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Though yesterday's weather was damp and dispiriting, President Christina Paxson's Convocation address roused the class of 2016 as she welcomed them to Brown's 249th academic year.

The weather forced the address from the Main Green to the Pizzitola Center, and the traditional first-year walk through the Van Wickle Gates was postponed until today.

"Even though I've only been here for a few months, I've found that Brown already has a very special place in my heart - for its people, its history and its values," Paxson said in her opening remarks.

Paxson encouraged the 1,541 members of the incoming class to approach their first year with "constructive irreverence," which she praised as Brown's "distinctive approach to learning and to life."

This irreverence is defined by an ability to think independently but also to give established ideas and people "the respect that they are entitled to," Paxson said.

"We give our undergraduates unparalleled independence, but we don't confuse liberty with license," Paxson said. "Our belief is that a combination of freedom and responsibility will let you cultivate the habits of mind that lead to a lifetime of intellectual development and social engagement."

Paxson stressed that students must be open to new people and especially to new opinions in order to enrich their educational experience and exploit opportunities for personal growth.

Paxson said she hopes that after four years at Brown,  the incoming class will be prepared to "change a world that too often resists change and too often tolerates the intolerable."

As first-years take on the challenges of college life, the administration will aim to take on the difficulties of new technologies, changing times and society's growing concerns about the value of higher education with "the same creativity, openness and thoughtfulness" that is expected of the students, Paxson said.

Brown's tendency towards constructive irreverence, Paxson said, has roots in the University's earliest days. She noted that at the time of Brown's founding, Rhode Island's colonial charter insisted that no one be punished for his or her religious views. "If anything defined Rhode Island at all, it was simply that everyone had the same right to constructive irreverence." 

Paxson said the required reading for first-years, "Sons of Providence," helped her appreciate "how deeply Brown's origins have shaped the University we see today."

In light of NASA's Curiosity rover's recent landing on Mars, Paxson highlighted the involvement of Brown scientists in that achievement. Paxson used the rover as a metaphor for the exploratory journey of the first-year students. "I am giving you your official invitation to rove," she said.

"The world needs constructive irreverence, and specifically, it needs you," Paxson said in closing her remarks.

Incoming students were inspired by the speech, which for many was an introduction to Paxson.

Alissa Rhee '16 noted that Paxson "seems like she has the same mentality as the Brown community."

For Son Tran Tuan '16, the past few days have been not only his first at Brown but also his first in the United States. Tuan said he believes Paxson is "going to do a great job," noting that she visited personally with him while interacting with incoming international students.

Evert Justice Finger '16 said Paxson's appointment "brought a little more excitement" to the prospect of coming to Brown.

"I'm coming in as a new person, and she is as well, so we're going through that adjustment together," Finger said.


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