Thursday, September 5, 2013

Bateman challenges students to embrace liberal arts and pursue social justice in convocation

Randolph College rang in the new academic year on Tuesday with the largest first-year class in 28 years, a new president, and an audience of energized, cheering students, faculty, and staff. Smith Hall Theatre was filled with the traditional cheering and celebrating by the seniors and their sister class, the sophomores.

“This is absolutely the liveliest opening convocation I’ve ever been in, without a doubt,” said Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman.

Though the College faced challenges during its transition to coeducation, Bateman told the enthusiastic audience that it was a new day for Randolph College. “It's an exciting time to be behind the Red Brick Wall, and I think that this is an important moment in our history,” he said. “As a college, now is the time to define who we are and what we will be in the world.”

Jim Kwon ’14, student government president, compared the new school year to a journey, complete with goals, fun, but also bumps in the road. But it is worth the trip.

He reminded his fellow students of the great accomplishments of the College’s faculty, alumnae, and alumni. “This year, I would like to challenge Randolph to not only follow the footsteps of our great legacy, but perhaps outperform the legacy that we are proud of,” Kwon said.

Bateman challenged Randolph students to embrace the full experience of a liberal arts education like other Randolph students who went before them. “I don’t think there’s ever been a time when this kind of education has been more important,” he said.

Because of the economic transitions the world is experiencing, having a broad education and being adaptable are essential, he said. “We train people to think well, to communicate clearly, to work together in small groups. These are exactly the skills that are necessary in order to succeed in the world.”

The College prepares students for lives beyond their careers, Bateman said. “It prepares you for public service, and it prepares you for the pursuit of social justice.”

Bateman became emotional as he recounted how small, private liberal arts colleges have helped address difficult questions in American society and promoted freedom and equality for more people. He honored Randolph’s history as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, acknowledging the institution’s role in promoting women’s rights and its students efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.

But the fight for social justice and equality is not done. “There’s a lot of large work left to be done in the world, and what I really want to do today is call you to that work,” he said. “You will have many, many chances in your work, regardless of what you do, to make a difference, to speak out against wrong and to ask other people to do the right thing.”

Bateman encouraged them to promote equal rights and dignity for gays and lesbians, combat anti-intellectualism and the denial of science, and work to end poverty and hunger.

“I won't question your party affiliation, I won't question the ways that you want to get to social justice. We define that many different ways,” he said. “But the problems in the world that we face are clear, and you can’t turn your back on them. I believe that this faculty and your education will not let you do that.”

“All of us have a chance to leave our mark on Randolph College this year,” he added. “I hope you share my excitement in all that we can accomplish.”

Hear Bateman’s remarks here: