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The beginning of a new academic year is both a busy and joyous time at Rice. Just over a week ago we formally welcomed 965 new freshmen and 35 transfer students into our community. And over the last week, 1,075 new graduate students arrived on campus, joining disciplines ranging from applied physics to art history and from music to chemical engineering. Our students come from all over the world. They arrive excited about the opportunities here at Rice and beyond. Our returning students are thrilled to get “home” to Rice, reconnect with their friends and make new ones. And we’re thrilled you are back.
This year we are reminded once more that we don’t live in a bubble here at Rice, and that external events — good and bad — have an impact on our community. On Monday morning, I sent a letter to the campus community conveying some thoughts on the outrageous and tragic events in Charlottesville. I placed it in the context of our own values, and the importance of both our commitment to those values, and for taking responsibility for living those values.
Weather Underground may be telling me that it feels like 108 degrees outside, but for me this is one of the coolest times to be at Rice as we welcome our new students and welcome back our returning students, both graduate and undergraduate. Our students are truly spectacular in terms of their ability, but also inspiring in terms of their spirit and commitment, not only to Rice, but to the betterment of our world more broadly. We are also welcoming a significant number of new faculty, who will also play an important role in the renewal and success of Rice. All of this, coupled with watching Olympians from around the world compete in Rio, gives me a sense of joy and optimism at a time when our country and our world seem deeply troubled.
Each year I have the opportunity to address the entering students at a matriculation ceremony held at the beginning of Orientation Week on the first night our new students are on campus. What I don’t have an opportunity to do is welcome back our returning students collectively in any formal way. So when the Thresher offered me the opportunity to write a short essay for their first issue of this academic year, I jumped at it. Although limited in scope, it presented an opportunity to deliver a message I have always had in the back of my mind.