Welcome to Trade School

April 27th, 2007

When the class of 2009 strolled through the Van Wickle Gates and onto the sunlit College Green, there was a somber note in the late-summer air. Sure, one student tossed a beach ball into the air, and another climbed an elm tree, only to be called down by an irritated usher. But the mood was sober as President Ruth Simmons opened the 242nd academic year in the context of Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated the Gulf Coast just days before.

Some in the crowd, Simmons said, must be feeling guilty "to be safe, to be dry, to undertake our dreams." With tears in her eyes, she spoke of the "crushing indifference we have seen" in the hurricane's wake, and asked students to use Brown to hone their skills to make the world a better place. "So thank you for coming to Brown," she said. "Thank you for making yourself better prepared for our future."

Simmons announced that Sidney Frank '42 would give $5 million toward Brown's Katrina-relief effort (see "Seeking Higher Ground," page 38).

The entering class includes 735 women and 704 men from forty-eight states and forty-one foreign countries. Among them are the first sixty to benefit from the $100 million that Frank donated last year for scholarship aid to the neediest students.

Biology professor Ken Miller '70 delivered the Convocation address. He spoke of education as a craft, learning as a trade, and Brown as a trade school. "If you thought this was a place that would refine you, educate you, and stamp your passport on the way to a good life in American society," he told the students, "we took you for a ride." He encouraged them to take science courses, even if they're English concentrators, and to avoid the easy route to a degree: "Don't dismiss certain areas of learning as irrelevant for reasons of training and career. For therein lies the greatest danger of this trade school - not that you will try something, and fail, as we all do, but that in some important ways, you may not try at all, that you will leave whole areas of the shop floor untouched." Universities, he continued, "give human understanding an institutional immortality."

"Welcome to Brown," he concluded. "I'll see you in class!"

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