It is such a pleasure to welcome you to campus for the 138th year of liberal education at Rollins College! As we begin this academic year, let me offer some thoughts about the ethics of liberal learning.
We are, importantly and intentionally, a community with all kinds of differences among us. Liberal education happens when we learn to listen across those differences, learn to understand them, discern common grounds, and probe the meaning and rationale of the differences.
Our whole enterprise and purpose here can only work if we treat our differences, and each other, with respect and kindness. This is the ethical foundation of a learning community.
As I reflect on some of the ways people treat one another globally, nationally, and here on our campus at times, I despair at the disrespect, at the cruelty, at the neglect to recognize the humanity of others and treat that humanity with its proper respect. I despair at the harsh and crude rhetoric that is in play in the media and political discourse, at the bias and prejudice that we hear.
Notice that all forms of prejudice choose some surface feature of identity—racial, ethnic, national, political, religious, or sexual identity—and focus on this as a purported ground for not deserving equal respect. Global citizenship and responsible leadership are grounded in an affirmation of the basic equality of humanity across the full spectrum of identities, and that all persons have equal rights and are equally deserving of respect.
As you go about your life in this community, I am urging you to aspire to always recognize the ideal of human dignity. This will mean acting with respect and kindness. It will mean looking for these qualities in others and honoring their intrinsic worth even when—or especially when—it is hard to see. I mean this with your roommates, your classmates, your teammates, your professors and mentors, and all with whom you interact as members of this community.
It will mean exercising your own dignity, your own capacity for ethical choice. In the end, the quality of your life will be measured by this above all else.