University News

In welcome, Simmons calls for ‘honorable discourse’

By
Metro Editor
Monday, August 30, 2010

It was with compassion, spirit and a challenge that President Ruth Simmons welcomed the class of 2014 Sunday afternoon.

With the temperature hovering around 90 degrees, students and parents opted for chairs in the shade. “I notice that from time to time some of you get up and find your way to the lemonade stand,” Simmons said to the crowd. “The next one who goes, bring one back for me, please.”

She encouraged members of the University’s “best class ever” to avoid over-committing their time — to find time to reflect. “Happily, the era of daydreaming is not over as of yet,” she said. “Find a comfortable chair. … Grow comfortable with uncommitted time.”

But she also directed the 1,503 members of the class of 2014 to contribute meaningfully to the community. “I ask that you expect and respect the fragility of the bonds of community life, and that you work with us to strengthen and restore these bonds when they are frayed,” she said.

Freedom of expression must be a part of this community, she said, and students must be prepared for and open to dissenting opinion.

She exhorted the incoming students to challenge what she deemed a modern “erosion of honorable discourse.”

“I suppose you watch, as I do, the discourse in our own country. And you must be frustrated, as I am from time to time, that we don’t seem able to reach across the aisle,” she said. “This may be the best opportunity to enlarge what you know about the human spirit.”

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron and Undergraduate Council of Students President Diane Mokoro ’11 also spoke, encouraging students to take advantage of every moment as an opportunity to learn and to approach the next four years with openness and a free spirit. “We chose you. Thank you for choosing us. And welcome to Brown University,” Mokoro said.

Bergeron drew connections to “The Dew Breaker,” a novel by Edwidge Danticat MFA’93. Freshmen read the novel — which chronicles Haitian expatriates living in New York in the late 20th century — over the summer, and will participate in small group discussions Monday.

The President’s welcome falls on the second of ten days of the official orientation period, which stretches through Labor Day on Sept. 6.

This year’s orientation schedule is similar to that of years past, with some changes to smaller events, said Associate Dean of Student Life Kisa Takesue ’88, who is orientation coordinator.

Events and activities are aimed at introducing new students to the University and its community, she said, including elements of extracurricular activities, the educational philosophy of the Open Curriculum and student life on campus.

But orientation is important socially, as well, said Eleanor Smith ’11, an Orientation Welcoming Committee chair.

Parents were encouraged to leave their children following Simmons’ address yesterday afternoon.

There have been no major hitches so far, and the first night’s ice cream social went smoothly, Smith said.

Heidi Caldwell ’14 arrived last Tuesday to begin training for the cross country team. “It’s been nice to finally get into the dining hall,” she said. First-years ate in the Sharpe Refectory for the first time with their freshman units Sunday evening.

The first day’s orientation exceeded the expectations of at least one freshman. “Forced bonding never sounds that attractive,” said Maria Mastanduno ’14. “But so far, it’s been very good.”

Her father, Mark Mastanduno P’14, agreed.