Geoffrey S. Mearns
2017 Fall Opening Convocation
Friday, August 18, 9 a.m.
Emens Auditorium

A Beautiful Place to Learn and Work

I have been asked a few times over the last few weeks, what has surprised me the most since I arrived at Ball State. Near the top of that list is the campus.

See, before I was selected by the Board, I had only visited the campus once—in January, a few weeks before my appointment was announced. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this campus looks a lot better on a sunny afternoon in May than it does on a dark, cold night in January.

And no matter the weather and no matter the season, the men and women who maintain our campus provide us with a clean, beautiful place to work, to teach, and to study. Let’s express our appreciation to them for their dedicated service.

Record Enrollment Likely

Our affordable tuition and our beautiful, modern facilities attract outstanding students. And our enrollment has grown the last few years. …

In fact, as of yesterday afternoon, we are projecting that more than 4,000 new freshman will begin classes on Monday. More than 4,000 freshman. Although we have to wait 10 days to confirm the final census, this Fall we may enroll the largest freshman class in our history. And these new students will be as well qualified and more diverse than last year’s class.

More good news: our total enrollment this year is presently projected to exceed 22,000 students. And it’s very likely that we will enroll more students this year than in any year in our history. That’s something to celebrate.

Ball State Is Strong—and We’re Eager to Share Our Story

Simply put, Ball State University is strong. And our University is getting stronger—day by day, year by year. That’s just a fact. …

During this protracted transition, we have not been as active in communicating our good news. Over the last few years, after a decade of effective marketing, we have retreated a bit. Some people have told me that we have once again become a hidden gem.

Well, that is about to change. Because over the next few months, we are going to reveal a refreshed brand, and we are going to launch a new marketing campaign. We are going to be more vocal. We are going to be more visible. We are going to tell the Ball State story with the passion and with the energy that it deserves. …

And, it’s the perfect time to launch this bold campaign because, next year, we will also begin to celebrate our centennial. …

This year, as we finalize the details of this year-long celebration, we will also develop a new strategic plan for our University’s second century.

Creating an Inclusive Culture and More Just Society

Last weekend, we all watched the extraordinary—and the extraordinarily unfortunate—events in Charlottesville, Virginia. For me it was personal.

I was born in Charlottesville. At the time, my father was on the law faculty at the University of Virginia. As a child, I ran around on the lawn very near where white supremacists carried their torches last Friday evening. I was baptized in a church within a few blocks from the site where Heather Heyer was murdered on Saturday. My daughter Clare, who is here today, was baptized in that same church.

I earned my law degree from the University of Virginia. Members of my extended family have more than ten undergraduate or advanced degrees from the University of Virginia. My son, Geoffrey, who is also here today, is about to begin his sophomore year there.

His cousin, my niece, Olivia, will be a senior at the University of Virginia this Fall. My sister, Tracey, is Olivia’s mother. Olivia’s father, my sister’s husband, my brother-in-law, is African American.

What happened in Charlottesville last weekend was very personal. It was profoundly disturbing. It was sad.

So what are we to do?

First, all of us must condemn—unequivocally—the racial hatred—the bald faced bigotry—that instigated the violent confrontation that led to the deaths of three people.

All of us must also continue to do the work to create a more inclusive culture on our campus. That work is hard. It requires us to engage in courageous conversations. It requires all of us to reflect candidly on our preconceptions and our predispositions. We must engage others with our open mind and with our open heart. And progress—real progress—requires a sustained effort.

But if each one of us, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our universities, in our companies, and in our other organizations—if we are all able to create more inclusive cultures with the people we meet each day, then I believe we can continue to create a more just society. We can form “the more perfect union” that our Founding Fathers envisioned.

This is my hope. And that should be our goal.

Let’s Take the World

Now, let me tell you about Yosef Tekle-Wold. …

Yosef graduated in July with a master’s degree from our Center for Information and Communication Sciences. I had the honor of handing him a Ball State diploma.

Yosef will now return to his village in Ethiopia. He aspires to use the education he received here in Indiana to help his friends in his home country. Here’s how he describes his life’s goal: “My legacy will be if I have the opportunity to help people—to empower others. That will be success.”

I think that his words also sum up our individual and collective aspirations. Ours is a worthy goal—an admirable mission—to educate and thereby empower others.

When Yosef Tekle-Wold arrived on our campus, some students had some difficulty pronouncing his last name. He gave them a tip—it sounds like, “Take the world.”

Yes, it does. And, because of you, I think, yes, he will.

In just a few months, we will embark upon a process to articulate a bold vision for our second century—for our future—for our legacy.

I suggest that we follow Yosef’s lead. Let’s dream big. Let’s take the world.