September 20, 2021

Chancellor Remarks at 2021 Convocation

To the freshman Class of 2025, to our second-year students who are attending their first in-person convocation, and to all our transfer students:

Welcome to the beginning of one of the great adventures of your life! 

The years to come will be exciting and 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.

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. 

You have come here for many different reasons, and you will have a wonderful range of experiences while you are here. 

But it may be helpful for you to keep in mind that we built this beautiful campus for one main reason:  to serve the people by curating inherited knowledge, creating new knowledge, and transmitting knowledge.

You are here to participate in an amazing scholarly community, and you were chosen to be here because 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.

To help you better appreciate this fundamental feature of why you are here we have created what we call the “Anteater Virtues Project,” which identifies the key intellectual character traits that must be cultivated to be part of such a community, traits such as curiosity, integrity, intellectual humility, and intellectual tenacity. 

If you want to get a head start on the development of these virtues, keep an eye out for our online learning modules and the incorporation of these modules into many of your classes.

Now, there are certain “rules of the road” for participating in the life of a great scholarly community. 

For example, we are open to new ideas.  If a person of good faith believes we are mistaken about something and is willing to explain why we are wrong, we welcome the chance to improve our thinking.

We evaluate each other, not on the basis of whether someone else agrees with us, but on their mastery of the required disciplinary knowledge, and on the quality of their arguments, evidence, or performances. 

We expect our claims and conclusions to be evaluated by other experts, who are encouraged to find weaknesses in our arguments and conclusions. 

These are some of the norms and values that enable universities to achieve their distinctive mission in society.  It’s why you take exams, and it’s why the work of our faculty is peer-reviewed by the most preeminent people in their fields.  To be in this world is to have the quality of your ideas scrutinized and evaluated, relentlessly, so that when you leave here, your ideas and arguments are better.

Consequently, over the next few years, some of your cherished views may be challenged.  We will support you, but that support consists of empowering you to more effectively engage our world of ideas, not shielding you from ideas that make you uncomfortable or make you mad or that you think are wrong.

As the great University of California president Clark Kerr put it, “The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students.  It is engaged in making students safe for ideas.”

This is why we cannot, and will not, censor or punish people merely because they express ideas we do not like.  Even if you think the idea is disrespectful.  Or hateful.  Or dangerous.  We will protect against harassment and incitement and true threats and other actions that are not protected by free speech principles.  But we will not treat the mere expression of an idea as something to be punished or censored, and we will protect members of the campus community, and their invited guests and speakers, from efforts to silence them through disruptive activities.

I want you to hear this from me now, because hardly a week goes by without this issue arising at some campus somewhere, and before it arises again at UCI, I want you to know our position. 

As we officially start this journey together let us commit to learning as much as we can from each other, and beyond that, let us commit to support each other as human beings engaged in a common enterprise to generate and transmit knowledge for the benefit of all people. 

In a world where too many people seek out that which divides us, let us remain united, and let us go that extra mile to deepen our understanding of each other, to build bridges, to talk rather than yell, to debate rather than fight, to love rather than hate, to protect rather than exploit. 

Let us model for the world how a diverse community can live and work together, even when we do not always agree.  

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.