September 19, 2022

Chancellor Remarks at 2022 Convocation

To the incoming Class of 2026 and to all our transfer students:

Welcome to UCI!  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. 

As we embark on this great and wonderful journey together, I’d like to you to consider for a moment a very basic question:  Why have you come to college?  Or, to put it another way:  What do you hope to get from college?

You will have many different answers to that question.  Some of you come from an environment where it was always expected and assumed that you would attend a four-year college, while others of you are the first person in your family to get this extraordinary opportunity. 

Some of you have already discovered your passion in life, while others are hoping to identify your career path here.  Some of you are already thinking about graduate school, while others only want a bachelor’s degree. 

Some of you are here because you’ve been told a college degree is your key to a good-paying job.  Others are here to enjoy the college experience in and out of the classroom.

Your reasons for joining our scholarly community are as varied as you are, and each is valid. 

As you continue to reflect on that question, I hope it is helpful for you to also keep in mind that this campus was established for one main reason:  to serve the people by pursuing knowledge and transmitting knowledge.  We are in the business of figuring out important things and then helping you understand them.

That’s another way of saying that 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 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. 

Curiosity encourages you to seek out knowledge and explore a variety of intellectual interests.  It’s the drive to find things out, to seek out answers to interesting and important questions, to become a broadly educated person.

Integrity is more than just avoiding plagiarism and other blatant dishonesties.  Integrity pushes you to be honest and avoid self-deceit and the deceit of others.  It’s about how you treat others and about how you treat the ideas of others.  It’s about acting in ways that demonstrate an abiding respect for the truth.

Intellectual humility enables you to be open to new ideas, to be willing to make mistakes and to admit when you are wrong. It treats knowledge as contingent and evolving.  It asks you not to be arrogant about what you know, but to accept your own limitations and be receptive to learning from others.

Finally, intellectual tenacity bolsters your desire to keep pursuing an intellectual interest, even when you encounter obstacles or other challenges.  It means having respect for your own convictions and seeing things through to the end.

Each of these Anteater Virtues is an important character trait and developing them will help you to prosper not only academically but also in your future endeavors long after you have left this campus.  

Using these virtues of curiosity, integrity, intellectual humility, and intellectual tenacity, 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 the norms and values that enable research universities to achieve their distinctive mission in society. 

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, more reliable, closer to the truth.  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.

And it’s why discussion and debate in our community does not and must not follow the norms of Twitter battles or social media dunking.  After all, physicists didn’t figure out whether light was a particle or a wave or something else by declaring people on the other side to be not worth listening to.

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.