President Philip J. Hanlon ’77

Inaugural Address

President Philip J. Hanlon ’77

Thank you, President Kim.

You know, as a boy, growing-up in the Adirondack Mountains, one of my favorite TV shows was Hockey Night in Canada.

I used to watch it on those long winter nights and dream of someday hoisting the Stanley Cup high overhead like Bobby Orr.

My career as a mathematician somewhat dimmed the prospects that this would happen. But that image just came flooding back to me now when President Kim handed me the Wentworth Bowl.

And I can say to all of you that the Wentworth Bowl trumps the Stanley Cup every day of the week!

What a vista. Like so many Dartmouth alums, something stirs deep inside me whenever I see this hallowed Green, with Baker Library presiding majestically at its north end.

But today, to see all of you, the Dartmouth family filling its depth and breadth—this is a truly spectacular sight!

And I would not be here to witness it were it not for the help of many people—many more than I have time to recognize. But let me name just a few, starting with our trustees.

There are many things that I could tell you about the members of our Board of Trustees, about their accomplishments and accolades but today the most important thing for you to know is that they are all in for Dartmouth.

When they step into their trustee roles, they have only one thing on their minds and that's to make Dartmouth the best it can possibly be. In that, they inspire us all to do the same, and I thank them for placing their confidence in me.

I want to recognize my family and friends, especially those who have traveled here today. You are my strength and balance when things get—as they sometimes do in these jobs—a little crazy.

I particularly want to thank two groups: First, my distinguished Dartmouth classmates who are here with us today. We shared our most magical years of our lives right here in Hanover—and it’s hard to believe that was almost forty years ago.

And I want to thank all of you, who have traveled here from Ann Arbor, my former colleagues at the finest public university in the world—the University of Michigan.

I’m honored that Mary Sue Coleman agreed to introduce me today. She represents the pinnacle of leadership in higher education and she has taught me so much.

Most of all, thanks go to my family for their constant love and support: my children Michael, Maureen and Patrick, and especially my wife Gail—my most important partner in this new endeavor.

And now let me address the student body—you are the reason Dartmouth was founded—the reason we do this work.

To the Class of ’17 on your Convocation day; to your fellow undergraduates; and to our graduate students, I offer you my welcome, my appreciation, and a sort of editorial note about what brings us here today.

This ceremony we engage in, this inauguration—the pomp-and-circumstance and robe-and-ritual—please make no mistake: while it may give the appearance of being about an individual, it is not; it’s about an institution.

It is about this community of learners. It is not about me, or my esteemed predecessors in the Wheelock Succession. Today is about our sacred responsibility to you, the student body.

All of this—the very institution we serve—is about you.

The difference is, you don’t have to give a speech today!

But if history serves as an example, I expect that one of you may very well stand up here one day and take-up this mantle yourself.

Not too soon, I hope! But I do hope I’ll be present to hear you speak when that day comes. I will congratulate you. And I will remind you not to speak for too long!

The buildings that surround us, the grounds upon which we gather—this magnificent Northern New England setting—these are but a framing. It's the community—the students, faculty, staff, alumni—that defines Dartmouth.

Wherever you go from here, for the rest of your lives—from a struggling village in a remote land to a crowded concert hall; from a non-profit boardroom to an inner-city classroom; from the surgical suite to the executive suite—you are Dartmouth, more than any building or parcel of land.

Of course, when I say that this setting is but a framing, what an awesome framing it provides!

We are continually blessed that when Eleazar Wheelock sought out a place to locate his school, he chose this picturesque hill overlooking the Connecticut River. The natural beauty that surrounds us is timeless.

Yet, when I look on this gathering today, I can’t help but imagine what a contrast this is to another gathering that took place here many years ago—the graduation ceremony of 1771, the College’s first.

This would be notable as the only graduation ceremony in Dartmouth history that had to be drawn out longer than was necessary—there were only four graduates. Each was asked to give a speech. Then they were asked to sing a song.

You see, people had covered great distances over dangerous roads to view the ceremony—a simple handing-out of diplomas just would not do.

In the audience that day was Governor John Wentworth, who had himself braved a long, circuitous route to get here, camping several nights by the side of the road—something I know Governor Hassan would do for us today if duty called.

Governor Wentworth was so impressed—not necessarily by what he saw here, but by what he envisioned here—that upon returning to Portsmouth, he sent the fledgling school and the good reverend a gift. He sent a monteith—a silver bowl used for chilling wine glasses.

It was the kind of finery that a member of the nobility like Governor Wentworth might be accustomed to.

But on a rough-hewn campus like Dartmouth—where the smell of freshly-cut pine still clung to every beam and board—such a piece had no functional value whatsoever.

But what it lacked in functional value, the bowl made-up for as a symbol. While we tend to think of it as an icon of the past, for Governor Wentworth and Reverend Wheelock, the bowl represented the future—what Dartmouth might become. You might even say that it was a challenge to the reverend: the College would have to grow into the gift. And more than anything, it remains for us today a vessel of challenge.

So today, for only the eighteenth time in some 244 years, the Wentworth Bowl has been passed on, and I have accepted it—its tremendous legacy and challenges that come along with it. This is a moment for all of us to consider, once again, what Dartmouth might become.

We do so from a vantage point that Reverend Wheelock himself would have found unimaginable.

Today, Dartmouth is home to some of the most respected scholars and educators in the world, outstanding graduate and professional schools, and offers the premier undergraduate education in the country.

I will say that last bit again because it bears repeating: there is no finer undergraduate education anywhere than the one offered by Dartmouth College.

We have achieved this by never wavering in our belief that the unique community of learners which thrives in these woods exists not simply to empower our graduates to prosper, but to make the-world-beyond-the-woods a better place.

It was President James Wright who held that we must: “Recruit the best students, and provide a learning environment that encourages the confidence, capacity and character to assume responsible leadership of their generation.”

President Kim who urged us to strike a balance between the passionate commitment to make the world a better place, and the practical understanding of the complexities required to deliver global solutions.

And of course, many members of the Wheelock Succession, going all the way back to Reverend Wheelock himself, have furthered our mission to produce citizen-leaders in the most fundamental of ways—by teaching during their tenure as president.

I benefitted personally from this tradition when I took Math 20 from President John Kemeny. The man was a teacher at heart, and a brilliant one. And I’m committed to being part of this important tradition, and so I have signed-on to teach a section of Math 11 this term.

In fact, I met the class for the first time earlier this week, and I am delighted to report that President Kemeny’s grandson, Jean-Luc, is one of my students.

And Jean-Luc, whereever you are—you have my promise that I won’t be any harder on you than your grandfather was on me!

As with any community, dynamic forces shape us from within and without and indeed, the external context shaping higher education is changing more rapidly than ever before.

Increasingly, our graduates are working in small, nimble organizations. Whether they're working there or with corporate giants, students are required to have flexibility-of-mind and an eagerness to innovate.

Today’s workforce is exceptionally diverse, operating across the globe.

 So we must prepare our graduates to work effectively with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, equip them with cultural awareness, and cultural humility.

Information technology has transformed the way we live, and just as importantly, the way we learn and work.

In years past, a student went to college for access to information not otherwise available. Today, you simply open your laptop, and the world’s information is there, ready for you to go get it.

Providing a framework so that this blizzard of information is in some sort of context, this is knowledge. But the time is hard upon us when knowledge too will be widely available.

Eminent scholars and master teachers from the world’s great colleges and universities will deliver lectures—their special insights and clarity of thought—directly to your laptop and iPhone and Google glasses.

And this points to where higher education is needed now, more than ever—to provide wisdom. The ability to take all that you know, all that you have learned from a broad field of study, from Aristotle to Einstein to Whitman, and use all that to act effectively in the world.

With wisdom, our graduates are able to develop a set of values and have the integrity to act on them.

To engage in the great debates of our time, and indeed to lead these debates; to communicate powerfully, think critically; engage the arts and humanities while also being adept at numeracy and quantitative reasoning; and to have the confidence to innovate and take risks.

Increasingly, it is about what our graduates can do, rather than what they know.

Wisdom, in this sense, has always been the promise of the liberal arts, and more than ever before, the world demands that it remain at Dartmouth’s core.

We face these swift-moving currents against a backdrop of a national crisis of access and affordability in higher education.

The historic funding model for colleges and universities—where too often the cost of attendance grew at rates significantly above inflation—that model is unsustainable.

It’s our responsibility, along with every college and university in this land, to operate efficiently and effectively and assure access to all students, regardless of their financial circumstances. We owe it to them to meet this challenge.

So indeed, challenges abound, on many different fronts. But in them lie great opportunities. So let us put forth a call-to-action which I send to the entire Dartmouth community.

First, during this time of great change in higher education, let us commit to keeping Dartmouth at the very forefront of teaching and learning.

To instill wisdom in our students, we must fully-harness the power of experiential learning—learning by doing.

We must not only expand opportunities, but assure that students reflect on these experiences and take from them the most important lesson of higher education: that deep-thinking and the power of the intellect is their most potent tool in life.

When I was an undergrad, Dartmouth led the way by asking every student to embrace the power of computing.

Today, we must once again embrace the promise of new learning technologies, in part to reach a world-wide audience but more importantly, to enhance the teaching and learning taking place right here on this campus.

And let us fully leverage Dartmouth’s distinctive assets to enrich our educational work: our outstanding professional schools and this very unique setting.

The challenge I issue to my fellow faculty—among the finest educators and scholars in the world—is to embrace the timeless aspects of our disciplines and fields of study, while also seeking to reinvigorate them, by infusing experiential, technologically advanced methods into the learning experience.

Let us be bold. Let our work at Dartmouth be the leading edge of the art. Let us engage our students in ways we haven’t before, and let us be amazed at the results.

Second, let us grow the impact that our scholarly work has on the world. And let’s think big! Not just about today’s problems—let us have the vision and courage to imagine tomorrow’s problems and opportunities.

The most vexing problems facing mankind—sustaining the environment, battling poverty and disease, building an efficient health care delivery system—these are complex and multifaceted.

They require deep-thinking and the broad range of perspectives that a place like Dartmouth has to offer.

And our colleagues offer us proof that our scholars are making a difference.

Consider Jack Wennberg, professor of The Dartmouth Institute, and his colleagues all across Dartmouth, who had the foresight to build the foundation upon which our nation will transform health care delivery.

Or Michael Casey, the James Wright Professor of Music, who is using brain scan technology to generate original music composition, a potentially transformative synthesis of art and science.

In our scholarly work, let us create new knowledge that reaches across disciplines and around the globe because complex problems, those of the world, ignore both academic and national boundaries.

To help us achieve this, we are poised to make the largest-ever investment in Dartmouth’s academic enterprise over the next decade growing faculty around areas of impact, building new programs, expanding the reach of our education and the impact of our scholarship.

Intellectual energy—the excitement of new ideas—is a necessary ingredient for this.

To this end, I am pleased to announce today, that we will make a dramatic investment in the future by creating a Society of Fellows program that will bring dozens of highly qualified postdoctoral fellows to our campus.

They will be chosen from across the full range of academic disciplines, and allowed the time and mentorship to develop their research and gain diverse scholarly perspectives from our faculty. They will learn the art of teaching from the true masters on this campus, while bringing to Dartmouth their own unique passions and innovation.

And innovation is certainly not limited to the faculty. The initiative shown by our students provides endless inspiration.

I’m put in mind of Branko Cerny, Class of ’13, who as publisher of The Daily Dartmouth was overwhelmed by the volume of e-mail he received. I expect we can all relate!

Branko joined with fellow Dartmouth students Sang Lee and James Mock to create a solution—they’ve founded a company called SquareOne Mail which provides a mobile personal assistant for prioritizing your in-box.

All I can say is, “Sign me up yesterday!”

Student innovation is a well of unlimited creativity and potential on this campus, and one we must nurture.

So I am proud to announce today we are creating an Innovation Center and New Venture Incubator, to provide vital resources to student entrepreneurs.

Whether they are interested in business start-ups or social ventures, this facility will give them a world-class entrepreneurial competency, delivered by faculty and staff from across the campus as well as Dartmouth alumni around the world.

We will push these students. We will push them to take-on the world’s problems and embrace the world’s opportunities with ideas and approaches as yet unimagined.

Truly, our students are the heart of our community, so for them too, I put forth a call-to-action. Before we can change the world, we must be the strongest that we can possibly be.

Over the past nine months, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with students, faculty, alumni, and staff. I’ve listened to and learned from you what is working well and where we need to do better.

One message stands out amongst all—what makes Dartmouth special is its community. Such a diverse, talented group assembled in this beautiful and intimate place, and the opportunity to work with and learn from each other. This is nothing short of a treasure.

Our community is strongest when we are open, safe, inclusive, and welcoming to all.

Like all college campuses, Dartmouth has struggled with the challenges of sexual violence, high-risk drinking, and campus climate. These things weaken us. They undermine our community, the very thing we hold most precious.

We must be a leader in crafting solutions to these problems, so that the Dartmouth experience remains as vibrant and special as it always has been. We will do this. We must do this.

So I challenge all of our students to consider, with every action you take on this campus, whether you are strengthening our community, or undermining it. You must always choose to strengthen it and you must hold this commitment dearer than any other.

All of this—the great work before us—will take tremendous effort and vision. We will do this work—we can only do it, together. Faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, we can learn from the African proverb which says: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Together, we are going to carry Dartmouth a very long way.

Now, just as I began with a word to our students, let me conclude with a Convocation message to the Class of ’17.

I mentioned John Kemeny. He was a man I looked up to, one of my heroes. He was a mathematician, an academic, a teacher, and the president of this College.

And I will always remember President Kemeny’s challenge to his students, his challenge “to make the world better.”

Of course, being a math guy myself, when I think of that challenge, I hear echoes of Archimedes: “Give me a lever and a fulcrum on which to rest it, and I shall move the world.”

You see, mathematicians think big!

And Class of ’17, I want you to think big as well! So let me offer my own challenge.

That challenge is to find something at Dartmouth—something more than a diploma or even a lifetime of great memories. I want you to find your lever.

By earning a spot in such a selective class, you’ve already proven to your parents and your teachers and to me that you have what it takes to make a difference. Expectations are high because the challenges are so great.

Find your lever—that special way you will make a difference.

I pledge to help you. We’re all going to help you, because the length and strength of that lever are measured in terms of your education. It will be the most powerful tool that you carry through life.

Let this community of unequaled promise be the foothold from which you aspire to do great things, like so many alumni before you. Your contribution will be unique and significant and let it begin today.

For all of us in this treasured community, let us seek to move the world in our own unique way and let us begin today.

Thank you very much.