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President Wright welcomes Class of 2009

On Sept. 20, a large crowd of returning students, faculty and guests filled Leede Arena in the John W. Berry Sports Center to greet Dartmouth's Class of 2009 at the College's Convocation exercises.

President James Wright addressing the Class of 2009
President Wright addressing the Class of 2009, faculty, staff and guests at Convocation 2005. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

As the clouds of a fall rainstorm gathered outside, new Dartmouth students were welcomed by  President James Wright, Student Body President Noah Riner '06 and guest speaker, Sarah E. Billmeier '99, an eight-time Paralympic gold medalist in alpine skiing.

Wright spoke to students about Dartmouth's place in history and how the contributions of the College's student body have shaped Dartmouth itself. He also spoke about Dartmouth's place in the current culture, focusing extensively on the College's response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

"This morning, we share in a ritual that is as ancient as the academy at a place that is older than the Republic, and here we extend to the first-year members of this community an embrace that will be as enduring as the granite of the North Country," he said.

Sarah E. Billmeier '99
Sarah E. Billmeier '99
Noah Riner '06
Noah Riner '06

"As we begin another year in the history of this College and as our newest members begin an important stage in their lives, our mood of celebration is muted by nature's most recent cruel reminder of the fragility of human plans. Our attention necessarily is distracted by the tragedy on the Gulf Coast...We join in grieving those who have been lost. Our hearts and our support go out to all who have suffered and who will endure suffering and dislocation and mourning for some time."

Speaking to faculty and students from the Gulf Coast region who have found homes at Dartmouth while their schools are temporarily closed, Wright said, "I would also like to extend today a special greeting to those students and faculty from institutions in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast who have come to us this fall. You are most welcome here and we are indeed enriched by your presence. You have become a part of this community and we shall consider you such even when you return to your home institutions. Your Dartmouth association is for a lifetime.

"For 236 years now Dartmouth College has convened to go about the good work of learning.... Here, students are not consumers of an education, but rather are beneficiaries of a rich and generous legacy, one that for each and every one of you has been shaped and subsidized by those who have preceded you. Few gifts that you will receive in your lifetime will ever exceed this one-this Dartmouth education."

Wright also made note of Dartmouth's history of social and community involvement. "Dartmouth is here because for over 200 years people have had a special hope for it. And you, members of the Class of 2009, are here because we have a special hope for you: that as a member of this fellowship you will assume a lifetime responsibility to make this school the stronger as well as a companion responsibility to make the world the better." He added, "Dartmouth can be justified only if it continues to do what it has done so well for so long: educate students who embrace teamwork, assume leadership and understand the obligation that accompanies their good fortune.

"Following Katrina's savage assault, it was not just levees and buildings and infrastructure that were destroyed, but lives were lost and hopes and dreams were shattered. Rebuilding the latter for those who survive and sustaining those who mourn will be by far the hardest task. This College, this community, has stepped up to help in this work.

"You have joined a proud Dartmouth tradition, as you have enriched it already by your commitment to helping in the aftermath of Katrina," said Wright. "Everyone has a contribution to make, and it is up to you to decide how you will make yours. Your reputations and your work have preceded you. The world is in good hands.

"So, members of the Class of 2009, today you, along with our students from the Gulf States institutions, have become a part of Dartmouth, and Dartmouth forevermore will be a part of you. You will never be the same. But you should know that by your very presence here Dartmouth itself will be changed, too. Take on this responsibility with confidence and joy. But also embrace with me a profound sense of gratitude for the privilege we share as members of this special community of learning.

"We have work to do, you and I," Wright said in conclusion. "And it is time to begin! Welcome to Dartmouth."

The event's other speakers stressed that at Dartmouth it is not just the quality of an education that is important, but what is done with the gifts and opportunities a Dartmouth education provides. "This is the smartest and most diverse class Dartmouth has ever seen," said Riner, "...but it takes more than a Dartmouth degree to build character."

Billmeier's remarks focused on her own experiences of personal growth. She spoke of learning to ski at age eight, three years after losing her left leg above the knee to bone cancer. Currently a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School, Billmeier challenged the students to pay attention to the wonderful opportunities that are available to them while at Dartmouth. "I hope you are able to learn from people who come from different worlds than you do. You will soon discover that Dartmouth's real strength is sitting all around you."

Photos and a full text of Convocation speeches are online.

By JOEL AALBERTS

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08