Convocation 2019 Speech

August 23, 2019

Members of the Class of 2023, I know I’m not the first to welcome you to Tulane today.

But one of the perks of being President is that my welcome gets a fancy title.

This is “Convocation,” which as you all know comes from the Latin “con-vo-carr-ee”

Often translated by first year students as the colloquial “prime opportunity to take a group Instagram.”

So, welcome to Tulane — or in your vernacular: hashtag welcome, hashtag Convocation, hashtag Tulane!

Now, I don’t want to just welcome you to Tulane — I want to welcome you home.

I know it's your first day and many of you might be nervous.

Let me assure you Tulane will soon and forever be your home.

What is a home after all?

Home is where we can learn and grow.

Home is where we may tease, but where we always have each other’s backs.

Homes are filled with warmth and comfort and love. And so is Tulane!

This is my sixth year as President - longer than most of you will stay — and certainly longer than most of your parents hope you will stay.

So you’re not only going to feel at home, but you and your classmates will soon feel like a family.

And all Tulanians are a family.

That family includes:

  • Your classmates
  • Our many distinguished alumni
  • Our world class faculty
  • And our excellent staff, who keep this wonderful place running day-to-day.

Our family includes your neighbors in this vibrant city of New Orleans.

And it also now includes your own families.

From now on, one of the most powerful phrases you’ll be able to say, is "I'm from Tulane".

Still, some of you may be wondering how you’ll fit in.

We all know what it feels like to want to fit in.

In fact, wait a second — why am I in full academic regalia?

This isn’t Commencement — it’s Convocation!

You’re all in T-shirts. And here I am... So let me formally join the Class of 2023

Of course, at Tulane, you don’t have to

  • Dress the same,
  • Think the same,
  • Or be the same to fit in.

As a community, we prize both our many points of diversity and our many points of commonality.

As the motto of this country holds, “e pluribus unum” — “out of many, one”.

No matter whether you are the first of your family to go to college or one of a long line, no matter where in the world you come from, no matter the many identities of which you are proud, you belong at Tulane!

You have earned your place here.

Remember — Tulane does not make mistakes.

I may — but the Admissions office never does.

This is the most selective class we’ve ever had.

Don’t doubt yourself for one second!

So let’s get to know each other — A voice vote, if you will.

Who here is from Louisiana?

Who comes from a different state?

Who comes from a different country?

On average, Tulane students travel further for college than any other student body in America.

You come from 46 different states and 28 countries around the world.

That’s one of the things that makes Tulane so special.

We are a melting pot of diverse cultures, interests, ethnicities and personalities and we want you all to thrive.

In New Orleans, we call it gumbo — where every ingredient maintains its unique identity but also infuses the whole dish.

Now that I’ve inspired your ambitions for lunch, let’s turn to your academic ambitions.

Sampling Tulane’s rich intellectual life is one of the great privileges that you have as students.

Another demonstration — this time with a show of hands.

Raise your right hand if you’re a STEM person.

Raise your left hand if you’re a humanities person.

Now raise both hands if you know that innovation often requires knowledge of both.

For those of you who don’t have both hands raised, let me encourage you.

If you’re planning on being a physics major, take that humanities class.

It will not only be life enriching - it can be career-defining - far beyond anything you could ever imagine.

Don’t just trust me, listen to Steve Jobs—the iconic founder of Apple.

Jobs credited a college course in calligraphy for inspiring the elegance of Apple.

He took the course purely out of curiosity.

As he later acknowledged, he thought calligraphy wouldn’t have any practical application in his life. Yet, 10 years later, when jobs was designing the first Mac, it all came back to him.

As he said: “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, personal computers might not have the wonderful design that they do today.”

That innovative thinking should be at the core of your education at Tulane.

The great challenges of our era — your era — require understanding diverse perspectives and knowledge.

Your careers, unlike those of a generation or two ago, will almost certainly span disciplines and sectors.  

So in your time at Tulane and beyond, don’t ever hesitate to, as Jobs put it, “think different”.


Let me give you one example — my absolute favorite — of your fellow students taking that lesson to heart.

A couple of years ago, NASA had a real-life problem:

They needed to send bigger payloads to the space-station in more compact shuttles.

So NASA launched a nation-wide competition to solve this problem — called the “Big Idea Challenge”.

Now, Tulane doesn’t have an aerospace program, but that didn’t stop six Tulanians from forming a team of their own.

Let me paint the picture.

A disparate group of Tulanians — with expertise in physics, economics, and architecture.

They make it to the finals of the competition against the top aerospace programs in the country.

So — what do they encounter?

The other finalists had all designed a variation of that same old NASA concept — a satellite with rectangular flaps.

But the Tulanians built something entirely different — a series of hexagons, stacked like a can of Pringles.

When the shuttle reached space, those hexagons would unfold into the shape of a sunflower.

Tulane’s entry was unlike anything NASA had ever seen.

Our team immediately knew they were either going to come in first place — or dead last.

Of course, what kind of Tulane story would this be if they lost?

They won — taking first place!

But remember:

Immediate success is never guaranteed.

Trying something new is an inherently risky endeavor.

That’s how all the great breakthroughs occur — in science, art, business, and life.

So never hesitate to try something new.

If you don't succeed the first time, know that your effort and attitude will ultimately define your success.

And always remember that you will never be alone.

We’re here to support you as you take those chances.

Tulane is a big family — and you’re part of it.

A big, raucous family, filled with a broad range of beliefs, backgrounds — even dialects.

So engage with your fellow students and with other members of our community.

Say hello — listen — learn — debate and discuss

Never, ever hesitate to contribute what you know.

And so, Class of 2023, let me leave you with one challenge today.

Here at Tulane, we specialize in new experiences.

Maybe you grew up in a small town in Iowa — or in a big city like New York — or in a country halfway around the globe.

We can all find a new adventure at Tulane.

Seek out something different:

  • Pack a picnic lunch and head out to The Fly
  • Check out a Tulane-Aspen Institute speaker event
  • Or volunteer for Outreach Tulane

Better yet, do it with a new friend.

And tag me on my Instagram account.

Post your submissions by the 20th of September.

Caption your photo and tell me what you tried and what you learned.

I’ll repost and I’ll choose five winners to take to dinner at one of New Orleans’ best restaurants — my treat.

Now, with that challenge ahead of you, I won’t keep you any longer.

You have a full and fun day ahead. But before you go, let’s take part in one of my favorite Tulane traditions — the first of many Roll Waves that we’ll share together.

So, Class of 2023 — let the rest of the campus hear our Roll Wave!

On three — yell “Roll Wave” with me - Ready...?

1, 2, 3 – Roll Wave!

I know you can do better than that!

One more time — at the top of your lungs!

1, 2, 3 – Roll Wave!

That’s more like it, Class of 2023!

Welcome to Tulane!

Welcome home!