President Kathryn Morris speaks behind a podium at Matriculation.

Matriculation 2021 Remarks

Good Afternoon! My name is Kate Morris, and I serve as President here at St. Lawrence University.

It is my pleasure to be one of the many people who welcome you to St. Lawrence today. 

Today, at Matriculation, we formally welcome our new students into our academic community. Let me take a few moments to introduce you to my campus colleagues who are with us today as a part of the ceremony. Colleagues, would you please stand as I introduce you and remain standing until all names are called? Students and guests, please hold your applause.

  • Shaun Whitehead, University Chaplain, from whom you have just heard
  • Karl Schonberg, Vice President of the University and Dean of Academic Affairs
  • Hagi Bradley, Vice President and Dean of Student Life
  • Florence Hines, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
  • Sarah Barber, Associate Dean for the First Year Program
  • Kimberly Flint Hamilton, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

Students, this year and throughout your collegiate experience, you are very likely to interact with these institutional leaders.  Please know that they work very hard to make St. Lawrence a place where you can thrive academically and personally during your collegiate career.  Thank you, campus leaders, for all that you do.

Also with us are representatives of our faculty. Students, they will be your professors, academic advisors, and mentors.  They will challenge you in the classroom, support you as you seek out experiences such as undergraduate research, study abroad or study away, internships, and community based learning.  I know you will develop lifelong connections with some of your faculty.  They will care deeply about your success—academic, professional, and personal—and they will want to hear from you after you graduate.  Faculty, will you please rise so that we may honor you? Thank you, faculty, for your commitment to all of our students, including this new group of students we are welcoming into our academy today.

Finally, I would like to recognize and thank all the students who are here today as a part of our program. Molly Thompson, from whom you’ll hear shortly, is President of Thelmo, our student government association. We have students bearing the flags, singers, orientation leaders, and community assistants. I’d like to invite all such students to stand so we can thank you for the amazing work you’ve done to create a fun and easy move in and orientation experience for the newest members of our community.

Matriculation marks the first of two formal academic ceremonies of your collegiate career; the other will be commencement.  As I said earlier, today, at matriculation, we formally welcome you as members of our academic community at St. Lawrence University. At commencement, we formally recognize your accomplishment of having earned your baccalaureate degree.  On these two occasions, members of University leadership and your faculty will wear what we call academic regalia.  Our gowns, hoods, and caps are a long-standing academic tradition, dating back hundreds of years to the 12th century at Oxford University, where caps and gowns were used to distinguish teachers from their students, as well as to ensure warmth in the non-heated hallways and classrooms of that time. 

If you look closely, you may notice that our gowns have different characteristics, including length, sleeve style, color of the robes, velvet, and piping.  These aspects of the gowns are used to indicate level of education:  those of us with doctoral degrees have chevrons on the side and longer robes; people who have master’s degrees have shorter robes, no chevrons, and a different style sleeve.  The colors adorning the gown typically indicate something about the degree the professor has.  The color of the velvet on the hood typically represents the area of study and the silk lining typically reflects the official school colors where the degree was earned.

There are exceptions to those general rules. Sometimes, as in my case, the colors of the robes and hoods are not specifically tied to the discipline or the institution where the degree was earned, but rather the institution the individual now represents. In my case, the scarlet and brown on my gown and hood represent your alma mater—St. Lawrence University.

Students, when you graduate in 2025, you, too, will join us in the wearing of academic regalia. Just as we distinguish ourselves through some of the characteristics of our regalia, you will have the opportunity to distinguish yourselves as graduates by adding honor cords and stoles to indicate your various accomplishments during your undergraduate years.

So here we are at your first official academic ceremony at St. Lawrence University, and I’ve just brought up graduation.  I am doing so with great intentionality, to begin with the end in mind. Students, what are your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and goals for what you will have accomplished between today and your commencement in May 2025? What kinds of academic, co-curricular, and personal experiences do you hope to have before you graduate?

Imagine for a moment that we are at that day in May 2025. Wearing your regalia, you will walk across the stage. As you do, I will congratulate you, hand you your diploma, and you will be ready to leave here with your degree.  It will look just like this. 

But here’s the thing:   your diploma—and the degree it holds—is essentially meaningless.  Your diploma, your degree, won’t get you a job.  It won’t make you money.  It won’t make you a better contributor to society.  It won’t make you a better person.  It won’t change your life. And it certainly won’t make a difference in the world.  After all, it’s only a piece of paper in a fancy folder. 

Your diploma, your degree, itself, has very little inherent value. The value in your diploma is the education that it represents.  It’s the education that you earn while you are here that is important.  Your education will get you a job, make you a better citizen, a better person.  It is your education that will make the world a better place—that will change your life. 

It’s the unfortunate truth that almost anyone can get a degree—you can find online degree mills that are pretty shady.  And you can even go to one of the country’s top three institutions and get a degree—blindly fulfilling requirements to with the minimum necessary work, learning material for just as long as you need it for the exam and then forgetting it. You can get a degree without doing much to earn an education

The distinction I’m making between a degree and an education is similar to the difference between memorization and understanding.  When you memorize the facts, you know that material for a time-limited duration.  When you understand something, you carry it with you indefinitely.

Students, my hope for you is that during your time at St. Lawrence, you will strive for an education, and not just for a degree.  Don’t worry, we are here to help ensure you fulfill the requirements necessary to complete your degree. But it is on you to make sure you get an education

The good news is that Laurentians for many decades have taken full advantage of the academic and co-curricular opportunities offered here. They choose classes that push them out of their comfort zone, they join new clubs, they get involved in leadership. They do research with a faculty member, get an internship, study away from campus. THIS is an institution where it’s easy for you to seek an education in addition to just fulfilling the requirements of a degree.

And because I have confidence that you will do what it takes to earn an education while you are here, in four years, in May, 2025 when you walk across the stage to shake my hand as I give you your diploma, you and I, and your loved ones who will be with you that day, we will all know that your degree is full of value, because it represents a richly challenging and meaningful education.

Before I hand the podium over to our next speaker, I’d like to take a moment to address the parents, family members, and friends who are with us here today to support our new students. 

Many thanks to each of you for being here today, for the support you have provided to your students throughout their lives, for the trust you place in us when your student joins the St. Lawrence community, and for the courage it takes to allow your children to leave your nest and spread their wings within our campus community.

I say that from a place of personal authenticity, having extended that same trust to two institutions my children chose for college.  And as the parent of one college student and one recent graduate, I also suspect you are feeling great pride today, as your student becomes a Laurentian.  We are delighted to have YOU as a part of our Laurentian community as well as your student.

With that, let me reiterate my words of welcome to St. Lawrence to each of you—our new students and your families, friends, and loved ones.  We are delighted you are here and can’t wait to work with you in the coming years.

I am now pleased to introduce our next speaker, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Florence Hines.  Thank you.

Kathryn A. Morris, St. Lawrence University President
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Newell Field House