September 28, 2020

Chancellor Remarks at 2020 Convocation

As chancellor, it is my official privilege and my personal pleasure to say – Welcome to UCI!  Welcome to one of the great adventures of your life!

We held our first convocation way back in 1965, when we opened our doors for the first time.  And every year since then, at about this time of the year, we have held another convocation.  So this is just the latest in a long line.  But it’s also the first in what we hope will be a short line of one.  This is our first virtual convocation.  Just as your high school or community college world was turned upside down last March, so was our university world.  We have all had to learn new ways of teaching and learning, of interacting and being together while apart.  We all hope that these days of social distancing will end soon.  I can’t wait to see you all on campus, but your health and safety are our highest priority, and we cannot be together in person. 

In the hours and days after our acceptance letters were received in homes all across this great state, many of you shared on social media your delight that you would be coming to UCI this fall, that we had chosen you.  Let me assure you that we were just as delighted as you were.  In fact, we were thrilled that you accepted our offer of admission, that you chose us.

Simply put, you, individually and as a group, are among the finest students in the nation.  You may not know this, but we had more than 122,000 applications for admission this year.  That’s the third largest number of applications received by any university in the entire United States.  For the second year in a row, UCI received more applications from California high school seniors than any other UC campus.  Additionally, UCI was the top choice for first-generation college students and those from low-income families and underrepresented groups – also for the second consecutive year.  We’re very proud of these statistics – they are proof that we are succeeding in our mission of providing the best possible education to the brightest and most ambitious students in our state, regardless of their circumstances.

And out of those more than 122,000 applications, we chose you and you chose us. 

The years to come will be exciting, unforgettable in the best possible way.  It’s going to be great – great but not easy, not without its challenges.  If it were easy, anybody could do it, and we wouldn’t have to spend the time to admit the very best students.  You’re all very smart, but being smart and accomplished will not be the key to your success here.  More importantly, you’re going to have to work hard, be tough and demonstrate persistence when you face obstacles.  But don’t worry; you’re here because we have faith in you.  And you’re not in it alone; all around you are helping hands.

We will walk beside you in the years to come as you work toward your degree, and we will continue to be there for you after you have earned your degree, when at commencement – which will be here sooner than you think – you set off to make your mark upon the world. 

As you begin this adventure, I want to remind you why you are really here.  And the best way to do that is to remind you why this great university was created a little more than 50 years ago.

It’s simple really:  our mission is to serve the people by curating, creating, and transmitting knowledge. 

We curate, create, and transmit knowledge.  That’s our job.

Our purpose is to amass expertise so that we might understand important and complicated questions.  In doing this we also act as a caretaker of inherited knowledge, allowing us all to compare the wisdom of those who came before us with our own views.  As we engage in scholarly inquiry, we also generate new knowledge – knowledge that solves problems, eradicates ignorance, identifies new challenges, improves our values, and hopefully, becomes a basis for social progress.

And then we share what we have learned with young, talented academic achievers – with all of you – because through your accomplishments you have demonstrated that you have the talent and character to participate in this vitally important mission.  You have shown that you are prepared to understand things even when understanding requires hard work and serious thought.

And why do we do this?  Let me start by saying we don’t do it solely so you can get a good job after you graduate.  Oh, we want you to get a good job, one that leads to a fulfilling career, but that’s not our main goal.  Our main goal in providing you an education worthy of your talent and your promise is to give you the resources to live a more satisfying and meaningful life; to be a knowledgeable, thoughtful and discerning contributor to your community; and to be a force for good in the world.  We believe that nurturing a rigorous and broad intellectual culture – focusing on knowledge creation arising out of the values and practices of a scholarly community – is of deep benefit to free human beings and to the world. 

I said “free” human beings because one major point of higher education is to empower you to think for yourself.  If you never develop that capacity, you are at the mercy of those in politics, business, and culture whose job is to bend your mind in the direction of their interests.  

And so as you pursue this most exciting of journeys, allow yourself to be tested by the standards of reason and rational argumentation, and allow yourself to be inspired by a spirit of exploration.  Stretch yourself.  If you’re a math and science type of person, then make it a point to take courses in the humanities and arts.  If you have a passion for dance, literature, or art history, be sure to get some real exposure to the scientific method and contemporary understanding of the workings of the natural world.  There isn’t a person watching today who would not be enriched by, say, studying “Hamlet” in depth, or, conversely, taking an introductory course in civil engineering. 

I end these remarks by invoking the official motto of the University of California. 

You may know it.  It’s a Latin phrase:  Fiat lux.  It means, “Let there be light.”

I think it is a wonderful motto for one of the world’s great institutions of higher education.  I hope it will inspire you.

Pursue that which is illuminating.  Shed light on fascinating and important questions.  Be a vessel through which enlightenment eradicates the darkness – the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of intolerance. 

You are here to do great and important things.  It’s time to get started.

Again, welcome to one of the great adventures of your life.  A vast landscape of inquiry and discovery lies before you.  We are all looking forward to walking this path with you.

Fiat Lux.