Welcome to College

By September 27, 2005

Last week Noah Riner, a senior at Dartmouth College addressed the campus community at the opening convocation. His speech focused on building and maintaining character while in pursuit of academic achievement and recognition. Riner offered Jesus as the best example of having good character:

Character has a lot to do with sacrifice, laying our personal interests down for something bigger. The best example of this is Jesus. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before his crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He knew the right thing to do. He knew the cost would be agonizing torture and death. He did it anyway. That’s character.

Needless to say, the speech upset some students at Dartmouth. Of the few who published their concerns, the general sentiment was that his speech was inappropriate for convocation. An editorial in The Dartmouth iterates:

Which is why I was appalled and disappointed at Student Body President Noah Riner’s fire-and-brimstone remarks at Convocation. Riner’s decision to turn Convocation into a religious pulpit was a disservice to Dartmouth. Instead of welcoming the community and offering up the nominal subject of his speech (“character”), Riner focused on how “Jesus…is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters, and me.”

What’s happening here? Is it a case of Jesus Freaks vs. Whiney Atheists? Is it an example of cultural double standards on campus? Or is it just a case of scrutinizing cries from the people to its leader? Honestly, I don’t really care about all of that. What interests me about this situation is that it’s exactly what going to college is all about. It’s usually in this place that one discovers different ideas, beliefs, and concepts and decides which ones to subscribe to. In reaction, one joins this club or that, wears the T-shirt, writes an editorial, or delivers a speech.

So, he said Jesus’ name. It didn’t hurt the students to hear it. Nor did it hurt Riner to get a dose of criticism. Riner chose to share his views knowing that topics of religion and faith are often difficult to insert into the public realm without offending someone. More importantly, he chose to speak with the intent to generate dialogue and encourage his peers to think about their own ideas about one’s character. In another article, he states, “I realize that I have a very specific perspective on the issue of character…[a]nd by adding my perspective, I hope that it’ll give other people the opportunity to examine their own perspectives and to add those to the Dartmouth dialogue.” In the same vein, students who disagreed shared their perspectives and added to the Dartmouth dialogue.

Is there more to say here? There is always more to say (which is my whole point). For now, all I’ll say is: Welcome to college.

Schools: Dartmouth College