President’s Welcome for Family and Friends of the Class of 2022

New Student Orientation
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Here we are! Welcome! Before I get started, I want to take the time to say congratulations! It is not easy in today’s world to move an adolescent to young adulthood and get them into a selective college such as Vassar, and you have done it!

Today I would like to share a little about some of our priorities for the year ahead, and then a reflection on the parent experience.

First, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative. We are starting the second of five years of this Mellon-funded initiative, and we believe it will truly embed in our culture, so that it is not a short-lived initiative, but rather it becomes a way of life at Vassar. What we mean by engaged pluralism is a way of being, in which we aspire to remain open to listen and learn from our diverse perspectives, histories, and beliefs—knowing we will take on controversial and difficult issues, but we will keep at it, building community as we understand more about each other’s peculiarities and gifts. You will see this value expressed in our inclusive pedagogy efforts, where we are working to keep the classroom open to all perspectives. And you will see this in our residential life as well, where we have house fellows, house advisors and student fellows—all who are experienced and eager to hold community and allow diverse voices to flourish. Even in Vassar’s relationship with its community of Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County, we want to engage meaningfully. We live in a wonderful part of the state and our community-engaged learning efforts are growing.

Second, we are making changes to our curriculum and working on creating a set of “intensives,” where students can translate some of the classroom learning into a plethora of practical research, even artistic applications that give new ways of learning. Our Grand Challenges program will examine multidisciplinary ways to think about climate change and public health, and this is just a start of the many ways our curriculum aspires to be dynamic and relevant.

Last, our Career Development Office and its role in the liberal arts educational experience is a priority this year. About 92% of graduates within six months of graduating are employed, in graduate school, or have a competitive travel fellowship. We are working hard at developing new programming that connects alums with our students and prepares students for life after Vassar, again as a way to ensure we open opportunities of all kinds for students and remain relevant in our higher education model.

Those are a few priorities this year at Vassar. Now to reflect on the parent’s experience. I will begin by confessing that I have three children of college age: 25, 22, and 19 years old. We just dropped off my son at college last Saturday. And well, from this experience as a parent, I have nothing to offer, except I feel your pain! It is tough—every year, saying goodbye and leaving them to fend for themselves. So, I will not pretend to provide insights from my role as a parent.

But, I have been working and living with this age of young adult for nearly 25 years and from that experience, I have picked some insights to highlight. Here it goes:

No one really gets through college without some hiccups and disappointments. Think back to your own time at 18 years old—whether it was college or some other big challenge you took on. This time is hard. There is rejection, failure, loneliness and sometimes illness. And students experience these difficult bumps in the road. Most of the time, however, these setbacks are actually launching pads for tremendous growth and development. Hard to see in the moment but so often they are the leading edge of great new discoveries, and a new sense of self that is central to becoming a well-adjusted, happy adult.

Another insight comes from the reality that your child will call you, undoubtedly, and they will tell you things that may make you worry or make you upset. Often, what they are saying is not exactly what is happening; they may omit several aspects of the situation in their own filtering of what is happening. The best response for the parent in that case is to be present. Just be present. Do not reach to solve the problem. Ask open ended questions such as “What do you think you should do?” rather than “Don’t you think you ought to…” or say “Tell me more about that,” or “How can I help?” And then let your student tell you what they need without you prompting their answer. This is difficult; we all know.

And last, forgive yourself and forgive your students—for not understanding each other. This is a time of change and transformation. They are changing, and you may not understand right away. It may take time, and you will make mistakes, as will they. So, bring a forgiving perspective to your relationship, remembering that 99.8% of your relationship is strong and supportive, but for a while, some pieces may feel out of place and lost. It’s ok, you can forgive that.

It is a great honor to be here with your students, and for me, knowing them is one of the greatest delights of being an academic. If you have concerns or want to be in touch, please do not hesitate. I enjoy getting to know parents. You can reach me at Very best wishes and thank you again for joining the Vassar family.

—Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar College