Graduation Address at DeSales University | Beall Fowler | January 22, 2011
Father O’Connor, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, parents, friends, and most of all, today’s new graduates of DeSales University!
I am pleased and honored to speak to you today. Thank you, Father O’Connor, for your kind and generous introduction.
There are two fundamental rules for commencement speakers: first, make it short, and second, begin with a joke. Now, making it short is, with great effort, achievable. However, the joke part is a serious problem. First, I am not very good at telling jokes. But second and most important, I am here at the home of the premier joke teller of the Lehigh Valley, Father Dan Gambet, and anything I would attempt would pale in the reflection of his fame.
So, let’s move on. There are three parts to my remarks. The first will be a reflection on this amazing institution, DeSales University. I will then make some comments about your emerging master’s program in information systems. Finally, I will say a few words on why the accomplishments of you, the graduates, are so important, not only for your own lives but also for the lives of the rest of us here in the Lehigh Valley.
DeSales University: This is a very young institution, only about 45 years old! In those 45 years DeSales has made enormous progress. Much of that progress is reflected in the amazing physical plant that has arisen from these corn fields, but of course the real progress is that of its many high-quality programs and the graduates of those programs. Just to make a comparison, the institution where I have spent my professional life, Lehigh University, was founded just 100 years earlier than DeSales, in 1865. What was Lehigh’s progress like in its first 45 years? Well, first of all, Lehigh nearly went broke in the financial crash of the 1890’s and had to be bailed out by the state! In so doing it was forced to relinquish its formal ties to the Episcopal Church. It is evident that this has not happened to DeSales!
By 1910 Lehigh had a total of 670 undergraduate and 38 graduate students. In comparison, DeSales in 2010 had 2500 students, including 1,560 full-time undergraduates. Lehigh had 36 senior faculty plus 29 instructors and assistants, while DeSales now has over 100 full-time faculty. Lehigh had 15 buildings, DeSales has 23. Finally, it took DeSales only 5 years to decide to admit women, while it took Lehigh over 100 years!
So I personally salute DeSales University, not only for where you are but also for the rate at which you have gotten there! The future is indeed bright for this great institution!
Now, how did this happen? Well, as a scientist I have a theory. You see, this institution was not always called DeSales University. For quite a few years, it was Allentown College of St. Francis DeSales. Now, that seems a bit peculiar – Allentown College, located in Center Valley!
My theory is that the original name was chosen to assist the admissions process in filtering out prospective students who lacked persistence and imagination! Just think of it – a high school student hears of this new Catholic college and decides to take a look. So he (remember for a few years the College was all male) drives to Allentown, figuring he’ll find the campus easily enough. He stops near Hess’s on Hamilton Street and asks a native where Allentown College is.
The native thinks a minute and says, “Yes, there’s a college here – it’s on the west side of town, on Chew Street.” Our prospective student drives there and realizes that he’s at Muhlenberg College. Frustrated, he asks another person, who says, “There’s another college here – it’s on Hamilton and Cedar Crest.” Discovering Cedar Crest College, our student is indeed perplexed. At this point the student with little pluck or determination gives up, goes home, and decides to settle for a lesser school such as Villanova or St. Joseph’s. However, the student who is determined finds a Catholic church and asks a priest, who tells him that, yes, there is an Allentown College, but it is in Center Valley.
When that student shows up in the admissions office with fire in his eye the admissions counselor knows that this is the person whom the College wants! And so the College got a head start in crafting the nature of its student body and established a culture of determined students that carries over today. Those graduating today exemplify this culture, particularly the ACCESS students, and I’ll have more to say to you about that shortly.
In its infancy Allentown College decided to establish excellence in theatre, an excellence that persists today. In retrospect this was a good choice for several reasons, not the least of which is that it made the College known in the larger community. In its early days many of us knew little about the College except for its high-quality theatrical productions, and later for its Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. But a one-trick pony cannot thrive for very long, and as seen by the variety of major programs represented in today’s graduation, DeSales today provides a wide range of opportunities for its students, both undergraduates and graduates. Such an emergent program is the master’s in information systems, a 21st century field that becomes more important every year.
Looking back, there was no field of information systems when I was growing up. The information system in my house was my mother – she obtained and passed on information very effectively via the telephone! Of course, we also had newspapers, radio, and eventually TV – but the storage of information was almost exclusively on paper and its processing was done by hand or by clunky mechanical calculators. Then came the computer, an expensive behemoth of vacuum tubes that accepted information via punched IBM cards and provided information by cards or by printer.
Fast forward 50 years – today we are inundated by information, and yet paradoxically we often cannot easily utilize it or process it. The organization that has different software systems, each of which is useful, but which cannot “talk” to each other, is common. For example, a college may have one system for admissions, another to track student academic progess, another for billing. The integration of such information is expensive and time-consuming, but it is increasingly clear that the organization that efficiently accomplishes this has a significant competitive advantage over the one that does not. This is where the field of information systems comes in. Here is a description that I found – where else? – on the internet:
In a broad scope, the term Information Systems is a field of study that addresses the range of strategic, managerial and operational activities involved in the gathering, processing, storing, distributing and use of information, and its associated technologies, in society and organizations. Information systems are implemented within an organization for the purpose of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of that organization.
And here is a description of the program at DeSales: “Our curriculum is deep-rooted in developing technical skills appropriate for use in industry such as data management, project management, networking, systems design, web development and programming.”
Again, this is clearly a 21st century field, and one whose significance will clearly increase. So DeSales is at the cutting edge of this interdisciplinary area, and I am pleased that there are students from that program who are graduating today.
Finally, a few words to the graduates. Some of you are so-called traditional students, which basically defines full-time day students. The rest of you are part-time or evening or on-line or master’s students, non-traditional. Now, there is a model for the traditional student: a young person enrolls in college directly out of high school, chooses a major, and four years later graduates with that major. No hitches, no second thoughts, the student just sails on through. Well, we all know that this is really the exception: even if the student does finish in four years, there are always bumps and bruises along the way, second thoughts, indecision about majors, changes of major, perhaps courses that must be repeated, and so on. So each of you traditional students has an individual story to tell, and each of you should be congratulated for working though all the issues that arose during your four or five or maybe six years to graduation!
These congratulations are amplified for those of you who are non-traditional or master’s students. You all really do have individual stories to tell. Many of you started college elsewhere. You may have had some years off in between. Many of you are married with children. Taking one or two courses at a time, your program has stretched over a number of years. But you persisted. Clearly, you have exemplified the DeSales determination that I mentioned earlier in this talk!
Besides congratulating you, I want to thank you. The reason for this bears a brief explanation. In many if not most colleges and universities that cater primarily to traditional students, most of these students are not local – in some cases they come from a considerable distance. And when they graduate most of them leave the area. Those who do stay often make a significant impact; graduates of our local institutions who have stayed in the Lehigh Valley have played significant roles in our communities. But most traditional graduates find their career opportunities elsewhere.
However, most of you in the non-traditional (and some in the traditional) group are local. You live and work here, and I expect that most of you will stay here. Therefore, while your degree is designed to advance you in your personal career, by obtaining your degree you have enhanced the “intellectual” or “professional” capital of our own Lehigh Valley. Thus, you will make my home a better place – which is why I personally thank you and why the rest of us here today should thank you.
Your experiences, including your trials and tribulations, and your final success, have made you a more valuable member of our community. And very soon, if not already, you will find opportunities beyond your profession to utilize your life and academic experiences in ways that will help us all. You may become involved in church activities, for example, or in youth activities. Perhaps you will become a member of your local school board or town council. There are countless organizations that will find your abilities valuable. In short, with the personal and professional growth that has accompanied your academic experience, you will become community leaders – perhaps in unpaid roles – and in so doing you will make life better for all of us.
Thus, graduates, congratulations and thank you! My best wishes to you, as your professional and personal lives go forward!
Press Release: Graduation Address at DeSales University | Beall Fowler | January 22, 2011 | Posted on: 1/12/2011
For more info:
Tom McNamara, Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University | 2255 Station Avenue | Center Valley, PA 18034
610.282.1100 x1219 | Tom.McNamara@desales.edu