Well, I have never been more excited to start a new semester. Last Saturday morning, first year students moved into the residential colleges at Murray State University by the hundreds. You came from literally everywhere, from local and nearby high schools and others from the other side of the world.
But from wherever you came, your experiences here at the University will change you forever, and that is as it should be. You will be changed by your peers and by the social life you experience. You will be changed by your professors and by the classes you take. You will be changed should you choose to participate in any number of campus ministries and local churches.
Oh, and you will change your peers, your professors and the whole of the community around you as well. You are your own change agents. I know that I am changed by you. I will leave each class session knowing more about my subject than when I went into the class. And I will leave each class session knowing more about each student in the class. And I will leave each class session knowing more about myself.
I have left the sweet confines of my backyard writing cabin to write this letter in my sixth floor Faculty Hall Department of History office because I want to be interrupted as I write. Heather Burgess, one of my advisees, a senior History major, just came by to say hello. She is excited to begin her last year at Murray State, although she wishes she could stay at the university forever.
Heather will finish her classes this semester and then student teach in the spring. Beyond that, she has all her road before her. Heather has made the most of her undergraduate career. She has been a resident adviser at Regents Residential College, planning programs for students and taking on a leadership role across the campus community. She will be certified to teach on the secondary level when she graduates, but Heather will also have vast experience in resident hall life in higher education as well. She also knows how to research and write history.
A first-rate university education prepares students in this way. Students learn how to think critically, how to communicate well, but also how to live life to the fullest in service to others. Students have fun at Murray State, but they also learn that there is much more to life than seeking pleasure. In fact, students learn that the greatest fulfillment may come in helping others achieve their goals.
The same can be said for professors. For what use is a professor unless he or she helps you achieve your academic goals? President James Garfield said that the ideal college – he was thinking of his alma mater, Williams College – would have Mark Hopkins, the Williams president, sitting at one end of a log and a student at the other end.
Teaching and classrooms have become more sophisticated than logs, but Garfield’s sentiment about the personal attention of a professor still holds true. Nothing can replace it. When I stop caring for each of my students on an individual level, it will be a clear indication to me that it is time to retire.
So, just as you have come from near and far to Murray State to learn and grow and succeed, you have surely come to learn more about yourselves and from wherever it is you hail from. T. S. Eliot said it best in his “Four Quartets:”
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Letter from Duane Bolin, Professor of History.