My Convocation 2018 Welcoming Remarks

Good evening and I am thrilled to welcome you all to the Honors Program at Ferris State University!

First, the most important item of the night: please, pull out your phones, no, not so you can mute them but so you can follow us on twitter, @ferrishonors,

Facebook page (ferrishonors),

Instagram as Ferris_Honors_Program,

Use or follow the HashTag  #FerrisHonorsFunDay, and #FerrisHonorsFollowTrain

and we’re even on snapchat (@Ferrishonors)

But, don’t worry, the peer mentors will be running the SnapChat account!

Oh yeah, we’re also on Google+,

so if you happen to work for Google or hold stock, and really want google+ to happen, you can follow us there as well.

To begin, I want to try some audience participation here. Everybody raise your hand, go on, as high as it will go. Go ahead, don’t worry.

OK, great. Now raise it higher.

What the heck was that?  I had already asked you to raise your hand as high as you could. How  did it go higher?

I think you can probably guess where I’m going with this.  

But let’s back up a little, to 1998 (only half a lifetime ago for those in my generation!), the logo of the Honors Program was designed by students.  It is a simple, idealized column, that you see here. It’s on our medallions–the one’s your faculty are wearing now, and that you will wear four years from now.

It isn’t just any random column, though. As the architecture students in the room can tell you, it is a Doric column– 

the same kind of column found on the Parthenon in Athens.

The choice of this column connects our program back to the cradle of democracy and the foundation of the academy.  In Athens, for the first time, people decided knowledge ought to be based on reason and evidence, observation and analysis, rather than authority or power.  And that was how the first Universities appeared.

Aristotle, the greatest of the Ancient Greek Philosophers–and founder of the longest running school, the Lyceum, was interested in the question of what makes a person successful–or to be more precise, ‘excellent’.  Through careful observation and comparison, he came to the conclusion, summarized here, that excellence is not something you are born with, but rather something that is cultivated by habitual practice.

You want to be great at football? Practice.  You want to be great at playing the piano? Practice.  In our culture, we understand that. Hard work produces excellent results.

The same principle is true in education. Do you want to be a great doctor? Practice. Or, as will be directly relevant to about half of you next week– a great public speaker?  Practice. A lot. For some reason, that simple insight escapes many people in our culture.

Even more pressing than that, the question Aristotle asked was: What does it mean to be a great person? And how does one cultivate the habits of living that produce excellence?  

Notice that Aristotle is NOT asking ‘what does it mean to be a good ‘student’? He is asking ‘what does it mean to be a great person?’  The distinction, I think, is repeated by our founder, Woodbridge N. Ferris.

Ferris wrote, “When I use the term education, I do not use it as an equivalent for schooling. The two terms “education” and “schooling” are not synonymous… Schooling at its best in the United States frequently has a tendency to make the acquisition of knowledge its chief objective.  Education is to do with the enrichment of life.” (p. 25) To his students, he advised: “Use education for sane living, not simply as a means of making money, not as a means of escaping work.”

Excellent, successful, happy people deliberately practice at being excellent, successful and happy–so much so that it becomes automatic and habitual.

What we do becomes who we are.

So the Honors program is set up in the tradition of Aristotle and Woodbridge Ferris — this is a program for those who pursue excellence, not only in their ‘schooling’, but in their lives.  For those who wish to follow their advice you should, as Ferris advised, “correlate all the work of your school to the work of the community in which you live.”

We are going to ask a lot of you. There certainly are easier ways through college.  But those of you who rise to the challenge and fulfill the Honors commitments, will cultivate habits of living that will serve you well far beyond your undergraduate years.

We, here on the stage, are here to help you in this pursuit of excellence. We’ll challenge you in the classroom. We’ll challenge you to use your knowledge and expertise to make our community a better place. We’ll challenge you to accept leadership positions, both within the Honors Program and the University as a whole.  

We’ll be there to support and provide the resources that you’ll need to succeed.  We’ll push you, that is for certain, but we’ll also be there to help you up if you stumble.

A few years back, I asked the Honors student council to create a statement that would tie our actions directly to the values we express. We call this statement ‘The Four columns’.  Each of these ‘columns’ expresses a commitment to one of the values of the program by explicitly connecting what we do to why we do it.

It reads:

We, as Honors students at Ferris State University, aspire to achieve excellence through our commitments to:


  • for intellectual autonomy and academic excellence so that we may be prepared to contribute to the advancement of our chosen professions by completing at least 22 credit-hours of Honors coursework


  • our time and energy to advance the public good so that we develop as citizens by completing 15 hours of community service per semester,  joining a Registered Student Organization and ultimately leading our peers


  • cultural and ethical horizons to engage a global society through attending cultural events and seeking out challenging opportunities for service and leadership


  • in the honors community, abiding by the honor code, to foster curiosity, dialogue and intellectual rigor in ourselves and others.

(approved by the Honors Student Council 10/7/2014)

As a symbol of your commitment to aspire to excellence, we’re going to ask you to sign a column.  We started this tradition in 2014 – and the class that signed the first column—that one over there—just graduated in Spring.  

20% of those who graduated studied abroad in some way. 95% aspire to further education, almost 40% were already accepted to graduate or professional school. Of those who were not going to graduate school directly, 26% already had a job in their field or were completing a final internship.

For the 330 of you joining this tradition today, I have some final words: aspire greatly. Even if you’ve never thought about it before, aspire for graduate and professional school. Aspire to be truly excellent at something, and through that experience, learn what it means to be excellent at living.

Education is for life — in W.E.B. DuBois’ wonderful language, it is “Education that encourages aspiration, that sets the loftiest goals and seeks as an end culture and character.”

Education is not for the way that the world is, but the way that the world could be, should be, or ought to be.

This is why you’re here. You have chosen the challenging path. By joining honors you’re committing to achieve something greater–something beyond the minimum. To challenge yourself and your peers to reach just beyond that which you believe is possible.  To raise your hand, and yourself, higher than you had thought possible before.

Aspire greatly. We’re here to help.

And to introduce those who will help the most, I’d like to invite Melanie Winkleman forward to introduce the Honors Peer Mentors for 2018-2019.