Part of my job is to free students from the expectations of others. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.
On move-in day at the start of fall semester, we have a brief ceremony in Douwstra Auditorium we call “Turning Over the Class.” Parents are excused, though a few still linger in the shadows. Our task is to formally welcome these fresh faces as a class and begin fostering a shared identity for the journey ahead.
They cross the threshold of Central Hall to the cheers of our student orientation leaders. The room is abuzz with conversation and laughter. Yet in the midst of a crazy day of activity, we quiet them for a few minutes of reflection. We offer a prayer of hope, encouragement and blessing and they are formally presented to me as a class. I receive them into the care and keeping of the college with great enthusiasm. Then it gets very quiet.
Here is what I say to our new students:
If I gave you each a marker and invited you to write on the walls of this auditorium all the expectations placed on you by family, teachers, coaches, neighbors and friends, we would cover the walls with your lists. Most of your lives have been about conforming to others’ expectations. Now you are authors of your own story.
You are all fortunate that I have been endowed with phenomenal cosmic power. So by the authority vested in me, I hereby release you from all expectations and invite you to begin writing your own story. Whatever burdens you bear from the expectations of others are now gone.
From time to time that brief moment will resurface in a conversation with a student, most often a senior, as we share a moment of reflection. Though their reactions vary, the common theme is a realization that they had to begin to think more deeply and listen more carefully to their thoughts and ideas.
The four critical years of college necessarily involves self-discovery that reaches beyond the expectations of others. Students set aside self-limiting ideas of the past as a new course stimulates previously undiscovered interests. Their self-assurance grows as study abroad, service learning and undergraduate research stretch them past comfort to grasp new competencies. Eventually, students realize they hold their own phenomenal cosmic power: They become more than anyone expected.
MARK: MY WORDS
Read more of President Putnam’s writing at president.central.edu.