President LeBlanc's Full Convocation 2018 Speech

September 10, 2018

So, you have been on our campus for a couple of weeks now—I've seen you. But today is the first day in which you formally become part of our campus community.

That’s because today, we will go out, into the Washington D.C. area, and perform acts of service together.

This is the best expression of what it means to be a community, and we are a community that serves and we are a community that learns together.

Today, we take what we know and believe, and we act on that knowledge and those beliefs.

That is the very essence of an education—to go beyond ourselves, and to transform the world around us.

But we must remember that just as we serve the community, the community serves us.

Many have invested in the possibility of you being here—your family, GW alumni, our donors, even the government. But for all the investments made by others, none is as great as the investment that you’re making in yourselves by being here.

You could be doing other things.

You could be working. Traveling. Serving in our military. Volunteering in our communities.

You could just as well read the books in our syllabi, and you can take courses for free online.

And yet, that is not enough, not for you, and not for the people who made sure you could be here.

A university education is not merely a reading list. Or a series of subjects to master, check-box style.

A university education demands more from you, and more from me, the faculty and the university we represent.

It demands answers to questions:

How are you transformed by new ways of thinking and new ideas?

How do you respond to intellectual challenge, especially the challenge of defending your own point of view?

And how do you find yourself—your true self—on your own?

These are not easily answered questions, and nobody should pretend otherwise. 

And so I urge you today take full advantage of what is offered here at George Washington University—offered here and nowhere else—to help find answers to those questions.

I'm a sophomore now. In my first year as president, I have seen many students grow intellectually and socially, and explore ideas and new worlds of thought.

I have seen lives transformed and potential realized.

But I have also seen that opportunity put at risk.

Allow me to give you a couple of reasons why:

When I was at my prior institution, my greatest fear most days was that one of our students would get hit by a car on US 1, a high-volume, high-speed highway right along campus.

Today, my greatest fear most days is that one of our students will get run over on social media.

Whatever social media allows for in the expression of self, it takes away the ability to experiment and debate and listen and make mistakes and fail and pick yourself up and move on. 

In short, it’s not like a campus at all. In fact, it is the opposite.

If you express an opinion in social media, you abandon the protections and considerations that are given to you on this campus.

Here, we expect you to experiment with the ideas of the world and sometimes fail spectacularly. We celebrate that and view it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.

Out there on social media, not so much. What you say will remain with you forever in the digital world.

On social media, very little is worth remembering, but nothing is forgotten.

So take the energy with which you might curate your social media accounts and persona, and pour that into the curation of your mind here on campus.

I also worry that you may seek personal and professional growth at the expense of taking full advantage of opportunities here on this campus.

I speak in this case of the off-campus internship.

These are highly sought after, and I’ve heard from more than a few students that getting an internship, particularly in public service here in D.C., is one of the primary reasons why you came to GW.

In fact, I’ve heard it said that if you haven’t gotten such an internship in your freshman year on this campus, you’re already behind.

That is simply not the case. And what’s worse: It misses the point of what we are  trying to do here.

There is great value in being on campus in the Nation’s Capital. But internships are only one part of that value.  

And in these months, these first few months of your college experience, an internship can be a distraction from the important work of laying a foundation for success here at GW. 

I urge you to use this first year carefully. Take the time to learn how to succeed in college and begin to build knowledge in your chosen field. 

Make friends, spend time with faculty, go to the Smithsonian. There are a thousand things you can do your first year at college that will build that foundation for success in the future.

And when it’s time to focus on internships, you will be better off for having waited.

And finally, I urge you to resist the natural inclination to put on intellectual blinders.

I urge you to look for opportunities to broaden your awareness of the world beyond your own experience…and to push yourself to take on subjects you now find alien—maybe a foreign language…maybe performance or fine arts …or maybe a club or intramural sport.

Listen to the signals of fields beyond your frame of reference.

You will never have so great an opportunity to explore them for the rest of your life as you will on this campus in the next four years.

Whether you take advantage of these opportunities is entirely up to you.

But I can assure you that these offerings are in your interest, and will support your decision to come to this campus, to learn here, to grow here, and to be a part of this community.

And so today, begin that journey with the spirit of service in your heart.

It is the beginning of a great journey for you. I wish you well, I look forward to being a part of that journey, and to growing in wisdom together.

You have my very best wishes for your time here at GW. Welcome.

Student Life