Lexington, Virginia • September 9, 2009
Washington and Lee University President Kenneth P. Ruscio challenged members of the W&L community to renew their commitment to the values that he said are at the heart and soul of the University during his convocation address that officially opened W&L's 261st academic year.
The University welcomed a first-year class of 473 students to the campus on Sept. 5. Classes begin on Thursday, Sept. 10.
Addressing the annual opening convocation amid occasional rain showers on the Front Lawn, Ruscio said that he had invited himself to provide the address so that he could issue the challenge to the students, primarily, but also to faculty, staff and alumni.
Ruscio, a W&L alumnus who is beginning his fourth year as the University's president, told the students that they should be concerned about answering two questions: What do they owe to future generations? And what do they owe to one another?
In examining the first of those questions, Ruscio said that the University would dedicate itself to cutting its energy usage by 25 percent over the next four years as one way of demonstrating sensitivity to the obligation to the future. In addition, he referred to work underway to renovate and refurbish the University's historic Colonnade in the coming years as "a physical expression of how we honor our past by building for our future." The first phase of the Colonnade project began in May, when construction began on Newcomb Hall.
"At Washington and Lee, we have an implicit intergenerational contract. Only an institution with a past as rich and complex as ours can truly appreciate what we owe to the future, for we experience daily the inheritance we have been blessed with," said Ruscio. "Of all people, those of us here at Washington and Lee should be among those who rise up to proclaim this ethical principle: if we benefit from the sacrifice of those who came before us, as we surely do, we must sacrifice equally on behalf of those yet to come."
As for what the students owe one another, Ruscio made it clear that expectations for high standards of conduct are great at W&L, owing in large measure to the centrality of the University's Honor System.
"Our ability to fashion a community of honor," Ruscio said, "should demonstrate how we, more so than any other college, have still higher aspirations, among them to build a community of respect for all individuals, no matter their backgrounds, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity or their religious beliefs."
Citing anonymous and malicious postings on Web sites, incidents of sexual assault, and fraternity hazing as instances when the University's students sometimes fail to meet the institution's aspirations, he said that what members of the W&L community owe to one another is mutual respect — "a respect borne from recognizing that we share a common humanity with everyone in this community."
Added Ruscio: "The mark of a Washington and Lee man and woman--during your student days and later in your life long after you leave here--should be that anyone who comes in contact with you, no matter the setting, no matter their agreement or disagreement with you, no matter how different they are from you, walks away saying they were treated with respect."
In asking the students to rededicate themselves to these institutional values, Ruscio said that he was not asking anything special of them or anything that has not been asked of others before them.
"But from time to time, institutions like Washington and Lee need to remind themselves of what matters," he said. "Let this be one of those times. Let us embrace the beauty of the differences we bring to this place, as we also embrace the virtues that bind us together in this place of learning. Let us fashion an even stronger community of character, a community of honor and respect."