continually, how we can better do that.
I look forward each year to the Awards Ceremony and Graduation, not only because we recognize those of you who have put in the hours and months and years of study that demonstrate greatness in so many forms, but also because it signifies the work of this institution, and that of family and friends and supporters, of teachers and mentors, who help us to understand, just like mentors did for each of us sometime in the past, that doing our work well is a reward unto itself—from which greatness, in things both small and large, will follow. It is my honor to serve the students here at the University of Maine at Presque Isle who strive for that greatness, each and every day.