Convocation 2012

Good afternoon, everyone, and a most sincere greeting to our new students and their wonderful families.

Although I'm identified in your programs this evening as the university president, I come to you also as a "scouting parent."

I hope you had a reasonably efficient Move-In Day. You've been to Target, Bed Bath and Beyond and, more importantly, you're starting to connect and maybe even bond with roommates and new friends.

This is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I get to meet you today; tomorrow morning, we'll be together again as we review the Freshman Year Reading Experience book "Motherless Brooklyn"; and then, we'll be shifting into second and third gear and by the end of the week we'll all be in high gear.

Your first week will seem to last a lifetime, I bet. But, as the seniors who graduated in our August commencement a few weeks ago told me, they don't know where the time went.

It's often that way, isn't it? When you take a trip, it seems to take a long time to get to your destination, but coming back seems to take half as long.

It's funny how time, the most certain constant in our lives as predicted by both the laws of physics and of nature, can play tricks on us. Of course, it's not nature playing the trick; it is we who are performing the magic trick.

As a scientist, I wanted to use the most precise measurement tools to create the largest and heaviest car while still playing fair.

And I wish you a magical start to your University of South Carolina experience.

It's an honor to serve as your president and I am beginning my fifth year. Before that, I was a vice president, and before that a dean and a professor. I guess that qualifies me to know this university pretty well. But I guarantee you that there are people, places and programs that I don't yet know. Therefore, each year I rekindle my own freshman spirit and anticipate finding even more new things, meeting even more people and certainly having many new experiences.

We will be seeing a lot of each other during the next four years and Patricia and I look forward to getting to know you.

There's a good chance that will happen in an informal encounter like walking on campus. I urge you whenever possible to walk to the diverse corners of this 450 acre campus and to consider not only the benefit of finding new things to look at and new places to pause, but also that physical activity is a fundamental ingredient of your wellness and of your academic success.

On days when I work out in the morning, expending energy and getting my heart rate up, I have more energy in the middle and at the end of the day. The more energy I expend, the more energy I have to spend later on.

Is that ironic or another bit of magic? I don't know, but I hope that you'll commit to a freshman year that includes lots of walking and exercise, both planned and spontaneous. You know, of course, that we have one of the finest wellness and fitness centers in the United States, please use it.

Allow me to add some other simple advice, it's neither philosophical nor intellectual:

Let me urge you to eat well, eat reasonably and remember that the foods you choose will also have a big impact on your wellness and your success. We have a fine partner in Sodexo food services, offering healthy dining choices as well as traditional ones on campus. We're confident you'll be given a healthy variety of foods to enjoy.

Also, don't underestimate the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation is a common cause of mental fatigue,emotional duress and even compromised immunity. Now I'm not urging you to sleep through a class and certainly not in a class, but do recognize how a proper amount of sleep allows you to be at your peak and I ask you to try to achieve that most of the time.

I also urge you to use social media for your enjoyment and personal productivity. I don't need to do that, do I?

But what I mean is, use social media wisely. I don't suggest that you use it as the main format of interaction with your roommates, friends and professors, and especially not with your professors. Make a point of getting to know them, visit them during office hours, stop to say hello when you bump into them outside of the classroom.

College is likely to be the place where you form life's most enduring relationships. They need to be explored and sustained in interactions that are more direct than texting, tagging and tweeting.

Okay, I got that off my chest and you're still here.

Students and families, I'd also like to recommend, when you have 15 minutes or so, that you watch a TED talk on YouTube. You may know that TED and TEDx (Technology, Entertainment and Design) are online repositories of over 900 lectures delivered by world's most fascinating thinkers and doers who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).

A very good talk is delivered by Angela Lee Duckworth, a young assistant professor of psychology who studies achievement at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her TEDx talk describes her studies of the characteristics that are common to high achievers. She and others have studied successful entrepreneurs, athletes, artists, West Point cadets and even spelling bee champions.

She has found the following: Talent and reasonably high IQ are relevant factors but research shows that they are not the major ones. Passion is also a relevant factor, just like the talent one is born with, that is also a positive predictor but not the main predictor. So what is the main predictor?

Well, it's something that she calls GRIT but I won't define it completely. I will tell you, however, that people who have perseverance, who commit to hard work and who finish the jobs that they start are bound for great things.

Watch her TEDx talk. You'll find the link to it in the university's home page story about convocation.

Now, students, let me tell you a little about your class.

Your class is represented by 40 states plus the District of Columbia and Guam and 13 countries.

Fifty-six percent of this class is comprised of women, which, by the way, is not unusual for freshmen classes at U.S. universities. And we may have a new record for twins. We have 23 sets in this freshman class.

No matter your point of origin, we celebrate your individuality and look forward to the exploration that is about to begin.

Being a student at a university, especially one as rich and diverse as ours, fosters the explorer spirit.

That is the freshman spirit, afterall, the spirit of an explorer, and I want you to be the best explorers you can be so that you can derive a unique experience that is the one you hoped forwhen you selected us.

There are over 400 campus clubs and organizations here. Participate! Get involved. Be smart about how much you choose to do and have fun.

Take an elective academic course that's perhaps far afield for you. If you're a student who is inclined to the humanities, listen to this.

This morning's New York Times spoke of a deft new robot that can do four jobs on the manufacturing line, welding - riveting, bonding and installing - with higher quality than dozens of manual workers, assembling cell phones, electric razors and even automobiles, for example.

You may be considering being an artist, poet or journalist but think of the inspiration you could draw upon from a single engineering course.

For those inclined toward quantitative and physical sciences, let's acknowledge that the technology of photography continues to improve, pixel by pixel. There's no photograph of a sunset, however, that can outmatch the vision created through the relationship between the human brain and the human eye.

Think about how a course in studio art, film studies or English could add some excellent perspective to whatever technical career to which you aspire.

There are absolutely no limits to what you can do and my goal for you is that you commit to a personal path of leadership. Our university will afford you every opportunity to graduate as a leader. I'm not talking about political leadership, but leadership in your family, community and professional lives.

Our leadership initiative comprises a commitment to community service, to civic participation, including voting, debating, if you choose to, and always to civil discourse.

The leadership initiative also includes a commitment to further developing and articulating your core values and a commitment to learning from your mistakes and failures.

People talk about bouncing back from failure, whether it's a poor test grade or regretting something you may have done, but I prefer to think of failure as an opportunity to bounce further ahead, in other words, to advance beyond where you were as a consequence of your failure.

I love what Winston Churchill said, "Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it." So when the wind is in your face remember, that is an opportunity to soar.

In closing, we're going to have a great year together. We're going to have a great football and fall sports season that includes a wonderful lineup of soccer, volleyball, cross country and track and field, and did I mention football?

And we will have outstanding speakers during your time at Carolina.

The class of 2012 had Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, lots of presidential candidates, Federal Reserve Chair and SC native son Ben Bernanke, not to mention Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kenny Chesney, the Zack Brown Band and a surprise warm up concert by John Mayer.

I am absolutely certain the lineup you'll have will be every bit as popular and satisfying for you.

So remember that everything that I do, that these leaders on the platform do and that all employees at this university do is directly focused on you. We are here for you and are all terribly excited about this day.

We wish you a freshman year full of wellness, achievement, leadership and fun.