May the Memories Never Die; May the Flowers Ever Grow
The Speech of President Michael B. Alexander
On the Occasion of his Investiture as
The Ninth President of Lasell College
April 4, 2008
What sound is sweeter than the patter of rain on the windows in spring or the laughter of children in the house?
- Mayor Cohen, thank you for coming and supporting the idea that Lasell and its neighbors can work together to improve our common environs.
- Chairman Turner, thank you for being the good partner every President needs.
- Members of the Boards of Trustees, Overseers and Corporators, thank you for choosing me for this position and making my professional dream come true.
- President Noonan, thank you for setting me back on the path that led to this day.
- Adelaide Van Winkle, thank you for your friendship and for making this event special.
- Reverend Asinger, thank you for your spiritual guidance in a confusing world.
- President Bacow and delegates, thank you for sharing a dedication to the grand purposes of a higher education.
- Professor Carlson and the Faculty of Lasell College, thank you for offering your talents to fulfill the promise of Lasell.
- Vice President Winter and the staff of Lasell, thank you for welcoming me into your midst with such warmth.
- Amanda Miller and the undergraduates of Lasell, thank you for your smiles and your infectious optimism.
- Jennifer Pope and the graduate students of Lasell, thank you for bringing maturity and experience to our campus.
- Urit Chaimovitz and the alumni of Lasell, thank you for your enduring affection for your alma mater.
- Freddy Frankel and the residents of Lasell Village, thank you for showing us the meaning of excellence and the value of lifelong learning.
- Magdalena Gomez, thank you for that beautiful and thought-provoking performance.
- Michael Belle, thank you for that glorious song.
- Members of the Senior Management Team, thank you for being just that – great teammates.
- Manuel Monteiro and my family, friends and classmates, thank you for your love, your humor, your loyalty and for making me what I am today.
- Mom, thank you for your trust, your competence and your nurturing.
- Maggie, thank you for your goodness.
- And Mary Barbara, thank you for…for – well, if I start to list the things for which I owe you thanks this speech will be a very long one, so let me just say, thank you for coming up to me on that day 41 years and two days ago, looking me straight in the eye and saying, “Hi, who are you?”
Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a good day for remembering. For memories are the rich loamy soil from which new flowers bloom. It is a day for remembering that Dr. King faced a daunting, uncertain future without fear or trepidation. That he sought peace in a turbulent world. That he dreamed of a brighter future for all the peoples of the world. In our day as in Dr King’s, we face great challenges. In its simplest form, our challenge is to make the world right for our children. Facing this challenge is not a choice; it is not an option. It is something we must do, or we will not survive.
I believe that the basic imperatives of our day are the imperatives of parents:
- To protect all our children – provide for their safety, health and physical and mental well-being;
- To love all of our children without condition or distinction with regard to gender, race, religion, ethnicity, social or economic standing, nationalism or geography; and
- To give all our children the opportunity to learn -- to educate our children in the ways of the world, its peoples, its cultures, its wonders, its beauty, its history, its treasures.
To protect our children, it will be necessary, among other things, to eliminate wars and slavery, to slow the growth of the human population, and to cease the brutalization of the planet which is our home.
To love our children, it will be necessary, among other things, to eliminate prejudice, racism, and sexism, to learn to disregard – no, rather to appreciate – the petty differences between us.
But of the three global imperatives, the greatest is education, for an educated populace will have the tools, the knowledge, the wisdom to protect our children and the world in which they must reside, to love all the world’s children as if they were our own and to pass on these tools, this knowledge and this wisdom to subsequent generations.
It is this third task, and the drive to participate in making it a reality, that is the reason, the purpose for the existence of Lasell College. On this day for remembering we would do well to recall the collective memories of this venerable institution. Edward Lasell founded this school in 1851 -- a year before Tufts, Larry -- and it has operated continuously on this site ever since. His idea was to create a school for the education of young women that would combine a liberal arts education with training for a profession. Today Lasell College is a non-sectarian baccalaureate and graduate institution, growing in size and distinction, offering an education for women and men that is both practical and intellectual. Its purpose is stated in the College’s Mission Statement, which grew out of the Strategic Planning process in which the whole Lasell Community participated last fall.
“Lasell College integrates challenging coursework and practical experience in an environment that fosters lifelong intellectual exploration, active citizenship and social responsibility.”
The first part of this sentence reflects Edward Lasell’s original concept and points to the thing that distinguishes Lasell College from other small colleges. Here at Lasell we work hard to infuse practical experience into every program and into every course possible. We expect our students to gain experience every day. This is what we mean when we say “Where the Classroom is the Real World”; we are referring to the application of a consistent educational philosophy across the curriculum, a philosophy that goes beyond internships and service learning and extends “learning by doing” back into the classroom.
The second half of the Mission Statement reminds us of the College’s role in addressing the imperatives of the day which I listed a few moments ago. We expect our graduates to have gained the habit of intellectual curiosity that leads to a lifetime of learning and the ability to adapt to a changing and uncertain world.
We also are in the business of preparing our students to be global citizens who will contribute to the protection, love and learning of all the world’s children, including their own. This goal is manifest in our general education program: we insist that students build a broad base for their intellectual development, including an exposure to the multitude of peoples and cultures of the world and to the moral and ethical dilemmas we face in modern society.
And on our campus, issues of social justice are constantly a part of the conversation. It is part of our challenge as educators to help our students think critically about the world and society and to prepare them to meet the imperatives of protecting, loving and teaching the living beings with whom we share the planet.
Edward Lasell had the idea. Then he died six months after the school opened. The concept and the school were nurtured by those who followed, notably Charles Bragdon and Guy Winslow who together served Lasell for more than seven decades. Together these long-time leaders cultivated the soil from which healthy flowers grew. Through the 1950s, Lasell had a top reputation among junior colleges for women and drew students from across the country, with a regular flow of matriculants from as far away as Hawaii and Japan.
On this day for remembering we would be wise to recognize that a mere 20 years ago the future of this College was in serious doubt. The demand for junior colleges for women had waned. Lasell had fewer than 400 students, far too few to sustain itself. Then along came Tom de Witt, who led the move to four-year status and later co-education. Gradually and carefully, he and the stellar management team he assembled turned Lasell into the thriving, growing, vibrant institution it is today. And significantly, they invented what may be the most livable retirement community in America – Lasell Village.
I arrived here last summer to find a college with 1,300 undergraduates, 80 graduate students, a fantastic faculty dedicated to building the curriculum around a common pedagogical approach, a warm and caring community that at the same time was willing to accept me and Mary Barbara with open arms, and willing to change. In fact, perhaps the most remarkable thing I found was the lack of problems or issues that needed redressing. This fortuitous circumstance allowed us to concentrate on looking to the future, to the development of a strategic plan. That plan gives all of us associated with the College a shared picture of what we want and expect the College to look like five years from now.
The plan also reaffirms the values that guide us in our day to day decision making. There are many values about which we care, but as a community we have determined that four have priority: Student Focus; Innovative Education across the Lifespan; Integrity, Honesty and Ethical Decision-Making; and Social Responsibility. And of these, the focus on the needs of students is primary. As faculty and administrators, as leaders, we from time to time face dilemmas with ethical implications; we are constantly making decisions about the allocation of necessarily limited resources. To quote from the Strategic Plan, “As we make decisions, we should always be asking ourselves the question: What best contributes to the intellectual and personal development of our students.” If we maintain the discipline of this one simple rule, we are unlikely to stray far from our central task – the job of preparing our students to enter society as young adults ready to meet the imperatives of parents and all citizens.
Lasell’s challenge today is to build upon the foundation created by the stewards of the past, to raise the College’s prominence to a level commensurate with its recent achievements and those about to come. Part of my job is to spread the word that what we have here in Auburndale is something special, a place where we plow the solid ground of our elders to grow beautiful new blossoms, where we have a distinctive way of customizing our teaching to the learning styles of our students, where we infuse every department and service at the College with the idea that the intellectual and personal development of our students is paramount.
So on this day for remembering, we recognize that we face a daunting and uncertain future. Like Dr. King, we do so without trepidation but rather with courage and with the conviction that, through the power of higher education, we can do our part to make the world right for our children. To borrow the metaphor Dr. King used in his last speech the day before he died, if we climb to the mountaintop and look over the crest, we will see a bright, colorful garden on the other side, replete with the blossoms we nurture everyday and coax into blooming. The flowers are the students we serve. The garden is the future we build.
May the memories never die. May the flowers ever grow.