President-elect Greene delivers Opening Convocation address: “Georgetown Proud”

GEORGETOWN, KY - Georgetown College was honored to have President-elect M. Dwaine Greene on campus for Opening Convocation in John L. Hill Chapel on Tuesday, August 27.

An enthusiastic, overflow crowd heard Dr. Greene speak of Georgetown College traditions and accomplishments through the years as reasons for all to be  “Georgetown Proud.” He lauded the college for bringing together people from a wide variety of backgrounds, including faculty and students, mentioning, too, that many instructors come from stellar academic backgrounds. He also told the assemblage that he is looking forward with “great optimism and great joy” to future accomplishments together and that he is “honored to be your president-elect.”

The complete text of President-elect Greene’s remarks follow.

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Convocation Address:  ‘Georgetown Proud’
Georgetown College
August 27, 2013
Dwaine Greene, President- Elect 

Acting President Blevins, Provost Allen, Faculty and Staff Colleagues, Students, Distinguished Guests, Friends of Georgetown College — to you all —Greetings!  For every person in this beautiful Chapel, there has been a path in your life which has brought you to this point.  I celebrate that thought today with every one of you, knowing that it has taken a lifetime to shape you into who you are today.  As I celebrate with you, I affirm those life experiences.  And I shall look forward in the weeks and months ahead, to sitting with you and hearing those stories, and getting to know you, and enjoying those relationships as they grow.

Today holds special significance for me, in that it is the first time that I am privileged to address this college body as its president elect.  There has, indeed, been quite a journey which has brought me here.  Many of the turns along that way have been chronicled on the college website and other public pieces.  But I want on this opening occasion to affirm in a most definitive way how honored I am to have been selected as the 24th president of Georgetown College, and how pleased I am soon to be joining you here at Georgetown.  Today is a day of introducing, and convening, and celebrating, and I am thrilled to be with you for such a joyous occasion.  It is the case that prior commitments will take me away for just a brief time.  But I will return, and on October 21st I will begin my service as president.

I must say that this has been a whirlwind of a month.  During its course, and in different settings and ceremonies, I have welcomed 121 new law students, 162 medical students, 108 new pharmacy students, 44 new students in a physician assistant program, dozens of other master’s level students, and over 1,000 new undergraduates  —– yet all of those have been at a university in North Carolina!  But I must say, that of all the students I have greeted, this group today at Georgetown College in Kentucky is the most special to me!

For the new students, we share the distinction of beginning together.  For all of the students, I want to thank you for choosing Georgetown College.  You are bright and talented young people who had opportunities to attend other colleges.  There are well over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country which you could have chosen. The fact that you selected Georgetown is not lost on us at all.  We deeply appreciate that choice, and we will do everything in our power to help make your stay enjoyable and successful.

I want you to know that underneath this robe is an orange and black tie.  It is amusingly coincidental that of all the colleges and universities in this country I come to Georgetown from an institution whose colors are orange and black, so I have a wardrobe already in place for the Georgetown presidency.  And I come from a state where blue and white are also strong university colors.  But I am long accustomed to regarding all colors as simply shades of orange.  So you will see me proudly wearing orange and black on many, many occasions.  Today I wear these colors in honor of you, and of our joining together here at Georgetown College.

As for a mascot, I am thrilled to be identified with the ‘tiger!’  I was an athlete in college, and from my student days as an athlete, to my years as a Provost, I have labored to understand, and then explain, how a ‘camel’ is a suitable mascot.  (Note:  What I am referencing here is that the mascot of Campbell University where I am coming from is a camel.)  It has been quite a chore to rationalize that something which looks like a camel, which has large padded feet and humps, and is known for drinking a lot of water, for having torturously slow reaction times, and whose appearance when it runs is virtually comedic, —- for that image to somehow represent athletic strength and prowess simply defies all explanations!  So I am elated to shift from the ‘camel’ symbol, and now stand as a proud ‘tiger.’

Let’s covenant together that the theme of this year, 2013-2014, will be the theme ‘Georgetown Proud!’  There are such traditions and accomplishments here that there is every reason to be proud.  The historic achievements of Georgetown College are well documented.  But I have also been reviewing recent achievements, and, I must say, they are most impressive!   There are faculty members who are presenting and publishing the results of their research, they are mentoring students in research across many fields, I see the addition of a biochemistry major, I see graduates from a chemistry program approved by the American Chemical Society, I see achievements in music and theater, I see the commitment to religious life on campus expanding, as well as a recommitment to service, I see successes in athletics across almost every sport – including a national championship in basketball, coaches of the year,  All-Conference Awards as well as Academic All-Americans, and on and on it goes  So let’s lift our thoughts high in affirming these achievements, and begin this year with Georgetown pride that has been well-earned!

Let me speak to another reason for Georgetown pride, and come at this one from a bit different direction. Academically, my specialty training is as a scholar of New Testament and Early Christianity. For 27 years I have taught, either full-time or part-time, on subjects associated with religion, especially biblical studies.  But one of my reading interests through the years has been in the field of theoretical physics.  Over 25 years ago I was intrigued by a book entitled, A Brief History of Time, written by Stephen Hawking, who is the former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and is now Director of Research at its Center for Theoretical Cosmology.  He is recognized as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Albert Einstein.  In more recent years, I enjoyed reading Hawking’s book entitled, The Universe in a Nutshell.  In that book he continues his quest to unravel the mysteries of time and the universe.  He asks such questions as:  a) Has the universe had more than one history?   b) Is time real or imaginary?  c) Is time travel possible?  d) Is the universe infinite, or just very large?  e) Could an advanced civilization go back and change the past?

Hawking is aware that the universe is expanding, that space goes on and on and on, that space and time are integrally connected and that they are curved by physical matter in the galaxies, that we can capture evidence of billions and billions of galaxies containing untold billions of stars which have untold billions of planets around them.  We live on a planet orbiting a star which is in an outer arm of the spiral galaxy named ‘The Milky Way.’  But as the thesis of his book, Hawking appeals to a Shakespeare line on the lips of Hamlet, who says:  I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2).  It is like being inside a pecan, or a walnut, or a brazil nut, but with that tiny nut encapsulating everything in the universe.  What an intriguing notion!

Now, let’s use that image to think of Georgetown.  Here we sit in north-central Kentucky, in only the 26th most populous state in our nation (ca. 4.3 million), and yet the world and its perspectives are present here on the campus of Georgetown College.  This fall semester we have hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students drawn from many states; we have a nice blend of female and male students; in our student body we have a number of countries represented.  In this broad population there is witness to various cultures, traditions, experiences, social practices, religious perspectives, spoken languages, etc.  All of this is here, in one location.  In its cumulative breadth, it is an impressive, even stunning, picture!

And it is not only with our students, but the world also resides in the minds and attitudes and experiences of the Georgetown faculty.  Our faculty colleagues have been trained at some of the finest universities in the United States and around the world.  One can easily list dozens of different universities from which the Georgetown faculty have earned advanced degrees.  We can easily be in conversation with faculty who are skilled intellectuals in biochemistry, world literature, church history, economic systems, educational pedagogy, cell biology, organic chemistry, developmental psychology, Spanish civilization, American history, modern political thought, and dozens and dozens of other topics.  Again, it is all here, in this one location. Truly, the world comes to Georgetown!  This is our community.  It is a world community, and a college community of which we can be justly proud.

As I see it, Georgetown pursues a mission to prepare students for productive lives, and in that preparation to foster a high level of academic performance, an appreciation of Christian faith and values, and the exercise of responsible citizenship.  This worthy mission is pursued in a caring environment which respects diverse experiences and perspectives.

This mission is worthy of being pursued with zeal, devotion, and a joyous spirit, no matter what obstacles have to be traversed.  We are extraordinarily blessed to be a part of that endeavor.  As a college, we are privileged beyond most in our culture.  We have fine friends and colleagues, we have the freedom to follow our intellectual and professional bliss, we engage in a context where faith and academic pursuits are embraced as complementary, and we work in a context where the end reaches beyond ourselves, specifically, we strive to improve the lives of other people.  What an humbling ambition, and what a marvelous blessing!  That is what has drawn me to Georgetown College, and I hope it is what enlivens you, as you pursue your involvements during this year.

It is likely that as you go about your tasks, you will face difficult challenges. Through the years, I have asked many students what they felt was the most difficult class they had taken.  Of course, I have heard a range of responses, but a few tend to show up with some regularity, e.g., physical chemistry, immunology, calculus III, constitutional law, modern theology and philosophy, law and economics, and the list goes on.  For me, the most demanding undergraduate class was one I experienced during my first semester in college.  I had selected a college based on where I was headed to play baseball, rather than on which major I wanted to pursue.  My first academic adviser suggested that since I had to pursue preparation in a language in order to meet a core requirement, and since the Spanish and French introductory courses were already filled, that I should enroll in Greek grammar.  As an 18-year-old freshman who had seldom been away from home, and who knew very little about college demands, I was as trusting and naïve as you can imagine:  my adviser said I needed to take a course, so I assumed I needed to take it.  Little did I know that I was soon to be engaged in an experience which would transform my life.

The Greek course in which I was placed was Classical Greek Grammar.  For those of you in the know, it was not the so-called ‘baby Greek,’ that is the ‘koine’ Greek which is much simpler to grasp.  But it was a rigorous introduction to classical Greek, taught by a grizzled, elderly man who for 30 years had been chairman of the Classics Department at Wake Forest University.  The man’s name itself was memorable – Cronje Burnford Earp – and I honor him by calling his name today on the campus of Georgetown College; for, just as the best professors here, he embodied the absolute apex of what demanding academic preparation required – and he did it his way.  It was not easy to survive his class, and many students who tried, did not.  For example, in my first class under him, we began with 48 students.  When the course ended, less than half of us were left; the rest had either voluntarily withdrawn, or been dismissed, which he would do quickly should any student’s performance slip below his expectations.

Dr. Earp’s demands were rigorous.  As major test days arrived, stress levels rose.  Typically, students would arrive early to give a last minute review of details.  As Dr. Earp would enter the room he would view a class of students studying, sweating, and praying to the Almighty for assistance.  On such occasions, Dr. Earp’s remark was his famous, “Don’t expect God to do for you what he gives you the ability to do for yourself!”  I was only later to learn that such pointed advice is rooted in Judeo-Christian tradition, and in the philosophies of many cultures.  But to me, it was what my professor said, even though it seemed harsh, as it came from a man of deep Christian conviction.  Of course, what Dr. Earp was reinforcing was the indissoluble Christian paradigm of believing and doing, of faith and works, of words and efforts, of thinking and acting responsibly.  As an 18-year-old trying to adjust to college-level expectations, that advice was blunt, but it was some of the best I would ever receive.

It was to stand me in good stead through the rest of my undergraduate and graduate years, then on through 27 years as a faculty member and administrator in higher education.  Its point is similar to one made years later by a gifted mountaineer of whom I was aware; a man who was a teacher, a preacher, an administrator, and a minister.  This man’s name was Dr. Ben Fisher, a man who was highly regarded in Baptist circles in the 1950’s through the 1980’s.  (The story is from his Mountain Preacher Stories:  Laughter Among the Trumpets.)  Dr. Fisher told of an old mountain preacher who was frustrated with his congregation over their hesitancy to go into debt in order to have money for much-needed improvements to their church building.  They needed some more Sunday School rooms, a church steeple and bell, some rather significant renovations, etc.  The church members had been raising money, but it was coming way too slowly, and the preacher was getting frustrated.

One Sunday, the preacher informed the congregation that it was time to roll up their sleeves and get to work.  The image he presented to them for this effort was the image of climbing an oak tree.  He said:  “You know, there are just two ways to climb an oak tree.  You can wrap your arms and legs around that rough, scaly bark, and work at it; and when you get to the top, you may have lost a little of your hide, but the view will be pretty, and you’ll be proud you’re up there.”  “Or,” he said, “you can plant an acorn and sit on it.”  (p. 58).

In this year ahead, whether you are a student, a faculty member, a staff member, or an administrator, the year will have plenty of challenges which may test us a bit.  But be assured, God will bless our effort, our journey, and our destination!

Once again, I am thrilled to be with you.  I am honored to be your president-elect.  And I look forward with great optimism and great joy to what we will accomplish together.  We have a good beginning.  God bless you now as the coming weeks unfold.  Thank you very much!

D. Greene



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