Elms Essentials for Fall 2020

Below is a transcript of President Dumay’s speech welcoming new students to the fall 2020 semester.

Good morning.

It’s great to see all of you this morning. Welcome to the beginning of your academic career.

Today you are learning about Elms Essentials, information that perhaps will help you draw the maximum out of your college experience.

President Dumay speaking at Elms Essentials 2020

College life is marked by a number of traditions. For us at Elms College, this rendezvous with the freshman class in Veritas Auditorium, before you begin your classes in earnest, is one of those traditions. Regardless of your major or  interest, the Freshman Seminar serves as one of the foundational shared learning experiences for all Elms College students. And Elms Essentials serves as an introduction to your Freshman Seminar.

Your faculty and staff have put much thought into determining what should be your common bond, as individuals who have had the Elms Experience. What should be your common knowledge, common thinking? What will you remind each other of, when you meet some time in the future, decades after having been in this freshman class together?

By exposing you to a Common Read, by inviting you to focus on one theme of the Catholic Social Teachings, and by guiding you to reflect on that theme through the year, your faculty members are providing you with an intellectual orientation to our specific brand of education, that which, going forward, you will have in common with each other: studies in the liberal arts that prepare you for a profession, in the tradition and legacy of the Sisters of St. Joseph.

President Dumay speaking at Elms Essentials 2020

As I just mentioned, the rhythm of College life is punctuated by traditions. But this year, we are all creating new traditions together- hopefully not for the longer term. Previous classes did not sit six feet apart and did not enter Veritas Auditorium with a face mask. Welcome to College life in the age of COVID-19!

I hope that you will not tire of seeing the signs reminding you to take all safety measures and to remain vigilant. Because the COVID19 virus is serious; abiding by safety measures is critically important. Simply put, it is the only condition by which we will continue to enjoy our physical community of learners and scholars.

As important as it is to remain safe, the primary reason for which you came to Elms College is not to be safe from COVID19. We have put all these safety elements into place, precisely so that you can achieve your primary purpose for being here. As you heard me say during my Blazer Day remarks, according to Andrew DelBlanco, you are here for three reasons: to discover your passion and pursue it as far as your talents allow; to participate in a rehearsal space for democracy by meeting and appreciating peers whose perspective on the world differs from your own, and to prepare yourself for a life of meaning and purpose.

Your Common Read for this year is Trevor Noah’s book “Born a Crime.” When your faculty members chose this book, back in April 2020, they could not have foreseen the context into which you would be reading it.

In April, Jacob Blake had not yet been shot seven times in the back. That only happened less than two weeks ago on August 23.  When they selected this book as a common read, George Floyd had not yet been murdered in plain sight. That only happened on May 25. When they selected the book, the murders of Ahmaud Arberry, which took place on February 23 and that of Breonna Taylor, which happened on March 13, 2020 were not constantly in the news.

Trevor Noah’s autobiography, which describes his upbringing in Apartheid South Africa, decades ago and half a world away may be in a different context and may have a different plot. What it has in common with those contemporary American stories that I just mentioned is the backdrop of a system that values some people’s existence as less worthy than others, a world that views some lives as mattering less than others. The movement that is currently sweeping across American streets is demanding for society to recognize in structures and laws that all of God’s children have equal value and worth.

This is the context in which you are reading Trevor Noah’s book. Whether you are Asian, Black, Latinx, or White, I hope that reading the book makes you a little uncomfortable. I hope that the conversations that you will have about it, guided by the Catholic Social Teaching theme of Option for the Poor and Vulnerable, take you out of your comfort zone- not in an aggressive and antagonistic way but in a good way. For, you will only achieve growth if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone.

When the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph was founded in 17th Century, France, few women received an education. Jean Pierre Medaille, a Jesuit priest who was a spiritual counselor to the Sisters, wrote some simple phrases that they could easily remember. Those phrases, which are known as the Maxims, would serve as spiritual and moral guides for the Sisters.

As you read Trevor Noah’s book and as you have conversations that are hopefully uncomfortable but allow you to have personal breakthroughs, I invite you to remember Maxim 11:

“Respect others and value highly the good in them. Walk with them and grow in justice and goodness together.” 

Class of 2024, you are beginning your college careers in very heavy and consequential times. The reality of COVID19 is inescapable. Most of us know someone who has been seriously -if not fatally- affected by the pandemic. We are in an economically difficult time for many families- may be your own. Millions have lost their jobs. Race relations and important cultural issues in our society are constantly used as sources of division.

But you are the future. And your idealism and energy give all of us so much hope. Here at Elms College, let us pledge to be the example of a community in which differences are embraced and valued. Let us serve as that rehearsal space for democracy where we treat everyone, even those with whom we vehemently disagree, with the outmost respect.

College is about openness to new ideas, new cultures, and new people. The word “collegiality” evokes the ideal of unity, collaboration, and solidarity rather than divisiveness, mistrust, and hostility.  

Class of 2024, as you journey through this year and through your academic career, may Maxim 11 remains a guide for you:

“Respect others and value highly the good in them. Walk with them and grow in justice and goodness together.”

May that be the common bond that you form here, at Elms College.

I wish you a wonderful academic year and a wonderful college career!

Harry E. Dumay, Ph.D., MBA
President of Elms College
Tuesday, September 1, 2020