Thank you so much, Shanze, and good afternoon! Welcome to Family Weekend!
I love seeing Brown students reunite with their families. Many of you have traveled far to be here, and I know your children appreciate it. Soon, I’ll introduce our incredible keynote speaker. But first, I’d like to speak to the Brown experience and what it will likely lead to in your children’s lives.
It can be distilled to one word: transformation.
The fact is that when young people go to college, they change. Some of these changes are more superficial and, possibly, transient.
Like when you find out at Thanksgiving that your cheeseburger-loving child has become a vegan.
Or, is considering taking a semester away from Brown to create a bitcoin start-up.
Or, your child has become politically liberal—if you are conservative—or politically conservative—if you are liberal.
Regardless of what these changes are, your conversations over dinner certainly become more lively!
But seriously, the transformation that I am talking about is more substantial and important. As your child moves through Brown, you will see tremendous growth in maturity, intellectual sophistication, and sense of purpose.
Our job at Brown is to enable this transformation. To do everything we can to ensure our students become innovative thinkers, collaborative problem-solvers, and compassionate citizens of the world. And at Brown, we do this in three ways:
One, we empower our students to chart their own academic journey.
The Open Curriculum, Brown’s signature academic asset, has made Brown a place of uncommon collaboration across disciplines, where students are free to explore, creatively and rigorously, and find what they love.
Although the Open Curriculum is almost 50 years old, it is more relevant now than ever. In a rapidly changing world, we need innovators who work across divides and fields of knowledge. This is exactly what the Open Curriculum supports.
And every day, the results are truly remarkable.
Like, for example, the two second-year students who took a public policy class on Building Powerful Organizations for Social Change. They met up for coffee one day in the Blue Room to talk about an assignment, and discovered a shared passion for using art as a medium for raising awareness about mental health.
Being Brown students, they quickly took steps -- with support from the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship -- to form a nonprofit group, ARMS, Art to Reduce Mental Health Stigma. They followed that up with a debut ARMS event to kick off the new academic year, a highly successful open mic session on how to hold productive conversations about mental health.
It is this extraordinary versatility of an open liberal arts education that makes it so valuable today, and so capable of creating transformative experiences.
Two, we create an environment where everybody knows they belong.
Diversity is a cornerstone of academic excellence. We thrive as a community of people from all over the world who learn from each other and from life experiences that are different from our own.
In recent years, we have made great progress in enacting our Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which aims to make everyone at Brown feel—and know—that they belong. A place where students and faculty from all backgrounds and perspectives want to be.
Sometime in 2014 or 2015, several students came my office hours. They were first-generation students, the first in their families to attend college. They described what it was like not to have the “roadmap” for navigating college life that their peers seemed to have. And they talked about trying to fit in, often questioning whether Brown was right for them.
That conversation led to an idea, which, two years ago, became the Ivy League’s first and only First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center, which today provides opportunities to support the growth and intellectual development of our students.
The best part of this story is that the entire Brown community came together to make this happen. I would add that similar conversations led to a robust program for veterans and students in ROTC.
That’s how we do things at Brown—in partnership with our students.
And three, we provide unmatched resources for students to put their developing academic skills, creativity, and drive to the best possible use.
We do “hubs” really well. Our Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship is fast becoming one of the most impactful hubs on campus. There, students hatch ideas, launch ventures, and hone entrepreneurial skills -- not just in business, but in how business can transform lives.
This past summer, Brown students started Koi Prosthetics, which produces low-cost prosthetics for amputees in low-income countries. And Cloud Agronomics, which uses remote sensing to provide farmers with real-time information on crop disease risk.
There’s more of the same over at another rising hub on campus, the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society at Brown (IBES), where two Brown students are collaborating on an effort to promote improved beekeeping practices throughout Rhode Island.
The story there is that, with the long-term threats posed by environmental degradation to ecosystem diversity and food production, bees matter, as pollinators. Through a survey project with the Audubon Society, an IBES student and an applied math concentrator are gathering information on bee health, food availability, beekeeper training and policymaking.
There’s one more thing. Brown’s ability to transform the lives of its students is only as good as our ability to attract the best and brightest.
Brown has worked hard to remove obstacles to having the transformative experience students have once they get here. That has entailed taking steps to make a Brown education more accessible and affordable to all.
This is why we launched the Brown Promise last year, with a view to helping our students avoid the burdens of repaying post-graduation debt.
And now, our generous Brown community of alumni, friends and parents has come together to make this happen. This fall, 1,452 undergraduate students -- from first-years to seniors -- arrived on College Hill to the liberating reality that the University loans in their financial aid packages had been replaced with Brown scholarships!
In the timeless words of one student who has benefited from the Brown Promise, in a world without debt, he would “…feel like he could fly!”
And flying? Well, that’s exactly what transformation looks like.
On that note, our Family Weekend Keynote speaker is in the house. And this Brown parent has done some transformational things in her life!
Introduction of Maria Hinajosa
We all know that it is a complicated time in journalism, when public trust in the media has plummeted. But in a highly polarized environment, we need the Fourth Estate more than ever.
As citizens, we look to journalists to report on issues in ways that enlighten and help us understand. We seek authenticity and truth.
This is what Maria Hinajosa has brought to us during a brilliant 30-year career as a journalist, author, storyteller, and chronicler of lives under duress.
As a reporter, Maria has reported hundreds of important stories — from the restrictive immigration policies in Fremont, Nebraska, to the effects of the oil boom on Native people in North Dakota, to stories of poverty in Alabama. At National Public Radio, she was among the first to report on youth violence in urban communities on a national scale.
A hallmark of her reporting is to bring attention to the untold stories across America, the experiences and perspectives that are overlooked or underreported in mainstream media.
Maria’s work on the digital video series Humanizing America, has helped deconstruct narratives and stereotypes about the American electorate. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, for example, Maria explored what it means to be young and Latino, or Black and Republican, revealing voters and potential voters with diverse motivations to make their voices heard and transform lives.
And as anchor and executive producer of NPR’s only Latino news and culture show Latino USA, and of the PBS series America By The Numbers with Maria Hinojosa, she has informed millions about the changing cultural and political landscape in America and abroad.
Over the years, Maria’s work has garnered scores of prestigious journalism recognitions, among them four Emmys, a Peabody Award, the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Reporting on the Disadvantaged, and the Edward R. Murrow Award for her documentary Child Brides: Stolen Lives.”
But beyond the awards, Maria’s work is more profoundly about opening the eyes of Americans to injustice and unfairness, while at the same time celebrating America’s rich diversity and empowering people to navigate a complex world.
And she sees allies in higher education. At places like Brown.
Last month, as Convocation speaker at Columbia University, Maria called on students to recognize their power to transform lives and make the world better, noting that “We have privilege. I need you to not feel overwhelmed, but rather when you are feeling weakness, focus on gratitude, focus on feeling lucky. If you are in this place where you have this gratitude, that will lead you to understand privilege and responsibility.”
I could not agree more.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Maria Hinajosa.