WOOSTER, Ohio – The honorable Solomon Oliver Jr. ’69 identified three “notions” undergraduates should undertake – make a deep connection with a faculty mentor, complete a substantial academic project, and play a significant role in a student organization – which will lead to “fulfilling” lives during the keynote address of Thursday’s Convocation, the official opening of the 149th academic year at The College of Wooster.
The good news, Oliver noted, for the hundreds of students in attendance at McGaw Chapel: two of those are essentially “built into the fabric” at Wooster, where the curriculum culminates with Independent Study (I.S.), a year-long project in which each student works one-on-one with a faculty adviser to create an original piece of research, scholarship, or creative expression.
Oliver, a recent recipient of the Robert J. Kutak Award from the American Bar Association who served as the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio from 2010-17 and continues as an active judge there, first welcomed the “richly diverse” Class of 2022 and assured the group that “it’s the mission of this College to prepare all of its students in a way which will equip them to be leaders.”
After a rundown of his amazing life journey, from growing up in Alabama during the civil rights movement to transferring to Wooster to his highly successful career as a practicing lawyer, legal educator, and member of the judiciary, Oliver underscored three “notions” for collegiate success. I.S. he let speak for itself and he urged students to not “sit idly by … find some way to get involved that will enhance your experience” in reference to playing a role in a student organization, while he spent the most time on the importance of mentorship.
Oliver instructed students to make it their responsibility to “take the time with a fine faculty mentor (or more than one) who will be there for you” and the dividend of that relationship will pay off in many forms. “The whole notion is to have a nurturing environment in which to learn and grow, so that you can move beyond these walls to live challenging and fulfilling lives. The faculty are going to play a large role in that,” he said.
Oliver, of course, spoke from experience, and fittingly, he closed with a quote from one of his own mentors, the late Ted Williams, a revered member of the chemistry faculty from 1959-2001. Williams often said, “Education is not a spectator sport.”
Sarah Bolton, entering her third year as president of Wooster, made that point in her own remarks to open Convocation. Reflecting on the nation’s current challenging political climate, she asked the audience to engage with the hard questions that matter most, which includes “Who will we be?”
As the result of many engaging dialogues on campus over the past year, Bolton answered. “Together, we have reaffirmed the absolute necessity to our mission of being a global, diverse, equitable, and welcoming community. We have advocated, both at Wooster and on the national stage, for the policies necessary to make that possible, and we have moved our campus forward because we know that diversity and excellence are inextricably linked.”
Also helping open the 2018-19 academic year were student leaders Monet Davis, D’Khorvillyn Tyus, and Christian Betre. Davis, as president of the Student Government Association, encouraged activism. Tyus, the president of the Black Student Association, inspired the first-years “to lean into that uncomfortability because you’ll never know where it will take you.” Gratitude was the theme for Betre, an international student representative on Campus Council, explaining in metaphorical form that “someone held the door open for her (four years ago), and now she leaves the Class of 2022 this door open.”