Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thank you very much for inviting me to your luncheon today. I am very impressed by the success of the i-fellows program, and I am delighted that this initiative is helping our talented graduate students in the College of Education achieve even more success.

Let me make just a few remarks about the graduate experience at Iowa, and then we can open up our session to conversation and questions.

Whenever I talk about graduate school, I like to remind our students to step back every once in a while and assess what a special experience you are having. Graduate school is a privilege, and I believe one of the greatest commitments that anyone can make. Pursuing graduate studies is truly one of the great accomplishments of life. Less than 10 percent of the American population holds graduate degrees, so, once you finish that journey through graduate school, you will be joining an elite group.

By “elite” I don’t mean economically or socially privileged. I mean “elite” in the sense that your talents and your commitments are special, and your obligations to use them wisely are strong. One of my predecessors, President Emeritus Sandy Boyd, is fond of quoting UI President Walter Jessup, who said, “Education is Iowa’s never-ending frontier.” You—who will be bringing the most advanced Iowa education out into the world—will become our greater society’s intellectual frontier. You are the ones to carry us all into a future of new learning and discovery.

For those who end up staying in the state of Iowa after graduation, we are very proud that 80 percent of Iowa’s school districts employ UI-educated teachers and administrators. That’s a statistic I like to share often with the public. But no matter where you end up after you finish your degree, you will bring the stamp of an Iowa graduate education with you. I know you will bring the same excellence and professionalism to your future work as you are practicing right here and now in your College of Education studies.

One of the hallmarks of the i-fellows program is not only your integration into the College of Education, but also professional development opportunities from across the University. The innovation that comes from cross-campus interactions is a hallmark of The University of Iowa’s excellence. So let me briefly share with you a little bit about that heritage of cross-fertilization that marks graduate education at Iowa.

In many ways, our learning and discovery missions in the research university pivot on graduate education. Our innovations have often happened most dramatically at the graduate level. One of the University’s most revered figures is Carl Seashore, who served two stints as Graduate College Dean, from 1908-1936 and from 1942-1946. In between, George Stoddard advanced the innovations Seashore started. Seashore revolutionized graduate education both here at Iowa and nationally.
He encouraged experimental techniques in many areas, encouraged new methodologies in all areas, championed interdisciplinary research, and spearheaded the innovations in creative endeavor for which we are known. We don’t want to be “just another university.” We want to be, as I often say, a university that inspires as well as educates. We want to have our own identity, make our own contributions to the world of learning, discovery, and engagement. Carl Seashore was one of the major figures who put us on that path of unique excellence, and it happened in graduate education here at Iowa. Those traditions are alive and well among our graduate students today. I think this group is ample evidence of that.

The work of graduate students plays a central part, therefore, in the UI’s mission. First and foremost, you are engaged in your own research, inspired by your mentors yet moving off into new realms of thought, learning, discovery, and creativity. But you are also integral to the work of our faculty and students. Many of you serve as research and teaching assistants. You help advance the scholarship and creative endeavor of our professors, and you help teach the broad-ranging curriculum that prepares our undergraduates for productive careers and lives of service. If graduate students indeed are the intellectual frontier, then putting you in the classroom with our undergraduates puts our youngest students on the intellectual frontier as well. Your fresh, inventive minds offer invaluable perspective on the new and different.

I hope seeing the importance of your graduate education from my perspective helps you forge ahead with at least a little bit of intellectual and spiritual renewal. Maybe in the depths of your classes, your theses and dissertations, and your teaching assistant or research assistant duties, you sometimes lose sight of the shining possibilities on the other side of your degree. Maybe sometimes you feel like placing a classified ad that says, “Lost: One belief in a bright future. Last seen between start of program and present. If found, please return to nearest graduate student.”

Well, your bright future is still wholly within you, thanks to your talent and commitment—your commitment to your studies, to your professional development, and to your desire to give back to society through the education field. It’s a cliché to say that teaching is a noble profession. But clichés are born of truth. You came to graduate school in large part to make life better for yourself. But a better life for yourself comes about only when you also make life better for your community and our greater society. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.” Through being here today, you are demonstrating how deeply you understand that your pursuits are not merely self-serving, but also in service to others.

I congratulate you on all the tremendous work you have accomplished so far. And please know that we are all with you, right by your side, on your journey through graduate school. In fact, that’s exactly what the i-fellows program is all about.