Fall 2017 Convocation Address

You Have Arrived at Your Destination

September 13, 2017

Welcome, administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university to the 2017-2018 academic year!

Welcome, especially to the class of 2021! Quoting that all important source in your life, your GPS … "You have arrived."

We are here today to celebrate a new academic year and to welcome our newest class of students.

Class of 2021, it is indeed my pleasure to greet you on this very special day that marks a beginning for our new class of students as you embark on an important milestone in your lives. 

You are the first incoming class I am addressing as the 10th president of BSU, and as the first female president since 1865.

New students, this is an important time in your lives and in the history of this university.

There are many reasons why I am excited and honored to be here at BSU, including the outstanding and talented faculty who are dedicated to our students in ensuring an educational experience that sets us apart; amazing staff who have a long history of watching over our students and supporting them in their everyday lives; and, an incredible and vibrant surrounding community.

And of course, BSU is known for the most amazing students who exude confidence, pride, and high standards.  I have enjoyed getting to know many of you as I have walked around the campus.

And then there are the numerous accomplishments of BSU as evidenced by some of the recent announcements including:

  • Money magazine’s ranking of BSU among the nation’s top schools on its 2017 Best Colleges for Your Money list (462/711).
  • And the Diverse Issues in Higher Education publication, this year, listing Bowie State University among the Top 100 Minority Degree Producers for graduating African American students with Bachelor’s degrees in “All Disciplines Combined.”
  • The cutting edge research in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math disciplines, including the hallmark program in Cybersecurity.
  • BSU is known for the Education Innovation Initiative—EI2 program to provide experiential learning to our students, while partnering industry and businesses in the education process in preparing students for the workplace.
  • Our athletic teams and their outstanding seasons, year-over-year that have resulted in BSU leading the way as the CIAA defending champions in Women’s Bowling and Men’s Basketball, and rendering BSU as the CIAA Northern Division champions in Softball and Football.
  • The outstanding new facilities including the Fine and Performing Arts Center and the Center for Natural Science, Mathematics and Nursing.
  • And, just yesterday, if you haven’t heard, Bowie State University was ranked by U.S. News & World Report’s among the top 25 HBCUs 2018 Best Colleges list, recognizing the institution’s educational quality. The university moved up four spots since last year’s report to #22 on the list of outstanding HBCUs.

These achievements are all made possible through the dedicated work of so many including our outstanding faculty and staff.  

It is important that the campus community know and recognize the excellent work of our faculty. Faculty members like Dr. William Drakeford who serves as the principal investigator on three projects funded by the Department of Education, each over $1 million. He is also the principal investigator on a $1.1 million grant, in conjunction with the University of Maryland College of Education to train undergraduate students from underrepresented populations for doctoral study. And then there is English Professor Rion Scott who received a prestigious 2017 PEN literary award for his collection of short stories entitled “Insurrections.” The award recognizes the literary brilliance of debut works of fiction.

These are but two examples of the great work by our faculty.

So as you can see, as I did, there are many quality aspects to BSU; and like you, I believe I have found a wonderful fit for me in this outstanding university.

Since I arrived on July 1, I have been finding my way around new surroundings—meeting new people and finding new places. I am also learning some of the most important lessons such as where to get a good crab cake and how to properly pronounce Maryland. I was corrected about the pronunciation of Maryland - “Merleland"? I will admit, I am still working on that; and so, I ask forgiveness if this Philly girl doesn’t quite have the pronunciation together just yet.

Students, everyone here at Bowie State—the faculty, staff, administrators, and the current students join with you to share in this special time—this moment in your lives. We are thrilled you are here and have chosen BSU; and, we are excited to know how you will use this time.

New students, today is the day where we officially welcome you into your new university, and your new community. 

Yes, you have arrived…but I want to instill upon you that, this is not the end point, for on this day, you are doing more than entering a school. You are joining a community—a community of learners. And with every community, each member is asked to do their part to contribute and leave it better than when you arrived. 

As a community we share common values. Here at BSU we agree that we share the common values of Excellence, Civility, Integrity, Diversity and Accountability.

BSU is the first historically black university in the State of Maryland. Since 1865, students have made their mark and left a legacy for others to follow, and faculty have contributed their knowledge and teaching to encourage new knowledge and discoveries and to open young minds to a world of change and excitement in various disciplines. And since its founding there are many who, with great pride have called Bowie State their alma mater.

So, in the days ahead, students, I encourage you to give thought to what it means to be a part of the BSU community of learners as well as the impact and difference you will have at this, your new community, your future, and soon to be your alma mater. 

There are upper class students who are more than willing to extend a hand and introduce you to your new community.  Our student leaders are exceptional and have many ideas for how you can become more engaged in organizations, assuming leadership roles, and becoming active in the surrounding communities.

I know you are thinking, well I just arrived; but the time will pass quickly and important questions for you are: What will you do with your time here and what legacy will you leave?

Students, what I already know about you because you are here today, is that you are bright, and capable of achieving academic excellence, graduating from BSU, and achieving your dreams.

I also suspect that as you sit here today that some of you were able to traverse your earlier educational experience with relative ease to arrive at this point, while others traveled along a bumpier and perhaps less certain road. Whatever path you took, take pride and savor the journey and your accomplishments. 

You have arrived.

Each first-year class is unique. This year we have a record number of students—1,077 students (up 12.3% from last year). While most of this class hails from the various counties within the State of Maryland, 19 states and the District of Columbia are also represented. This first-year class also includes international students from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, India, and Cameroon.

And all of you, regardless of your place of origin, or your circumstances, you are on a promising pathway that not all who desire higher education are able to realize.

The National Information Center for Higher Education reports that in 2015 just 35.6% of 18-24 year olds were enrolled in college.

So students you have achieved a great deal already, and you are on a positive trajectory towards a bright future with opportunity to expand your knowledge of the world and reach a level of learning that few are afforded.

No other time in your life will afford this same type of opportunity, to be among such a community of learners. So take advantage of all that you have here at BSU – the time to explore various fields, attend a performance, take an elective course just because you are passionate about a topic, enroll in a study-abroad opportunity and explore the world outside of this region, or visit with a faculty member to delve deeper into a subject.

Early on in your academic experience, students, you will be asked to declare an area of study, and while you will choose your discipline—education, psychology, biology, chemistry etc., I challenge you to go a step beyond and ask yourself and challenge yourself: “to what end will I use my knowledge, unique talents and abilities? What is the purpose for the education and learning I will acquire here at BSU?" For all that you will learn and take from BSU, to what end will you use that knowledge?

Nelson Mandela once said that “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Students, the bar has been set high for you, but I know you can reach it. You see you are walking in the footsteps of students who have left indelible marks and remarkable examples for you to use as a guide … individuals such as Christa McAuliffe, for whom we have named one of our residence halls. She set her sights high and became an outstanding teacher. In 1985, she was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space Project and was scheduled to become the first teacher in space to conduct experiments from Space Shuttle Challenger.

She, along with six other astronauts perished on that mission as it exploded shortly after launch on January 28, 1986.

She received her master's in education supervision and administration from Bowie State University in 1978. And although she left us way too soon, she made an impact on those she taught and touched through her drive and commitment to education. She was quoted as saying: Reach for it. Push yourself as far as you can. That was her legacy of striving for more.

State Senator Joanne Benson graduated from Bowie State College with a B.S. in education in 1961. She has gone on to serve in government on such initiatives such as serving on the Task Force to Study the History and Legacy of Slavery in Maryland; the Task Force to Study Repealing the Disenfranchisement of Convicted Felons in Maryland; and on the Maryland Commission on Disabilities. She has received numerous awards for her contributions for her service in government and to her community.

Jovan Adeppo best known for his role as Cory Maxson in the movie Fences with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. He received his B.A. in political science and philosophy degree from Bowie State before moving on to Los Angeles to become a writer. He eventually found himself with significant acclaim at a young age opposite some the best actors in the world.

Another notable member of the BSU family is Toni Braxton who attended BSU before going on to sell over 67 million records. She has won seven Grammy Awards, nine Billboard Music Awards, seven American Music Awards and several other awards. Aside from her success in music continues to give of her time as a member of the Board of Visitors for BSU—making an impact on education.

In each one of these examples you see ordinary people achieving reaching high, achieving success and making a difference.

We are living in extraordinary times and more than ever, you have the ability to change the world with your unique talents, abilities and knowledge.  Today’s problems are very hard, but seated among you is the scientist who has the potential to uncover a new treatment for Alzheimer’s; the social work major who can address the growing population of people who are homeless, and the government and history major who has the ability to go on and create policies to reduce food insecurity in our society. 

According to CNBC, "Every minute, we are seeing about half-million attempts of hacking in cyber space."

Seated among you are students studying cybersecurity, systems and computer science that could create new ways to maintain safety for our businesses and organizations to combat the cyber attacks that are threatening our economic and financial systems and structures.

With the challenges facing our nation and the world today, we need each and every one of you like Christa McAuliffe and Toni Braxton and the many others who made an impact on the lives of others and their communities—striving for excellence. 

I too am looking forward to the opportunity for me to contribute my own skills, knowledge and abilities to an institution that prides itself in how we educate students, an institution with an incredible history and legacy of providing outstanding education and striving to ensure access for generations who could otherwise not have achieved their hopes and dreams for a better life.

Barack Obama once said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

The world is changing dramatically and that change challenges us as a university to think differently, creatively, and innovatively in how we deliver education.

Incremental change will not do. We must race forward if we are to achieve and continually maintain excellence.

Those reasons for our race to excellence?

  • Changing demographics
  • Technology that is changing exponentially
  • Globalization
  • Security threats
  • Climate and sustainability challenges

…to name a few changes.

So, today I ask that students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the university, to commit to contributing and ensuring that we each do what we can to be the change that we seek for our BSU and meet the challenges whatever they might be, head on.

We are good, but we can excel and reach higher than where we are today. The vision that I am striving to make a reality is for a brighter tomorrow so that our graduates are prepared to enter the workforce and make a difference, go into our communities and tackle the challenges that face us as a nation and as a global community.

My vision for Bowie State University is to build on strength and excellence together as a community of learners to:

  • Preserve the lasting legacy of Bowie State University as the first Historically Black Institution in the State of Maryland.
  • Continue to build academic excellence that you see and experience in the classrooms and across the campus.
  • Create curricular and co-curricular opportunities supportive and engaging of 21st generation of learners.
  • Encourage and support the diversity of learners enrolled at BSU.
  • Create new partnerships in our local and global communities to connect us to the world.
  • Develop new and distinctive programs that uniquely define us as an institution.
  • Hold ourselves accountable and develop fiscally sound models, metrics and be able to communicate to our public all of the value we have here at BSU;
  • and to ensure the viability of this institution for the next 150 years.

BSU, and class of 2021 the journey continues on, beyond today. 

Like the runner in a relay, we have been handed the baton—and for this stretch it’s about what we will do until it’s time for us to hand off to the next generation.

I am doing what I can each day to get us out in front of the pack; and so when I make the hand off to the next leader of Bowie State University, whenever that might be, I will know that I’ve run a strong race to get us across the finish line. 

Anyone who knows about running you know you don’t just run to the line.  No, your goal is to run through the finish line.  So Bowie State, this isn’t the end of the destination. 

I am looking forward to seeing how you will make your mark before you walk across the stage and we celebrate together your accomplishments. 

Together we have arrived at this destination stop. I invite everyone to join me in this race, to get us out of the blocks and get us moving along. 

And to help in growing the endowment and providing support for students, this week, I established a new scholarship—the Racing to Excellence Endowed Scholarship. It is my hope that the scholarship will inspire generations of students to never forget that each day you have a choice to make on how you will run the race and contribute to the betterment of their lives and the lives of others.

This scholarship is established in honor of my father, Alex J. Woodley, who was an educator and a track and field coach of Olympic athletes and President and CEO of the Philadelphia Pioneer Educational-Athletic Development Club. He passed away suddenly in 2004 after having coached numerous athletes from around the country and the world including over 50 champions in the NCAA, World and Olympic Games.

He greatly valued education and instilled in his family, his students and in the community the need to maintain excellence and high standards. Track and field was also his platform to advance civil rights and equality around the world including taking on issues of apartheid in South Africa when athletes were unable to compete in their sport.

It is my hope that everyone here will join me to do what you can to make a difference for others and to live out the legacy set by past generations, and here at BSU, the founders, the faculty and students who travelled this campus for over 150 years. 

I am just in my third month as president at BSU, but I commit that when I am in my 43rd month, and throughout my tenure as your president, I will continually strive for excellence to ensure that BSU will be the Flame of Faith and the Torch of Truth – that beacon of hope for the future.

It was John Dewey, the American philosopher, psychologist, and educator, who once said: “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.”

Thank you.