Good morning, everyone and welcome to Brown!
With all of you here this morning – reconnecting with classmates, recalling the beauty of College Hill, and, perhaps, remembering your gift to the Brown Annual Fund – I’d like to talk about what we did at Brown this year. Not the whole laundry list; just a good sampler.
It was, to be sure, another extraordinary year at Brown. And as you will see, much of what we undertook reflects the splendid progress we continue to make on our strategic plan, Building on Distinction.
In short, we did Brown things. We evolved in Brown ways. And we arrived at this moment in true Brown fashion, about to close out another academic year with all the vitality, intensity and constructive irreverence we expect from this community.
As I revisit what we did, voices from your alumni past – more specifically, from this lovely volume The Brown Reader – may remind you of your own Brown experience, and of the many ways the Brown family is united across generations.
So, first, we aspired.
In her journey to find her true calling, Christine Montross, doctor, writer, and assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown, expresses appreciation for Brown as a place open to dreamers.
She writes, “I would not be a doctor were it not for Brown. I don’t mean that with hyperbolic nostalgia, as in Brown made me what I am today…What I mean is that I can’t imagine I would ever have gotten into medical school were it not for Brown.”
Like the students who come here and imagine what is possible, Brown, the institution, is a place that is at its very best when it aspires – confidently taking the long view and thinking big.
This year, we did a fair bit of imagining tomorrow’s Brown. And we started to see, in ways small and very, very large, what the future will look like.
We imagined the possibilities for the Jonathan M. Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship as a hub linking entrepreneurship programs, and launching students on entrepreneurial paths.
We broke ground and then imagined the year 2018, when the new state-of-the-art Engineering building will open, providing a new creative home for discoveries in bioengineering and nanotechnology.
And we entertained the vision of a center for the performing arts on College Hill, where Brown students will hone performances in music, dance and theater.
Dreaming is alive and well at Brown.
We tested our timeless values of openness and free inquiry.
Krista Tippett, Class of 1983, reminds us of how vital it is for us to examine who we are being in the world while we are here on College Hill, noting “I spend my days working with the power of questions, Brown’s great gift to me.”
Many observations were offered about our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan – that it was too little, that it was too much, that it was too late, or that it was just right.
The most important observation, though – indeed, the most ‘Brown’ observation of all – was that the DIAPinvolved everybody. We were all invested in the vision of building a diverse, respectful and tolerant community here.
And so we did what is instinctive to us: we tested our values, by asking questions, speaking our minds, engaging in spirited conversation, and finding a way forward.
Like when Brown first generation students led an effort that will culminate in the opening of a First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center on campus this summer.
Our hard work on these initiatives affirms every notion of why we are here – to learn and evolve as citizens, as people who desire transformation. And to question, everything.
We innovated in our educational and research initiatives.
Author Madeline Miller, Class of 2000, marveling at how stepping out of her comfort zone to join a theater group at Brown made her a better writer, reflects on this thoroughly unexpected outcome, noting “Apparently it’s how I work best: one foot comfortably planted, the other one over the precipice.”
Of course, this is a point of pride here. It comes out in the academic journeys of our students, but it also comes out in the ways we blend disciplines into innovative programs, a hallmark of Brown’s keen focus on collaboration and bringing people and diverse perspectives together.
We did some of that this year.
We unveiled the Executive Master in Science and Technology Leadership over at the School of Professional Studies.
We launched the nation’s first-ever dual degree program in primary care and population medicine, at the Alpert Medical School.
And tomorrow, we will, for the first time in the five-year history of the IE Brown Executive MBA program, award joint IE Brown Executive MBA degrees to 30 students, during the first-ever IE Brown graduation on this campus.
And finally, we celebrated the success of our students.
National Public Radio correspondent Mara Liasson, Class of 1977, muses on how she got from a history class to covering American politics, noting “…Brown gave me the confidence and the freedom to navigate my own ship, even before I had any idea where it would end up.”
This year, the culture of ingenuity and independence we nurture here at Brown, this uncommon environment where we are encouraged to think differently, was on full display.
So we celebrated the successes of so many of our bright, brilliant students – in pursuits as varied as the number of combinations in the Open Curriculum.
Our thriving BrownConnect program engaged Brown alumni to line up summer internships and research opportunities for students. One went to Emily Garrison ‘16 who traveled to India and worked with a startup on rural pediatric care and digitizing child vaccination records.
Now, iconic, transformational opportunities like this don’t grow on trees. They do, however, grow out of a dedicated alumni network committed to success of Brown students.
Meanwhile, 2016 Social Innovation Fellows Viraj Sikand and Maya Faulstich-Hon worked on making fish farming in Kenya more sustainable, coming up with an award-winning aquaculture proposal to build a business around feeding farmed fish with locally-raised fly larvae.
Thinking differently, using academic preparation to understand and disrupt systems of injustice and inequity – this is something to celebrate.
It was, in the end, a year at Brown – complete with our relentless independent thinking, our confidence in each other and in the community, and our plucky, hopeful take on the future.
We did a little bit of everything. And you know what? The Brown students of today and so many of you, the Brown students of yesterday, wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Because we all know that this is what we do here. Year after year after.
Thank you all so much for keeping the spirit of Brown so alive – in what you do to strengthen the University, and in what you do to affirm the bonds of community we share.
I am so happy that you are here, and I would love to take your questions!