Office of the President

Convocation 2010 Remarks

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Good morning, Class of 2014, and welcome to Baruch College of the City University of New York!  I am Mitchel Wallerstein, the president of the College; and, like all of you, I am also a new arrival.  In fact, this is my fourth week on the job.  While I only have a three-week head start on you here on Lexington Avenue, I have spent much of the last five months learning about our College and getting to know the outstanding administrative leaders, faculty and staff who make this wonderful institution what it is.

I don’t know if you yet have heard the news, but you are starting your college career at a school that has just been ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 25 in the magazine’s 2011 list of “Best Regional Universities,” up from #36 last year. This very strong ranking, the highest ranking in the College’s history, is evidence not only of the overall quality of the school and its curriculum but also of its dedicated faculty and high quality students.  Among all public colleges in the Northeast, Baruch was ranked #4. We also were ranked in the top 15% of all U.S. colleges according to the Princeton Review; and as the #19 best value college in the country by Forbes magazine. Enough about the rankings; but the point is that, as new members of the Baruch College community, you should take great pride in your admission to the College and in the fact that our quality is so widely recognized.

Baruch College is also regularly listed among the most diverse college campuses in the U.S.  Baruch students represent 160 different nationalities and speak more than 100 different languages. While slightly more than 30% of you were born in North America, your families come from all over the world. Of course, this has always been one of the special characteristics of New York; it is truly the nation’s melting pot! But it is also, we believe, what makes Baruch such a special place, because our diversity not only brings an intellectual and cultural richness to the campus, it also helps ALL of Baruch’s students to understand and appreciate the globally-connected world that we live in today.

So, we are proud of our diversity; it is a badge of honor for us as an institution and part of our strength. Baruch’s commitment to diversity also fits nicely with this year’s freshman text, The Bitter Sea, by Charles N. Li. This is a book that helps us to understand other cultures and appreciate other’s perspectives—and we very much hope that each of you, as a member of the Baruch College community, will come to value the principles of engagement and tolerance for different points of view.  Through the Performing Diasporas Program, which you will learn more about later today, you will have additional opportunities to gain a richer understanding and awareness of cultural diversity, while also developing your communication and critical thinking skills. 

You are joining an institution with a long and rich heritage. In 1847, the “Free Academy” was founded on the very site where this building now stands. It was the first free public institution of higher education. Although Baruch is no longer free, as you know, the cost of an undergraduate education here is among the very lowest in the United States. This has enabled generations of Baruch students to reach for economic and professional opportunities that were not possible for their parents.  Indeed, as I have already come to learn from my meetings with members of the Baruch alumni community, there is a typical “Baruch story” that focuses on the doors that were opened as a result of studying—and graduating—from Baruch; doors that have enabled our alumni to achieve levels of professional success and wealth that would not otherwise have been possible. Four years from now, I hope that you will be starting your own “Baruch story.”

In 1866, the Free Academy was renamed the College of the City of New York; and in 1919, the School of Business and Civic Administration was established at this location, largely as a result of Bernard Baruch’s vision and commitment. Then we fast-forward to 1953 when the school was renamed the Bernard M. Baruch School of Business and Public Administration.  And the most recent chapter of the Baruch story began in 1968 when the Bernard M. Baruch School was separated from City College and became a fully independent, senior college in the City University of New York System.

I’m sure that many of you are probably wondering: who was this guy, Bernard Baruch, after whom the College is named?  Well, Bernard Baruch was many things. He was:

    • -- A  millionaire by age 30, who started his business career as a runner on Wall Street
    • -- An advisor to seven Presidents, from Woodrow Wilson to John F. Kennedy
    • -- A diplomat who represented the United States in international negotiations and was centrally involved in a famous—though ultimately unsuccessful—effort to place the control of nuclear energy solely under the United Nations.
    • -- A philosopher who, in his later years, became known as the “Park Bench Statesman,” because of his propensity for sitting on park benches in Washington, DC and New York’s Central Park and discussing public affairs. You will see a sculpture of Bernard Baruch sitting on a park bench when you pass through the lobby of the Newman Vertical Campus.
    • -- A philanthropist and loyal alumni who left an endowment that has today become a significant part of the resources that we use to maintain the special quality of Baruch.

For those who are interested, there is a display on the history of the College and Bernard Baruch in the lobby of the Newman Library.

I know that you have a busy day today and throughout this exciting first week of your college career.  But I want to put before you three challenges that I hope each of you will think about and act upon during your first year here at Baruch:

    • Explore your City:  We live in one of the greatest global cities on earth, one that offers you a myriad of extraordinary opportunities and experiences. Go exploring.  See parts of the city—and the people and activities that go on there—that you are unfamiliar with.  Take in a ball game if you’ve never been to one. Check out Ellis Island, where waves of immigrants from all over the world first touched the shores of the United States, many of them with just the clothes on their backs. Visit the architecturally famous Guggenheim museum or the enormous and diverse Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pay your respects at “Ground Zero” and see what is being done to remember and recover from the tragedy.  Become a part of the Big Apple and, as your time permits, find opportunities to give back to the community.
    • Do something that is outside of your comfort zone: make a conscious effort to meet and get to know students who are from a completely different background (or country) than you; if you’ve never done so before, go to a museum or a play or a dance performance; experience a classical music performance or music from some other part of the world; get involved in student government; participate in or go watch and support the Baruch sports teams; join a club that focuses on something that you know nothing about; learn a new language; or explore opportunities to study abroad.
    • Remain open to and explore new subjects and the many career paths towards which they lead:  Many of you probably decided to attend Baruch because you were interested a specific career path—and in the majority of cases, that may well turn out to have been the right personal decision. But I urge you to keep in mind that your college years can and should be a time of intellectual exploration and self-discovery.  It’s okay to completely change your plans for a major—and in some cases, to do so more than once—based on courses you take that excite your interest, or the influence of a great professor who exposes you to new ideas that you hadn’t thought about before. This is precisely what a liberal arts education is all about!  And, if you have come to college not really knowing what you want to major in, that’s okay too. Go on an intellectual adventure! Try courses in disciplines that you know little or nothing about.  It could turn out to be the most important thing you do during your time at Baruch, and it just might change your life.

The beginning of your college years marks an important life transition in your personal evolution toward adulthood.  And you have come to Baruch at an extraordinary moment in time. We have the first African-American President in U.S. history, who is working to pull the country out of the worst economic down-turn since the Great Depression of 1929, which has thrown millions of people out of work.  The President is striving to end one war and to find an honorable and secure way to extricate us from another; and he is seeking solutions to profoundly difficult problems such as health care, educational reform, immigration and global climate change.  Many of these problems—and especially the last one I mentioned,  global climate change, will be with us for decades to come; and they will be challenges with which your generation will have to grapple. So, I also urge you to use your undergraduate years as an opportunity to learn about the history and origins of these and many other important issues and to gain an understanding of why they are so difficult to solve. For some of you, these matters will prove so interesting that you may decide to major in the School of Public Affairs, which can lead to a career like the one I previously had in government and policy studies.

So, we are glad you are here. The College’s staff and faculty are geared up to help you make the transition to the stimulating and challenging world of higher education.  We know that many of you work and, of course, most of you will commute to the College each day.  Your lives are already busy, and they are about to get even busier!  But you are about to embark on the most exciting adventure of your life.  As I mentioned, soon you, too, will become part of the “Baruch story”; and you will join the 100,000 members of the Baruch alumni community throughout the world, who have gone on to build successful careers in business, the arts, sciences, social sciences and public affairs.

On behalf of my administration colleagues, the outstanding Baruch faculty, and the hardworking and helpful Baruch staff, I wish you success in your first year of college life, and I look forward to shaking your hand four years from now at the other end of your undergraduate journey.

Finally, whether or not you have discovered it yet, our college mascot is the Bearcat.  I must confess to you that I wasn’t exactly sure when I arrived what type of animal this was. So I looked it up in Wikipedia – yes, even college presidents occasionally resort to Wikipedia. The Bearcat is another name for Binturong, which is a mammal that is found in Southeast Asia.  According to Wikipedia, the Bearcat is “nocturnal and sleeps on branches. It eats primarily fruit, but also has been known to eat eggs, shoots, leaves, and small animals, such as rodents or birds. The Binturong can make chuckling sounds when it seems to be happy and utter a high-pitched wail if annoyed.” Now, while I don’t necessarily recommend that you adopt these characteristics, especially the part about eating small rodents or birds or sleeping on branches, I do think it’s likely that many of you will adopt the Bearcat’s nocturnal habits, especially around exam and paper writing time!  And you may occasionally even be heard making both chuckling sounds and high-pitched wails at some point in the next four years!

So, you are all now officially Baruch College Bearcats.

Let me be the first to say: GO BEARCATS and the great Class of 2014!