University of Cincinnati Office of the President

University of Cincinnati Office of the President

President Ono's New Student Convocation Speech, Aug. 23, 2013

Transcript - New Student Convocation Speech
University of Cincinnati President Santa J. Ono
August 23, 2013

Good morning, everyone! How you doing!

I have been waiting a long time to welcome you to the University of Cincinnati. We are going to have a fantastic year. And it is going to start tonight (actually starting now). But tonight at 10:30 you all need to show up at Sigma Sigma Commons because we are going to, for the first time, have a fireworks display to properly welcome you to this university. Hope you are going to come to that. And a foam party after that.

So thank you, Michael. Thank you, Faculty Chair, Dr. Miller, Christina Kerstan, our Student Orientation Leaders. Let’s give them a round of applause…and our Bearcat Bands under the direction of Dr. Terren Frenz.

If you open up the Cincinnati Magazine, there is a beautiful picture of you, Doctor Frenz. You’ve been here for 21 years and the band, which by the way, the UC band is damn good (excuse me). It really brings a lot to this university and makes it the #HottestCollegeInAmerica. The other thing about that is you guys [Dr. Ono looks at the new students]. I can’t wait to see you getting involved in classes and also the 400 clubs we have organized for you – so you can realize your dreams.

Good morning and welcome to the new students of the University of Cincinnati and your families! Let’s hear a round of applause for your families.

This morning, we celebrate a rite of passage that represents our one chance as a university to collectively, from this stage to you, rejoice in your entrance into the UC community and into the community of higher education.

Not that I want to put pressure on you or anything – after all, you have not even started classes yet – thanks for showing up so early.  But today we do not just applaud your arrival. 
This morning, our assembly in this arena also looks ahead to the outcome we envision for you in four or five years at this very same spot – Commencement or graduation.  In 2017 or 2018 (depending upon whether or not you will be participating in co-op), we want you to graduate and to walk across this stage and shake my hand to receive your degree. And I know the parents up there are looking forward to that day as well.

That’s why we’re going to give you wristbands that I hope you’ll wear…to keep with you during that four- or five-year journey. And the wristbands say “graduation is my goal.”  Every step you take from now until your graduation should focus on that singular objective – graduating and getting your degree.

This year you are starting off the new academic year by already making history….You are the largest and one of the most academically qualified incoming first-year classes in the history of this great university….not just on the Uptown campus but at the university overall.  On this campus and on our other campuses, there are 6,400 entering students. You are part of a total enrollment that is our historic high – reaching over 43,000 Bearcats – higher even than the record we set in 2011.

This year, we are also breaking a record on the number of undergraduates who came to us from all around the globe. Joining our UC family are more than 1,000 undergrads from 46 different nations. UC is definitely Cincinnati’s global university.

All of you, no matter where you are from, have new options available to you on our world-renowned campus. We are now 100 percent wireless, including many of our green spaces.  Our beautifully transformed residential highrise, Morgens Hall, has reopened and shines bright like a diamond on our eastern horizon. And our Nippert Stadium will shine bright like a diamond, too, in the not too distant future. The University Square development, off campus along Calhoun and McMillan, has more shops and restaurants open every week. It’s an investment of nearly $80 million. Along with apartments, this project also has plenty of garage space as well as new offices and classrooms. Many of them are going to be serving you and where you will be actually performing work and scholarship.

This year, we have another first – one that all of you are experiencing yourselves as UC freshmen. Your class marks the beginning of a new common reading project that UC has instituted across all of the colleges. It was kicked off at the summer orientation. It was something I pushed for when I was Provost of the University. You received a copy of the book called “Justice,” by Michael J. Sandel.

We asked you to read it this summer and during the upcoming year we will host additional activities and events, both in and out of the classroom, that tie into that text that you read – and thank you so much for doing homework during the summer. Based on a very popular course that Professor Sandel teaches at Harvard, it has also been produced as a series for PBS television network.

On top of all the other reading assignments you will have as freshmen and as upperclassman in the upcoming months, you may be asking yourselves, “Why would Santa ask me to read a book during the summer time?” (Sorry guys.) And why couldn’t he have chosen something like “Twilight” or “The Vampire Diaries” instead? (As Dr. Sandel explains in Chapter 2, perhaps we should have picked one of those if we wanted to be utilitarian and maximize happiness for the highest number of students.

But we want you to learn. The reason why we asked you to read “Justice” lies in something I would describe as the purpose of a higher education…the purpose of coming to the University of Cincinnati. For one thing, your chances of marching in graduation in four or five years greatly increase if you feel a strong sense of community and identity as a part of this UC family.  

Our common reading project begins to build that sense of connection regardless of what college you are in, by giving you a shared experience during the summer and the beginning of your academic journey. And it will continue with the discussions and other activities that the university and your professors will be planning.

Another reason we have created a common reading program is that we want to introduce you to the core principles that our university were founded upon. Later in the ceremony today you will hear about the Bearcat Bond. First introduced at convocation last year, it is a voluntary pledge to work at the highest levels of personal and academic honesty and to aspire to continuously better oneself – and that’s why you are here, to better yourself.

Also in our ceremony, you will see your Just Community banner  ̶  a highly visible symbol of our university’s commitment to promote justice, respect for each other, embrace freedom and openness, practice civility, pursue learning and scholarship for learning’s sake, to seek integrity in all that you do and to strive for excellence.  By reading the book, “Justice,” you can see how closely it ties into these Just Community principles. The book explores the themes that have been examined throughout our history as a nation – in all the different halls of academia. And they continue to be examined as we grapple with issues in our own times in our everyday lives.

Most important of all, the reason we have asked you to read “Justice” is that we want you to think profoundly about your role in society.  Honey Boo Boo, watching videos on, along with CandyCrush can be riveting. And occasionally I’ll even look at those sites. They have their place. But you are here to go to school. There is so much more to the world than your cell phone….differing ideas and viewpoints to weigh and to understand….challenges that require deep thought….and complex problems in the world that looks to you eventually for solutions as our future leaders of this nation.

As students in this great university, we will ask you to reflect, to question, to listen, to ponder, to think with impartiality, to analyze and dissect, to argue and dispute, and to reason with integrity and honesty.   

I went to the honors retreat just the other day. And a freshman asked me a very profound question. He said: “Dr. Ono, what is the aim of a University of Cincinnati education?”

This was my response: That beyond the mastery of facts of any particular body of knowledge, my hope for you is that you will develop critical thinking skills that help you ask the right questions and empower you to innovate in whatever career you choose.

These are the skills….critical thinking skills…multiple dimensional perspectives…that you will need not just here in college, but for the rest of your lives…to innovate, to lead, create and address the conundrums that face our society and planet.

What I like about the book that you’ve read, that we selected for you this summer, is that it gives you an overview of so many of the different philosophies that underpin our society’s approach to making decisions about what is fair and what is just. And your professors behind me are at the cutting edge of scholarship and inquiry in almost all endeavors of human investigation. Dr. Sandel covers, as you know, the major thought-leaders who continue to influence how our society operates:

  • My favorite one is Jeremy Bentham because he was a professor and founder of University College London, a faculty I was a part of about seven years ago. He put forth the philosophy of utilitarianism that you read about in the book;
  • The book talked about the libertarian ideals of minimal government (I think there are some who would like to see minimal government in this day and age);
  • Immanuel Kant’s concept of justice tied closely to freedom, morality and reason; we want you to embrace that – morality and reason in everything that you do;
  • John Rawls’  rationale that we live under a hypothetical contract that we would all agree to, if each of us had no idea what our circumstances would be and that we were born into…a contract for society based on what’s best for society, not for each of us individually.
  • And how about Aristotle…his reasoning that justice is tied to purpose and virtue;
  • And finally that justice “involves cultivating virtue and reasoning about the common good”… of all of us, not just ourselves.

All of these and the other concepts that Dr. Sandel covers help to explain the different views that lie beneath the surface of almost every political debate or question of fairness that we are grappling with in this country and on this planet. These will equip you to be great leaders in the future. 

In an age of instantaneous interaction around the globe with wireless access to the Internet and Instagrams, Twitter and Facebook...I am guilty of it, you know that…not to mention search engines that bring up thousands of links in one instant…there is the temptation to think that this kind of access equates to knowledge and understanding. Actually not. It’s very passive. And I have already interacted with about half of you, I think, on social media, and I’ve loved it. And you know that I know these are amazing tools that we are fortunate to have at our disposal. Otherwise I would not be able to interact with thousands of people instantaneously in real time. And I love it. But I want to give you one warning. Don’t let your cell phone or i-Pad replace relationship-building with your professors and your fellow-students.

You all know I love this I-phone here. This I-phone is a machine. It will last for only three years. Your cell phone is just a machine and will last three years. Look to your right, look to your left…look behind me to your esteemed faculty... Your fellow-students will become lifelong friends and your faculty, lifelong mentors. They’re a million times more important than your cell phone.

And I hope that by developing your critical thinking skills here at the University of Cincinnati, you will discover that knowledge requires deeper understanding than mere facts and information. It requires that interpersonal relationship. It requires discussion and debate, sometimes heated, and that’s okay because that’s how you learn.  Even a single tweet of 140 characters or less often links to something longer with a deeper dive into the subject.

And I hope you’ll read my tweets and go back to the dormitories and disagree with what I say, disagree with one another. But in that process become friends with your fellow-students and bond with your professors. As useful as our information highway can be, it still requires that you be able to judge what information is valid and reliable, from that which is misleading or false.  You all know a large percentage of what is out there in cyberspace is not correct. At the same time, niches can develop where the information you find or are fed already reinforces your existing point of view.  So if you do not make an effort to recognize it, it can fuel polarization with you and others searching out only those ideas and opinions that echo their own, or your own, rather than challenging them with new ideas and new perspectives…which I say is one of the main reasons to be on a terrestrial campus and not to only learn through MOOCs.

My point is that, even in an age where vast amounts of information are accessible to you in a flash, it remains essential that you to talk to each other, that you be able to think, to question and to weigh different points of view, not just the few that is currently in your mind at this moment.  These are the skills we hope to be able to nurture in you during your time at UC.

And while the speed of our information age can mislead us into believing that answers can be found in one click of a button, true knowledge takes more time. True knowledge takes failure. True knowledge takes work. Resolving the thorny issues of our day and of your future will take more than the click of a button on your cell phone. Deep thinking takes a lot of time. We have great faculty to work with you, to help you with your mental gymnastics, so you will be able to learn and give back. It was Albert Einstein who said:

“I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.”

I wish you a great first year and that your experience here will engender in you an appreciation for and genuine respect for others and of different points of view so that you can become a truly great thinker as well as a true servant leader who will help make the world a better place for those who will follow you. That is the aim of a University of Cincinnati education.

Welcome again to all of you. The Bearcat Nation takes pride in your arrival.