The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for educators. For me, it is especially so, because it includes one of my favorite events of the year: Convocation.
Convocation is the introduction to campus and academic life for our new students. We like to think of it as a “bookend” to graduation, which is why we treat it with a lot of the same ceremonial pomp.
Graduation is bittersweet, because it is our last opportunity as educators to impart a lesson to our students as undergraduates. Convocation is the first such opportunity with each new class, and that to me is what is so exciting, as I stand at the podium and look out at hundreds and hundreds of young people thirsting for learning and personal growth.
The lesson of Convocation is one of the true hallmarks of what sets UMKC apart. It is the balance of support and self-reliance that is the foundation of our approach to student success.
As a diverse urban campus, we enroll students from a wide range of educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. No two people in any class start out from exactly the same place. I have found that virtually everyone needs some kind of support of one form or another – academic, emotional, financial. We feel an institutional obligation to provide such support as part of our mission.
At the same time, as a leading research university, we must set high standards and insist that students meet those standards in order to earn degrees. We are educating our community’s future engineers, future nurses, future teachers and future leaders. We owe it to them, and to the community, to be sure that they can handle the responsibilities that will be placed on them as a consequence of the college degrees they hold.
Our support systems are designed for hard-working students committed to learning; they won’t allow anyone to leisurely coast to graduation. Dr. Miguel A. Carranza, the founding Director of our new Latina/Latino Studies Program, summed up our approach well in his Convocation address:
“You must succeed by achievement,” Prof. Carranza said. “You will be required to study long and hard to make good grades, and the first two semesters are crucial, but you can do it here at UMKC. There is an incredible support network for students here, but you have to use it.”
Dr. Gail Hackett, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, listed her “secrets of success” that are really anything but secret: go to class, and commit to three hours of independent study time for each hour spent in class. She promised to challenge the students academically, but added emphatically, “Don’t be afraid to seek help when you need it!”
At UMKC, we won’t do anything for you. But we will go to the ends of the earth with you. Understanding that crucial difference is Lesson One on the path to graduation.