Remarks on the Beginning of the 160th Academic Year

President Bergman delivered this message in Christ Chapel on September 7, 2021 to mark the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year.
Posted on September 7th, 2021 by

Good morning!  This morning, we gather as a community to mark the beginning of the 160th Academic Year at Gustavus Adolphus College.  It is such a good feeling to be here together, in person, for this Opening Convocation.  As I said to our first-year students on their move-in day last Friday, I hope you all enter this new academic year with a great sense of optimism, with lofty expectations for yourself and for our community, and with high hopes for our collective future.  Today we celebrate a new beginning, and we do so with enthusiasm and dogged determination to moving forward in the safest and best way we can, ever mindful of the fact that we are still coping with and responding to a global pandemic.

When is the last time you read our mission statement from beginning to end?  I don’t think that I have ever before heard it read out loud in all my years at Gustavus.  Thank you, Provost Kelly.

President Rebecca M. Bergman

What is a mission statement?  A mission statement clearly states why an organization exists, and it serves as a guide for strategic planning and decision-making.  The Gustavus mission statement answers three important questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Who do we serve, and what do we offer them?
  • What is our purpose?

First question – Who are we?

  • We are a church-related, residential liberal arts college firmly rooted in its Swedish and Lutheran heritage. That statement about who we are is the opening sentence of our mission statement.  Further on in the mission statement, there is another important sentence describing who we are:  We are community of persons from diverse backgrounds who respect and affirm the dignity of all people.

Second question – Who do we serve, and what do we offer them?

  • We serve students of high aspiration and promise.
  • We say a lot about what we offer our students. We offer them an education of recognized excellence by a faculty who embody the highest standards of teaching and scholarship.  We balance educational tradition with innovation and foster the development of values.  We promote the open exchange of ideas.  We invite students to grow in their faith and religious literacy, nurture lives of service, and inspire them to work toward a just and peaceful world.

And finally, the third question:  What is our purpose?

  • The last paragraph of our mission statement clearly proclaims the purpose and goals of a Gustavus education: We want our students to attain their full potential as persons, to develop in them a capacity and passion for lifelong learning, and finally, what is perhaps the most often quoted phrase of our mission statement – we aim to prepare students for fulfilling lives of leadership and service in society.

There is a lot packed into our mission statement.  205 words – yes, I counted them.  205 words that define us.  205 words to live by.  Although it is too long for most of us to memorize, a close reading reveals that its tenets are specific, strong, and meaningful.  I encourage you to keep the mission close at hand and read it often.  It is our reason for being.  It creates a sense of unity for our community.  It is a common calling that propels us forward.

Implicit in the mission statement are our core values – excellence, community, justice, service, and faith.  All five of these words show up in our mission statement, and that is certainly not accidental.  Our core values are part of our identity as an institution – they are deeply embedded in how we live and work together in pursuit of our common goals.  We intentionally and regularly lift up our values as guideposts for our everyday interactions.

Gustavus is a mission-driven institution, and we are a mission-driven people.  Our purpose is centered on our students.  And students, I hope that you appreciate this truth – you are at the center of our conversations, our preparations for classroom learning and extra-curricular activities, and our investments in caretaking our campus grounds and facilities.  We want you to flourish intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually while you are here.  We want to instill in you a drive for personal excellence, a curiosity about ideas, people, society, and the world around you.  We want you to wrestle with big questions, to think deeply about who you are going to be, and what you are going to do.  We aim to practice radical hospitality, promote a sense of belonging, embrace difference, and learn from each other in pursuit of the common good.  We want our community to care for each other, to put both heart and mind into each interaction and each relationship.  This is Gustavus…we are a mission-driven institution, and we are mission-driven people.

As you go forward today, do so with both confidence and humility, courage and caution, mindful of traditions and open to new ideas, and always rooted in our mission.  I wish for each of you gathered here today the fullness of wellbeing and wholeness, an abundance of joy, and the blessings of grace and peace.

Amen.

 

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