The newest members of Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) received a warm welcome on Aug. 30 at the second annual Freshman Academic Convocation.
Coming a day after most freshmen had moved onto campus, the convocation was held in the Leonard Theater at Fordham Preparatory School. It featured welcoming addresses from Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham; Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., senior vice president/chief academic officer at Fordham; and Michael E. Latham, Ph.D., interim dean of FCRH.
The faculty address was delivered by J. Alan Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological sciences. He noted that classification—which people use to create dichotomies such as black and white, male and female—is a fundamental part of human nature.
“Despite what you may have heard, classification is the oldest profession in the world. In Genesis 2:20, the first big task that God gives in the Garden of Eden is to give names to all the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field,” he said.
“But despite the comfort that comes with being able to see everything in clear and categorical terms, our world is not black and white. Shades of gray predominate everywhere,” he said.
Clark used his own life story, which took him from his home in Illinois to the stages of New York City to law school in Michigan before he found his calling in conservation biology, as an example of staying open to life’s myriad possibilities.
“After many wonderful twists and turns, my childhood dream came true. I’m a wildlife biologist. I study endangered species and birds, including penguins. I really could not be happier with my lot in life,” he said. “Part one of my life closed when I began here at Fordham three years ago.”
Likewise, Clark told the Class of 2014 to think of part one of their life as complete.
“It’s never too late to dream. You can have new dreams tomorrow, or when you’re 70. It’s also never too late to start pursuing your dreams, however old you may be,” he said.
Latham exhorted students to think of themselves not simply as receivers of knowledge. As members of a remarkably privileged group, they have a real and pressing responsibility to pay attention to the destitution, warfare and deep inequalities that persist around the globe.
“Your academic excellence should matter. It should produce results, and it should ultimately provide you with the essential skills, abilities and inspiration to help produce a more humane, just and peaceful world,” he said.
This goes to the heart of the University’s mission as a Jesuit institution, he said, noting that St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, argued that knowledge is not neutral and that education must be an integral part of God’s work in the world.
“I pray that your entry into our intellectual community will transform you, and that you will, in turn, transform the wider society of which you are a part,” he said. “I pray that over the next four years, your experience here awakens and deepens your sense of imagination, discovery and compassion.”