Convocation 2018 Speech

Gathering together for the first time, the Class of 2022 streamed into McAlister Auditorium for the President’s Convocation. Read on for a transcript of President Fitts's remarks, or watch a full video of the event.

Scenes from Convocation 2018

August 24, 2018
McAlister Auditorium

Michael A. Fitts
Tulane University President

Welcome, class of ‘22! Welcome to Tulane.

This week, you are gathered as a class for the very first time -- and what an extraordinary class you are!

I can’t wait to get to know you.

As I pondered what I wanted to say today, I looked back on some of the pivotal moments of the summer:

  • France won the World Cup;
  • Kylie Jenner became a billionaire;
  • Arianna Grande and Pete Davidson got engaged;
  • And best of all ---- Beyonce & Jay-Z released a joint album.

What a summer!

But years from now, when you think back on the summer of 2018, you will remember it for one thing; the moment you became a Tulanian.

So, I want to begin today with a quick poll:

  • Raise your hand if you’re from Louisiana.
  • Now, raise your hand if you’re coming from an entirely different part of the country.
  • And raise your hand if, in the last two days, you’ve seen one or both of your parents cry.
  • Finally – no judgment, I promise – raise your hand if you’re wondering if you should have delayed this whole college thing and taken that trip across Europe.

I want you to know that these feelings and experiences are normal, and that you’ve made the right choice – not just by coming to college, but by coming to Tulane.

And now, you are officially Tulanians for life – welcome home!

So let’s hear it, for the first of hundreds of times—let’s do a Roll Wave on three!

1, 2, 3 – Roll Wave!

It might seem hard to believe, but once upon a time, I was in your shoes, going through my freshman year orientation at college.

Some things were the same back then:

  • Sharing a small dorm room with a total stranger;
  • learning a brand new city;
  • struggling to decide what classes to take.

But some things were different – keep in mind, this was the early 70s:

  • There were no cell phones or Instagram.
  • We listened to disco and wore bell bottoms
  • I may or may not have had a mustache that stretched out to “here.”
  • And our president -- Richard Nixon -- was under federal investigation………….ok – so i guess not everything has changed

There were other differences between now and then.  

Right before I left for college, I met with my high school guidance counselor to get some career advice.

I’ll never forget what he said:

“Mike, here’s what you do:

  • First, you graduate from high school.
  • Then, you graduate from college.
  • Then, you find a job and work there for 40 years.
  • Then you retire with a pension.”

Really inspiring guy, my counselor.

Today, things are a bit more complicated.  

More likely than not, you won’t burrow down on the same task with the same organization for 40 years, then retire.

These days, the most successful people – the Beyonces, the Steve Jobs, the Oprah Winfreys – wield a Swiss-army knife of diverse skills, interests, and talents.

They push the world forward with ambition, innovation, and intelligence – or what I like to call “pure chutzpah.”

Over the course of your life, you will likely follow their lead.

You will probably have multiple careers, pursue extra side hustles, or freelance.

And you will undoubtedly grapple with world problems of increasing complexity and importance.   

I’m here to let you know: there is no better training ground for this life than Tulane University.

Most of the older universities in our country – the Harvards, the Princetons, the UVAs -- were established around the singular study of religion and humanities.  

But Tulane is different!  

Tulane was founded on the shoulders of great medical minds, a group of doctors who joined forces from across the region, in search of a cure for yellow fever.

Why do I mention this? Because solving problems has been inscribed in our DNA since day one.

For almost two centuries, generations of Tulane students have embodied an innovative, ambitious, problem-solving spirit that makes us different.

Today, it’s your turn to grab the baton – to change the world and make it better.

And from everything I’ve seen already, you couldn't be more prepared to answer that call.

I have watched in awe as your generation has challenged old systems and power structures, using social media as a weapon of change.

I have seen you overcome division and gridlock with inclusion and love.

I have seen you break barriers, start new dialogues, and spark global movements.

You are activists, innovators, and changemakers -- poised to shape the future of our world in earth-shattering ways.

And class of '22, there is no better place than Tulane to do this.

...years from now, when you think back on the summer of 2018, you will remember it for one thing; the moment you became a Tulanian.

Michael A. Fitts

Four years ago, I packed my bags and moved far away from home to come to Tulane as a first-year president.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and I spent most of my career there.

Over the past four years, what I’ve learned – and what you will soon discover – is that Tulane is a magical place.

It will profoundly transform you.

Here, you will be challenged -- intellectually, socially, professionally, even gastronomically.

It’s no surprise that most of you traveled more than 900 miles from home to get here – farther than any other student body in the country.

Because Tulanians, by our very nature, seek adventure.

We are curious, bold. We see the world with fresh eyes.

I want to promise you something, right now:

Whatever you want to do, however you want to change the world, whatever kind of life you want to build for yourself – Tulane will match your ambition, every step of the way. We will provide you with the knowledge, the tools, and the experience you need to achieve your goals.

Your imagination is the limit. What you create with this opportunity is entirely up to you.

So make the most of every moment: Say yes. Be curious! Get out of your element!

If you’re an aspiring scientist, take the advanced puppetry workshop.

If you’re an English major, visit the MakerSpace and learn how to use the 3D printer.

Do something that scares you – whether that means ordering an alligator po-boy, or joining the Quidditch team.

In fact, how about we do something scary right now: introduce yourself to the people sitting around you.

Go ahead, I’ll wait!

Some of the most important ideas you will encounter at Tulane will come from the peers you meet along the way.

Look around you.

Tulane is a gumbo of backgrounds, influences, and experiences.

Perhaps the biggest gift of college is the chance to meet different kinds of people.

So say hello! Or, in the language of your generation – swipe right.

By knowing, debating, and connecting with others, you will expand your mind.

Take this opportunity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes:

  • Someone with a different level of privilege than you have ever known.
  • Someone who grew up in a different kind of neighborhood.
  • Someone with a different gender identity or sexual orientation.

Do that and you will grow – personally, socially, and intellectually.

Remember: Surrounding yourself with people who think differently makes you better, and it makes you smarter.

Like a family, we might argue, disagree, or tease – but always with love.

That extends to how we interact and engage with each other.

So whether you’re in your dorm room, at a Greek-life formal, or exploring the French Quarter, I want you to always treat each other with respect.

Finally as you get to know each other over the next few weeks, I have a challenge for all of you:

You are in a glorious and culturally important city, on a beautiful campus.

Go explore!

Take pictures of places or events that intrigue and inspire you.

Tag your best photos on Instagram with hashtag “Fitts photo challenge” by September 5th.   

I’ll share the submissions on my Instagram and choose five of my favorites.

The winners will join me for brunch at one of New Orleans’ finest restaurants, my treat.

And speaking of challenges, my student interns last year gave me a challenge – they convinced me to make something called a “Snapchat.”

I may be the oldest person alive to have one, but I have one all the same. You can add me at “TU Fitts.”

And right now, I want to make my first Snap story of the year: do you think you can help me with that?

Let’s try doing another “Roll Wave.”

This time, with a little more confidence!

Ready? Roll Wave on three—

1, 2, 3 – Roll Wave!

Class of '22 – welcome to Tulane! Welcome home.