Convocation 2023 Speech

August 20, 2023

My fellow Tulanians — I am so excited to welcome you today.  

You are quite literally at the start of something new: new beginnings, new friends, and new opportunities.  

After all, this is New Orleans — and even though our city recently celebrated its tri-centennial – and Tulane is coming up on our bi-centennial – new is what we do.  

New research. New discoveries. New connections.    

New places where new ideas flash into existence, and where old ideas can be reframed, renewed, or reformed.  

And by choosing Tulane, you’ve chosen to be a part of it all, in a place unlike any other.  

What made you decide to come to Tulane?

Maybe it was our world-class faculty who are leaders in their fields.  

Or the intersection of disciplines that leads to groundbreaking discoveries – the research that saves lives.  

Or the authors and ideas we celebrate at Book Fest — what we call our Mardi Gras for the mind.  

It’s all part of who we are and what we do. And we’re so glad you decided to join us.  

Of course, there’s another reason you might have chosen Tulane — something you feel the moment you set foot on our campuses…

It’s our culture. Tulane has a warm, relational culture like no other university in the world.

It pervades everything we do. It’s the source of your personal growth – and of our community’s academic and educational success.

And there is no better way to think about that culture, and how you should approach Tulane, than to think about the music of this city.

Music is everywhere in New Orleans — it’s where jazz was born, where R&B grew, where hip-hop created a new southern sound.  

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival — the country’s most iconic music festival — offers a lesson on the strengths of Tulane, as well as how you should navigate your Tulane journey.  

Let me explain.   

Jazz Fest brings together local talent and international stars, representing nearly every musical genre. That is its genius.

You’ll find platinum-selling artists like Ed Sheeran next to local celebrities like Big Freedia.

Maybe you haven’t yet heard of Big Freedia – the New Orleans native and queen of bounce…  

D.J. Riptide – hit it!

[bounce music plays]

Thank you, Riptide!

Class of 2027: I can promise you two things: that your convocation – and your Tulane journey – will be unlike any other in the nation.

…and second? That you will never see your president twerk.

The Tulane class of 2027, like Jazz Fest, comes from all over the world, representing forty-nine states and thirty-four different countries.

Your classmates have diverse abilities, come from different backgrounds, and represent different ideas.  

You’re here to share your talents and passions – your ambitions, anxieties, and dreams.  

You are not a cover band — you are an original.

And when you all come together, like at Jazz Fest, you move multitudes and inspire something new.  

But Tulane and Jazz Fest have more in common than just our diverse lineups.  

We share a relational culture — where people find connection in a common experience — be it on stage, in the audience, or on our campuses.  

When you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow festival-goers, you often find yourself singing along together.  

You are different people, but you’re there for the same purpose — and find the same joy.  

Here at Tulane, every interaction is an opportunity to make a connection; every connection knits our community closer together.  

What makes Jazz Fest successful is what makes Tulane successful.

It’s the balance of expression and attention, the give and take of sound and silence.  

Both are important – two sides that make the other possible.  

Let’s talk about the first part: expression.  

You may not sound like Big Freedia or Ed Sheeran, but each of you has a voice.  

Tulane is a place where you will not only find your voice, but refine your voice.  

You will be challenged. You’ll try and fail and try and succeed, and these experiences will shape how you perceive the world.  

You’ve come here with likes and dislikes, favorite things, and comfort zones.  

And between today’s Convocation and the day of your Commencement, i predict that you will see a change in that collection.

Some of the best Jazz Fest moments happen when you decide to check out an artist you’ve never heard of, or try a new food.

Would you believe that brussels sprouts were one of my favorite foods at Jazz Fest this year?

Your time at Tulane is an opportunity to discover new favorites, reconsider your dislikes, and stretch your comfort zones.  

It’s still you and your voice — only amplified.  

Let’s face it — Jazz Fest isn’t Jazz Fest if no one listens to the music…
And music – particularly jazz music – only succeeds when the musicians listen and respond to each other.

It’s this aspect of jazz – which grew from the streets of New Orleans – that created what many view as America’s greatest contribution to music.

The power of jazz is the balance of expression and attention.

Musicians and Tulanians have to learn to listen, even when it’s hard to hear.  

Listening is not a passive activity; it requires energy, investment, and engagement.  

In the days, months, and years to come at Tulane you’ll learn more about each other and find the things you have in common.  

That engagement is the genius of education.

As part of this process, you can – and should – talk about the hardest topics.

But we must approach them from a place of respect and reason.

We must offer room to grow, discover, and understand — and we must allow others the same grace.  

Your journey is supported by one other thing you have in common with everyone in this room:

For all your differences, you all chose Tulane.  

It’s a lifelong bond forged through appreciation and acknowledgement – through culture and collaboration – and through expression and attention.

That is what education is about.

Claude Debussy – the iconic impressionist composer – said that “music is the space between the notes.”

Music is as much about silence and the gaps between the notes as it is about melodies or harmonies.

And at Tulane, our community is as much about learning to listen to each other as it is about finding the words we want to say to each other.  

It’s in this give and take of talking and listening – singing and silence – where we exchange ideas.  

And when we gather together to respectfully exchange ideas—in a Jazz Fest of the mind — we learn more.  

We gain more ground.  We break more barriers.  We meet more people.  
We grow, we create, we thrive – and we do it together.  

Why do I love Tulane? …it’s you!

Universities – particularly the relational Tulane family – bring together people from vastly different walks of life in a uniquely intimate way.

All around you today are your future collaborators — future band-mates – and future friends.  

To this day — many, many years past my college Convocation — I stay in touch with the people I met.

They shaped me then, and they shape me now.

That could be you and the person sitting beside you!  

But you won’t know unless you take a chance. You won’t know until you say hi.  

That’s why we share, and why we listen, and why we remain open to the possibilities — And there are so many possibilities! — opportunities to change the world that you will only find at Tulane.  

Ed Sheeran, a headliner at Jazz Fest last spring, wrote: “love can change the world in a moment.”

Class of 2027: this is your moment!  

I can’t wait to meet you, I can’t wait to hear what you have to say – and I’d love to watch you change the world.

Welcome to Tulane University!  And welcome home.