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2009 State of the University address

September 16, 3:30 p.m., Comstock Hall, School of Music

2009 State of the University address

Provost Willihnganz

Good afternoon everyone. My original remarks included several references to the person who truly has been the driving force behind this university’s accomplishments for the past seven years. But as those of us who work with him on a daily basis know, he doesn't like to take the spotlight away from his colleagues. So at his request, I have removed his name from my references during my state of the university address. However I haven't actually started the address yet. Before I do, I would like to publicly thank him for his outstanding leadership, his friendship and for being the greatest president I have ever had the opportunity to know.

Now on to the state of the university.

As we have striven to bring the best and brightest to UofL, we have remained inclusive and diverse.

Recent events have had me thinking of water — not the kind that cleanses and refreshes. Not the kind that quenches our thirst and renews our parched souls. No, I’ve been thinking of the kind of water that harbors creatures of the swamp, reflects our deepest fears and exudes the stink of decay. Water that makes us stand on the shore, knowing that we must go in; sure we do not have the courage to enter. Water where Grendel’s mother waits.

You all remember Grendel, I’m sure, and of course Grendel’s mother, and how more than 1500 years ago, in probably the oldest version of a heroic epic poem in the English language, Beowulf bravely fights both Grendel and his mother. But before Beowulf can restore the kingdom to peace and prosperity, he has to enter that water.

As I reflect on the last year, we began here at UofL in much the way we find in the tale of Beowulf — with the people of the kingdom celebrating their victories. And there were — and have been over the past year — victories aplenty — even for a people of noble ambition who dream of being great.

What are some of those victories?

As of today, our graduation rate stands at 48.2 percent — up from 31 percent only 10 years ago. We lead the state in Fulbright award winners; and the ACT score of our freshman class rises every year — this year 24.5, 17 percent above the state average. We have a great undergraduate class, but our professional schools and graduate programs are also attracting exceptional students. For example, our medical school class posted its highest MCAT scores ever this year. We can thank Dale Billingsley, Bill Pierce, Jenny Sawyer, our wonderful deans and our students themselves for these amazing accomplishments.

As we have striven to bring the best and brightest to UofL, we have remained inclusive and diverse. Our Cardinal Covenant allows those who cannot afford college a free education here, and our numbers of African American students, international students and women students continue to rise. Under the leadership of Bill Pierce and now interim Dean Beth Boehm, our restructuring of our School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies is nearly complete, engaging us in more integration with our other academic units and assuming leadership for the well-being of our graduate students.

Our advising and student support areas continue to win national acclaim. Just an example of one of the many honors it's received, our REACH program recently received the Tutor Program Award of Excellence and received second place for its website from the national College Learning Center Association.

Our new Transfer Center and our Center for Veterans Affairs will help our non-traditional students successfully transition to the university. Our support for those who have given so much to serve our country has just earned us recognition from GI magazine — making us one of only about 15 percent of our country’s universities to be designated as “veterans friendly.”

Amid a slew of honors and awards bestowed on many of our students, the accomplishment of our Cardinal Singers must be singled out and acknowledged. Under the leadership of Dean Chris Doane and the brilliance of Kent Hatteberg, the Cardinal Singers took first place in the Gran Prix of Choral Singing international competition in South Korea. The Cardinal Singers currently rank first in the world among mixed choirs and second among the top 1000 choirs competing internationally in the world today. We are extremely proud of them.

Our scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement show that our freshman students find our curriculum and our teaching to be involving and participatory. And as we work with our faculty to implement our Ideas to Action program, this signature pedagogy with its emphasis on critical thinking, the integration of knowledge and the service to solve real problems will equip our students to be the civically engaged leaders our world so needs them to be. I am grateful to Gale Rhodes, Patty Payette, the i2a steering committee and the pioneering faculty who are diligently and creatively changing their curriculum to accommodate this significant innovation in teaching.

Two new scholarship programs will foster leadership and discovery in our students, thanks to the generosity of the Jones family and the James Graham Brown Foundation. We are happy to welcome the Jones and Brown scholars to our campus this year.

Our campus has become more vibrant thanks to the opening of the new 800-bed Province residence hall, the re-emergence of the Red Barn as a campus center for music and student life and new dining facilities — with more on the way.

Our students themselves continue to be more involved. This year, 490 students pledged our fraternities and sororities, our highest total ever. More than 7,700 students — another record — competed in our intramural sports programs. We now boast more than 250 Resident Student Organizations, a 25 percent increase in the past four years.

And our resuscitated International Service Learning Programs earned the NASPA International Best Practice Award for Student Philanthropy in the Knowledge Community for International Education. We have the great leadership of Tom Jackson, our Student Government Association and student government President OJ to thank for all of these accomplishments.

As we continue to move forward, one of our major goals is to develop UofL as a great place to work. Under the interim leadership of Vice President Kim Maffet, we’ve launched the Great Places to Work initiative to find and develop innovations that will help everyone here feel supported and valued. This year my office will work with HR and others to institute new orientation programs for faculty, staff and administrators — including chairs, directors and supervisors — to make them feel better integrated into the larger university community.

Vice Provost Mordean Taylor-Archer has continued to work with deans and vice presidents and The Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality, led by co-chairs Vicki Hines-Martin and now Andrew Williams, to help us create an engaged and inclusive community. UofL was again the only state institution to achieve 8 of 8 goals in the Kentucky Plan. And our university diversity plans now not only serve to keep us moving forward, but also have become a model for many other universities to emulate. Our first diversity awards were given out this year and the recipients were the College of Arts and Sciences, which was the overall winner. And the runners up were our School of Law and the School of Nursing.

This last year we saw a renewed emphasis on the well being of women here at UofL with an update from the Commission on the Status of Women on the 1994 gender study. Their report showed that we are making progress, but we still have a way to go. Sharon La Rue, Susan Duncan, Bob Goldstein and the members of the Commission are to be commended for this work, and we look forward to implementing many of their recommendations over the coming year.

With our partners at Family Scholar House, we opened our Early Learning Campus and have entered into an agreement to partner with the Presbyterian Center to open a second Early Learning Campus downtown. Our children are important to us, and we can't start too early in preparing them to take on the role for college when they're ready for that.

Our commitment to discovery and innovation has remained groundbreaking, and is a top priority here at UofL. Faculty throughout our university are conducting powerful, important research — I would like to recognize all of them, but Dr. Ramsey told me I had only two hours in which to give this speech and that wouldn't leave enough time. So I'll mention only a few.

Our $22 million Center for Predictive Medicine will open this year and will move us toward excellence in the discovery of vaccines and treatments for many emerging diseases. Dean Rick Clover in our School of Public Health and Information Sciences has continued his national role in advising government agencies on emergency preparedness — especially important to us right now, flu preparedness. Another of the school's faculty members, Dr. Paul McKinney, has received two grants totaling $8 million on confronting public health hazards and pandemic planning and preparedness. In addition, Dr. David Tollerud has received a $13 million grant for a National Children’s Study in Jefferson County that will give us longitudinal data — from preconception to adulthood — on how our children grow.

Our research emphasis on hearts has remained strong. Dr. Roberto Bolli has continued to be a source of inspiration and hope for many with heart disease, and this year a team of UofL doctors removed stem cells from a patient’s heart, regrew healthy cells from them, and then reinserted those cells into the heart. That patient is already improving — a very encouraging sign for many people with heart disease.

Under the leadership of Dean Mickey Wilhelm, we were recognized for our work in renewable energy this year with state designation to lead the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research and Environmental Stewardship. Thanks to a $20 million bequest from Hank and Becky Conn, our Speed School of Engineering is poised to make major research contributions in energy storage, solar energy, alternative fuels, smart grid and energy efficiency technologies.

Priscilla Hancock and her IT team brought the fastest supercomputer in the commonwealth to our campus, enabling our researchers to compete with the nation’s finest universities for high-tech, leading-edge research funding.

And as we continue our quest for designation as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute, we have been helped by a $20 million gift from the James Graham Brown Foundation, and under Dr. Don Miller’s able leadership, have continued the groundbreaking advances that are garnering international acclaim.

Some of those advances include:

  • Gardasil, invented by two faculty members here, which has been found to not only prevent cervical cancer, but to prevent genital warts in men. Our scientists are attempting to grow the vaccine in tobacco, potentially leading to a less expensive vaccine and discovering new uses for one of Kentucky’s treasured historical crops.
  • Dr. John Trent's partnership with Dataseam, a company borne of the state's new economy efforts; through the innovative linking of school computers throughout Kentucky, they together provide opportunity to expedite more effective cancer drugs and create our state's next generation of scientists and researchers.
  • And over in our School of Social Work, Dean Terry Singer announced the creation of the first Endowed Chair of Oncology Social Work in the country.

These and countless other researchers generated $140 million in grants and contracts, and in an ever-more competitive environment, we are grateful to our entire faculty for the amazing work that they do.

This is scholarship of discovery and economic development at its finest.

While continuing to build our funded research program is critical to our success, our faculty in other areas have also produced significant scholarship and creative activity. Paul Griner in our English Department just won an award from Narrative Magazine for his short story "Newbie Was Here." And he was also selected for Vogue Magazine's "Top Ten Summer Reading List."

Russ Vandenbroucke of our Theatre Arts Department has been recognized for his play “Soldiers Circle” — which dramatizes the experience of serving in the Iraq War.

Professor John Hale’s internationally acclaimed book on the ancient Athenian navy, Lee Dugatkin’s widely published work on the role of altruism in the animal world, and our music school faculty’s ability to create works that stir the soul all contribute to our prestige as a university and encourage the human spirit to thrive even as we work to cure diseases and make our community a better, more economically viable place.

As we begin this new year, flush with justifiable pride in our success and resolute in our commitment to go forward a better university, we have a clear vision of where we go next.

These researchers, our students and much of our community depend on our University Libraries. And our library system, under the guidance of Dean Hannelore Rader, once again is ranked among the nation’s top 100 research libraries.

Much of what has been accomplished in the past year cements our role as a leading university. Our commitment to quality educational programs has resulted in national or international acclaim. Thanks to Dean Charlie Moyer’s energy and creativity, our entrepreneurship program has received its highest national ranking ever— #15 in U.S. News & World Report. Dean John Sauk and the dental school improved its national ranking to #12 among dental schools for funding; and Dean Marcia Hern and her faculty have begun the state’s first distance learning program in nursing — bringing the University of Louisville quality programming to Owensboro, (Ky.).

Under Connie Shumake’s able leadership in writing the application, we received designation this year as a Carnegie Engaged University in recognition of our commitment to community. One of the initiatives that helped us earn the designation was our Signature Partnership, a collaboration with our city's neglected west side to help improve health and educational attainment for the people there. I would like to thank Dan Hall and Ralph Fitzpatrick for their leadership of that effort.

We also were recognized for our efforts to reach out state-wide through clinics and service projects such as the Trover Clinic or the dental school’s trips to Pikeville, (Ky.); for Dean Blaine Hudson and the College of Arts and Sciences and our School of Music’s work on the Arts and Culture Partnership, and for our Sustainability Efforts, including the nationally recognized Partnership for a Green City.

Under the leadership of Dean Jim Chen, our Brandeis School of Law joined with the Legal Aid Society to open a law clinic that is helping disadvantaged residents with housing issues.

And we had fun last year, joining our women’s basketball team as they raced to their First Final Four appearance and came within one game of winning their first national championship.

We have Tom Jurich to thank for the 17 of 23 teams who advanced to the NCAA postseason competition and our eight teams that won BIG EAST Conference championships. We should also recognize the spectacular academic achievement of our athletes with a record number of student athletes making the Athletic Directors Honor Roll. Nearly 55 percent of them have a 3.0 GPA or higher and our overall graduation rate for athletes is over 65 percent.

And one other statistic — with over $96 million — a school record — in philanthropic support that came from our friends this year, we need to thank Keith Inman, the development staff and our many friends — especially our Board of Overseers and our Foundation board — for this generous outpouring of support. We could not do any of this without them.

And our Board of Trustees continues to inspire us with their wise counsel, commitment and unwavering support of our efforts. We have seen another year of exceptional leadership from our Faculty and Staff senates, led by Melissa Laning and Brent Fryrear, reaffirming our belief that shared governance is simply a smart way to run a university.

We have accomplished so much. But as in the fictional land of the Danes, our celebration has also been invaded by Grendel. The Beowulf epic describes Grendel as, I quote, "a wrathful spirit, wretched being…that woke to life all the evil broods, monsters, elves, beasts and giants, too.” In the story, Grendel comes into the hall as everyone sleeps after the celebration of their victories and “tears men and women limb from limb,” end quote then drags their bodies back into the swamp. Beowulf — our hero who can bring strength against impossible odds — stays awake one night while the others sleep, and when Grendel next enters the hall, grabs the monster’s great claw-like hand and refuses to let go. Beowulf — after a satisfyingly long and gory battle — pulls Grendel’s arm from the socket and the beast goes back to the swamp to die — again in the words from the text, “hell’s captive, howling at his wound.”

Because real life is not an epic poem, instead of just being able to kill Grendel once, we have had to battle him again and again, and there have been moments in the last year when we have felt that we, too, are being pulled limb from limb. Again and again, our attention has been pulled from our goals to fight something more urgent.

As Dr. Ramsey talked about earlier, we've struggled with the weather. Because the economy has been so weak, we've struggled with the budget.

Were that not enough, we have faced betrayal by a former dean and by our neurosurgery group, as they exited to a competitor with little regard for community trauma needs, the well being of resident medical students or their fellow UofL physicians.

We’ve battled crime on campus and just last week hired more security officers and more police to try to make sure our community is safe.

In each of these cases, we, too, have had our heroes. Certainly our physical plant folks have felt the brunt of the weather-related events, and have again and again risen to the challenge of restoring order to a decimated campus. I remember that during the ice storm, some of them were wading into freezing water to unclog drainage vents or were slipping across campus trying to clear sidewalks so that it would be save for the rest of us. And I think the tree chipper has been running all year as they have tried to turn all those fallen branches into mulch.

There is no way to adequately describe how much they did after the flood, pulling drywall, sewage-soaked carpeting, waterlogged boxes and furniture out of the muck. Going into wet, smelly, hot, dark places, all the while reassuring us to not worry, that it could be fixed and school would open on time for fall semester. They were as good as their word, and during welcome weekend, parents who were expecting New Orleans after Katrina were amazed at how great everything looked when they arrived.

Under the leadership of Larry Owsley and Larry Detherage, the men and women of our physical plant have rescued us again and again. The 500 people who are still displaced because work on their buildings is not complete have also been heroes on this one, as have the countless faculty, staff and administrators in many areas who have gone above and beyond to keep us functional and moving forward through the worst of the repairs.

When faced with such a challenge, we stand on the shore and we wonder if we are enough. We wonder if we will ever be enough.

We must go into the water.

And in the best example of “nothing stops the news,” our Cardinal newspaper staff gladly accepted computers donated by the Courier Journal, resolutely dragged what they could from their flooded offices and, from their temporary space in Davidson Hall, made sure that the presses didn’t stop and we had a version of the Cardinal ready when everyone arrived this fall. Our students give me hope that our great democracy will continue to be fueled by a strong, free press and by people who understand commitment to the civic good, resoluteness in the face of adversity and good will in trying times.

The faculty and staff of the College of Education and Human Development, under the leadership of Interim Dean Blake Haselton, have reclaimed their hall from Grendel this year, healing hurts, restoring shared governance and continuing with the critical work of being one of the 100 best colleges of education in the country. I have promised them that with new policies and new procedures either already in place or being implemented — with their continued support, I will not let what happened before ever happen again. Grendel made it into that hall once while we slept; we will not let him in again.

Executive Vice President Larry Cook and Dean Edward Halperin are our heroes in facing down the threats created by the neurosurgeons. They were assisted by the very able men and women who joined our faculty to form a new neurosurgery group, by the faculty who stayed, by the resident students who chose to stay and by the faith that the oversight groups have shown in allowing both our trauma center and our residency program to continue. On our Health Sciences Campus, we also are pleased that, in spite of everything, we are able to move forward with the opening of the Faculty Outpatient Clinic and the soon to be opened Clinical and Translational Research Building, and are building new imaging facilities to support our Cardiovascular Innovation Institute. We have continued our work to strengthen our business development capacity with a reorganization of tech transfer (Office of Technology Transfer), Metacyte and NUCLEUS.

And with the tireless commitment they have shown for so many years, Mike Curtin and Susan Ingram, with assistance from the Provost’s Budget Advisory group, led us though another round of cuts while protecting academic budgets to the extent possible and avoiding the massive layoffs and furloughs that universities in so many other states have suffered. Nobody could say the budget situation has been good, but through these crises, we have found more than $97 million in efficiencies by reengineering of processes and expense management; by converting underperforming assets like our Shelby Campus into something that would generate income; by increasing clinical income to support education and research; by increasing contract research and commercialization income; by creating private sector partnerships; by enhancing fundraising; and by expanding the research mission through innovative financing tools like the tax increment financing plan at our Health Sciences Center.

Like Beowulf, we have fought Grendel and we have won.

But the tale does not end here. Into the midst of the great celebration following Grendel’s death comes Grendel’s mother.

Grieving over the loss of her son, Grendel’s mother plots revenge and chooses to carry off one of the king’s best friends. Outraged, grieving, fearful, Beowulf and company trace Grendel’s mother back to her lair, which — you guessed it — is under the water. The kind of water I spoke of when I began. Burton Raffel’s translation of the text tells us:

“…They live in secret places, windy cliffs, wolf dens where water pours from the rocks, then runs underground, where mist steams like black clouds, and the groves of trees growing out over their lake are all covered with frozen spray, and they wind down, snake like roots, that reach as far as the water and help keep it dark. At night that lake burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom, no wisdom reaches such depths. A deer, hunted through the woods by packs of hounds, a stag with great horns, though driven through the forest from faraway places, prefers to die on those shores, refuses to save its life in that water. It isn’t far, nor is it a pleasant spot.”

Against the advice of everyone, Beowulf arms himself to enter that burning lake — with a great golden helmet, a mighty sword and magic, protective ring mail — the most priceless and strongest — forged by the wives of trolls.

As he enters the water, he is ruthlessly grabbed by Grendel’s mother and dragged to the bottom of the lake, where a fierce battle ensues. Beowulf finds that his helmet is useless and that his mighty sword dissolves when it touches the beast’s blood. As he fights for his life, his friends wait by the side of the lake and give him up for dead because he is down there “for a very long time.” We don't know how long 'a very long time' is, but we know it is almost more than a human can bear.

At the very moment he anticipates his death, he looks to the wall of Grendel’s mother’s lair, sees her mighty sword glowing there, pulls it from the chain that tethers it and uses it to finally vanquish the foe.

In his analysis of the Beowulf epic, poet David Whyte tells us that to fight Grendel we must face our fears, but fighting Grendel’s mother means we have to face not only our fears, but the fears behind our fears.

And at this point, the Beowulf story reminds us again of our own.

As we begin this new year, flush with justifiable pride in our success and resolute in our commitment to go forward a better university, we have a clear vision of where we go next. We have a new strategic plan, the 2020 Plan, which maps out our goals for the immediate future. Developed by over 35 faculty, staff and administrators, with input from many more, the plan affirms the vision of House Bill One and sets specific goals for achievement. Under the leadership of Dr. David Hein, we already are advancing toward achieving goals in this plan.

When we reach those goals, we’ll have fulfilled our quest to be one of the premier metropolitan research universities in the world. We’ll be known for the quality of our undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, and for the civically minded, ethically oriented, capable leaders that claim our school as their own.

Our research will have changed the landscape of our city, helping to create a more economically viable, livable place; a more culturally exciting and tolerant life space; a healthier place where meaningful work and creativity of purpose are more than just possibilities. Our commitment to the community will be heralded as an example of how a metropolitan mission is more than an accident of place. It is a deliberate assumption of the mantle of leadership, working in partnership with others, to bring all the resources of a world-class university to bear on solving the most significant problems of our day.

To accomplish this, we know we will have to face Grendel. And as we saw in the tale, Beowulf triumphs over Grendel by using all the tools he possesses. And in our world today, the Grendels that face us can be fought with more money, more people, more legislative and state support, better facilities, higher ACT scores, increases in philanthropy — all the things we must have for the 2020 Plan to succeed.

And to fight Grendel, we will continue to compete for every great student to attend UofL and graduate from here, will continue to wrestle for every research and stimulus dollar to support our work. We’ll enter the fray in Frankfort and lobby for the funds we must have if our university is to produce the educated citizenry and the innovative discovery so needed to further the economic well-being and quality of life. We’ll work in the classroom and the labs and the clinics and the marketplace, but you’ll also find us in every area of our community, endlessly partnering to create an economically viable, healthy, just and tolerant society. And we’ll turn again to our friends, to ask for their continued support in our efforts.

Grendel represents those things on the surface, according to author David Whyte, and as such we can fight them on the surface with all the tools that modern life presents us with. And so we will.

But as in the story of Beowulf, there are fears behind our fears that also must be fought. To fight them, we must go below the surface. We must choose to go into the water.

What are those fears behind our fears?

  • That the sheer ambition of our goals is more than we can achieve without the money that will be required to support them. We’re tired, and after all our accomplishment, we wonder if we can survive another round of cuts, another after that, without abandoning our dreams.
  • That the great experiment in public education that this country has supported since the end of World War II — the marvelous system of higher education that has allowed the growth of an educated workforce, birthed the most significant innovations in the latter half of the 20th century in science, mathematics, medicine, the social sciences and the arts; and the innovations that have led to nearly endless economic and social innovation and contributed significantly to the per capita income that makes us the envy of much of the world — we worry that that great experiment has to come to an end.
  • That what has been seen as a public good is now seen as a private one. One that private individuals are unwilling or unable to pay for. Calls for greater efficiency, affordability, accountability, standardization undermine our confidence and distract us from our goals. When did we stop valuing knowledge and valuing education? When did quality cease to be part of the debate? When did our students start wondering if it was worth it? When did we?
  • We fear that academic freedom itself is at risk, and the tenure system that has fostered the intellectual depth that any society needs to survive is itself threatened.

For us, these are Grendel’s mother. True or mythical, these are the things that have us quivering in the hall, and grieving for losses as we would for a dear friend. These are the things that we think we cannot fight. But as Beowulf shows us — we can and we must.

How do we do that?

We must choose to go into the water.

And we must be willing to say, “this, and no more.” We must not cower in the hall, wringing our hands and wailing with despair that it is too hard, there's too much risk, there’s no money. Even if everyone tells us that we cannot do this, that this monster is too big to fight, we know that to refuse, to accept things as they are and give up the dream of how they could be — no, of how they must be — is to die. Think back on the words from the poem: “a deer, hunted through the woods by packs of hounds…a stag with great horns…prefers to die on those shores, refuses to save its life in those waters.”

When faced with such a challenge, we stand on the shore and we wonder if we are enough. We wonder if we will ever be enough.

We must go into the water.

We must defend tenure and the twin values of academic freedom and shared governance. We must see quality and excellence as the key markers of any success, we must believe that an educated populace is the cornerstone of a great democracy and must never, never forget that what we do is worth it, whatever the price. We must remember that Grendel’s mother lives in the waters of the unconscious and the imagination, and so she must be fought there. Through the ages, universities have been places where scholars have guarded the knowledge that has come before and created new knowledge that could be disseminated and used by those who came to study and learn after. Whatever else we do, this will remain our core, and we will defend it. Like the chain mail forged from the strength of men and the wisdom and cunning of women that protected Beowulf when he went into the water, these values also protect us, as we know that we are wrapped within the community of scholars who make sure that we do not go into this battle alone.

We must go into the water.

And as we do that, we must also remember that much of what we are carrying is no longer useful and let it go. False ego that ignores the areas where we must improve; opinion and laziness that hide behind a false front of wisdom; believing that because we have a crown we are better than others or that our discipline, our scholarship, our curriculum, our work is impervious to change and must be defended always — these things are as useless in this battle as the golden helmet was to Beowulf. Because we have a sword, we still should not fight about everything. Refusing to change where we must, holding firm where firmness is foolish because we’re not protecting anything that matters, will simply melt our sword and leave us more vulnerable. Some of the critiques of higher ed — and us — are valid, and we must solve them, not just swing at them. Hiding in the hall is also not an option. We need to open hearts and minds so that we do not mistake the burning lake, the long ropes of reeds, the icy wind and the dark depths of the water for the monsters that we are actually here to fight.

But we must first choose to go into the water.

And know that we might be in there for a “very long time.” Change will not be quick or easy. Indeed in the words of another poet, it could “cost us not less than everything,” We will be tested and tempted to give up and go back to old ways, but hope reminds us that we will emerge victorious with friends waiting on the shore. We must not doubt our own strength and our capacity to do that which we think we cannot do.

We must go into the water.

And that water itself holds the key to our survival. We assume that our problems today can be solved with what we bring forth from the past, or that because we do not know the answer now, we will never know it. But Beowulf tells us that the answer is not on the shore; it is not where we are. We have to move forward, step into that dark and frightening water and at the very moment we fear that all is lost, we can “grasp the opportunities that are offered to us from the gritty truth that we too must pluck from the walls.” This again according to David Whyte, who points out that as Beowulf pulled the glowing sword from the wall in the monster’s lair sure that he was al ready dead, he very nearly did not see that the solution was there all along. So it is with us. We cannot know where the solutions will come from from where we stand now, cannot plan where the miracle will be found. We may need to risk everything to find it, but find it we will.

Beowulf is ultimately a tale of kinship, courage, and honor — not just of men but of all of us. As I look out at all of you today, those of you who have given so much to make this university what it is and it has become over the last few years, I know that those values are among us. And even as we face that dark water, we will not falter and we will not let each other down. We will achieve our vision, and we will emerge holding our victory in our hands. And in the end, the water will once again be that which refreshes, quenches our thirst, leaves us clean and renewed — burning now with the glow of achievement.

Oh, but wait, I didn’t tell you how Beowulf’s story ends. After Beowulf’s triumph over Grendel’s mother there is celebration in the hall, and there is a time – again a very long time – of peace and prosperity.

And then later, much later, there is a dragon… but that’s another story.

Thank you all very much.

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