August 23, 2007
2007 Webster University Convocation -
Remarks by Dr. Richard Meyers
Good morning everyone and welcome to Convocation 2007, the official beginning of our 92nd academic year. Here we go! It is time for a new semester with new faces and new expectations. But first, let’s look back say to, just out of the blue, 40 years ago.
The year is 1967, when Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful heart transplant, a Ford Mustang cost $2,299.60, and the Boston Red Sox lost the seventh game of the World Series…to the Redbirds! It was also the year Sesame Street was first broadcast, the first microwave oven hit the consumer market, and the first Super Bowl was played. This was the year of the military coup that overthrew the government of Greece, Israel defeated the Arabs in the Six Day War, and more troops were sent to Vietnam. It was the year of “flower power” and anti-war demonstrations. The median household income was a little over $7,000 and a first class stamp cost 5 cents.
Here at Webster, the tuition was $35 a credit hour. For a resident fee of $1,000 per year, students could live in Loretto Hall or Maria Hall on Campus A or in resident cottages on Campus C. The fee covered room, board (on weekends too), linen service and health service. Webster College paid $1.25 an hour to students who held campus jobs. The faculty was in agreement that male students could be accepted, at the latest, by fall of 1968. At that time, there were 873 undergraduate students and 227 MAT students.
1967 was also the year that ownership of Webster College was transferred to a lay board. This was a significant decision for the College and another milestone in an impressive line of “firsts,” as Webster College was the first Catholic institution to break ties with the church. Others were soon to follow. This act of emancipation laid the foundation for all that subsequently happened with Webster’s growth leading to where we are today.
We will commemorate this event and celebrate the woman who paved the way for this history-making change at a special 40th Anniversary Convocation on Wednesday, September 12th. The former Sister Jacqueline, Jacqueline Grennan Wexler, will be honored and we will bestow upon her the University’s highest honor, an honorary doctorate. Our celebration will mark the significance of the transfer and spotlight Jacqueline, her persistence, strength and most importantly, her dynamic leadership. For those of you who knew Jacqueline, this will be a special day. For those of you who did not know Jacqueline, I encourage you to come to the celebration to hear Jacqueline’s story and to learn more about Webster’s rich history.
Since we are looking back, I would like to take this moment to remember another important member of the Webster family, Sister Mary Mangan. As you know, she passed away this summer at the age of 94. Sister Mary will be remembered for many things, for example, her ability to mentor and guide and be, as some have described her, a person for all seasons for many diverse people. We will pay tribute to Sister Mary later today at the Academic Convocation and there will be a special event in her honor during the Homecoming weekend next month. To Sister Mary we say “Thank you for your part in our history” and “Rest in Peace.” You will be missed.
It is important to look back to reflect on where we have been in order to appreciate how far we have come. On our journey into the past, any one of us, in our own personal lives, could recall inspiring change, risky decisions, and dynamic characters. Our future holds the same. And it begins today.
At this very moment, members of the freshmen class are moving into their homes for the next semester. This is a milestone day for these young people and it is understandable that they will be scared, excited, nervous, but also eager and full of anticipation for what the future holds for them.
Now, let’s consider what lies ahead for all of us and Webster University in the near future.
This is one of my favorite times of the year because of that feeling of expectation. All of our returning students, and especially our freshmen, have their own hopes and dreams for the coming year. You can feel the excitement of the new year in every area on campus. Over my many years, more than I’ll state today, of opening new academic years, I have always been able to sense when a year is going to be different from the norm. I believe 2007-2008 is going to be one of those years. As a matter of fact, I feel so strongly about it that I believe this year may be the highlight year of my presidency. I will share with you why I feel this will be a banner year.
First of all, I am buoyed by the fact that we are welcoming the largest freshmen class in Webster University’s history. The latest number I am hearing is hovering around 490. How nice to start a new year by breaking a record! Congratulations to Niel DeVasto and his team for this accomplishment.
This class of new students, all of our returning students and all of you in the University community will be happy to know that whether today or in the next few days, we will have in place a mass notification system by which we will be able to send urgent alerts to students, faculty, staff and parents. In case of emergency, where there is an immediate threat to life or property, a text message will be sent to a cell phone, e-mail account, Blackberry, text pager, or RSS feed. During the height of a crisis of this kind, communication systems can get overloaded. Text messages get through when phone calls will not. With this new system, you can be sure you will be notified of any emergency situation. You will be hearing more about this new system in the coming days.
While we hope we never have to use this system, it is a comfort to know it is available to us. These alerts are optional, but I encourage you to opt-in so that you will be informed of any emergency situation. I signed up this morning. I also encourage you to tell your students about this as well. We want to do all we can to ensure the safety of our students and everyone in the University community.
This year I am announcing that I want us to begin a serious look at how Webster can contribute to reducing the world’s unprecedented scale and speed of environmental pollution and degradation. I have put together the core of a committee to begin exploring the best way to proceed. Over the summer this group provided me with some good news regarding initiatives we have already taken to help in this regard. A list of these accomplishments will be e-mailed to you today.
Though we have an impressive and great start, it is still not enough. We are at a juncture where we need a formal audit of current practices so that we may continue instituting policies and practices of resource conservation, recycling, waste reduction and environmentally sound operations.
To that end, we will be seeking such audits as:
Energy and Utilities
Solid waste Management
Landscaping and Grounds
Transportation and Parking
Webster's curriculum as it relates to Environmental Education
We have become an institutional member of the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. We will be participating in the “Campus Sustainability Day” activities sponsored by the Society of College and University Planners in October. Through these and other efforts we will be joining a growing body of colleges and universities who will learn best practices from each other and support each other as we try to make the enterprise of higher education in general a green model for our students, communities and the world.
The fourth reason for optimism is our goal to increase the number of international opportunities for our students and faculty. Because of our international leadership, we are often presented with a number of prospects upon which we can expand our real world experiences for learning. These kinds of experiences are invaluable to our students and our faculty and we carefully consider every option. We will actively pursue more of these opportunities this year and try to conclude talks with institutions with which we have been having dialogues. We have talked the talk about this year after year. This year, we will walk the walk.
The bottom line for Webster University is this:
• Enrollment is up to St. Louis undergraduate record-setting numbers,
• Execution of our new emergency alert system is imminent,
• Expansion of our commitment to the environment is aggressively moving forward,
• Exploration for new and challenging international opportunities is underway,
Our future is looking bright. We have a lot to look forward to and celebrate. I can still feel the energy generated at the Commencement ceremony in May and believe it will stay with us as we enter our 92nd year.
I hope you enjoyed the look back to a time when Webster began to make dramatic changes in the world. As we carry on that tradition, I hope you will all bring your best to your classrooms, your office, your every day exchange with one another and, most importantly, to our students. When you look at our students, you see the future and all these students will become, and, what they can contribute to our world. Remember how important you are in their lives here at Webster and what a difference you can make for them in your own way. Let’s do what we can to ensure that the bright future they anticipate today becomes a reality tomorrow. If there are any bright lights in the future of our world, it is our students.
Thank you for being here today.