After the persistent winter, we were justifiably concerned about the prospect of rain on Commencement on May 18. As it turned out, there was not a cloud in the sky, and the flowering trees were at the height of their glory. The 900 undergraduates and 400 graduate students who received their diplomas enjoyed a day they will not soon forget.
The diploma is a tangible sign of a profound transformation that our students have experienced during their time with us. The undergraduates arrive very much as adolescents and leave us as young men and women of confidence. This doesn’t happen by accident. It is a transformation we guide intentionally — through engaged relationships between faculty and students, and structured activities outside the classroom that help define our students’ character.
Our graduate students and professional students also benefit from the attention that we give to them as unique persons, called to serve the greater good. It is our job to help them to clarify their personal gifts, and prepare them for success.
This care we take with each student — cura personalis or care of the whole person — is a defining characteristic of Jesuit education, and has been for hundreds of years. We have every confidence that our graduates will serve the world as agents of positive social change, as good neighbors and innovative leaders in their sphere of endeavor. We have this confidence because our approach has stood the test of time and proven its value, generation after generation.
This is our foundation — the root from which we draw sustenance. But we are now challenged to renew this tradition and recreate our University to adapt to a rapidly changing higher education environment.
In January, I launched a campus-wide initiative to refresh our Strategic Plan so that we will be prepared to thrive in the future. “Fairfield 2020: Building a More Sustainable Future,” involves hundreds of faculty, staff, alumni, and administrators engaged in thinking about the University must become if we to remain effective in our mission.
As you will read inside, the challenges we face are the result of long-term changes to the dynamics of our economy, combined with rapidly evolving technological capabilities. After decades where university tuition and fees could be increased to meet rising costs, average household incomes have stagnated to a point where families are over-stretched. There is little reason to believe this trend will reverse itself. At the same time, the online world offers prospective students a variety of learning options, and so the traditional four-year residential college experience is not as flexible and targeted as many students would like.
So we have to adapt — and I believe we have to do so boldly. We have to become more fleet-of-foot in developing programs that students want, and delivering those programs through more innovative platforms.
Meanwhile, we continue to enhance the quality of our campus, recognizing that holding to high standards in our learning environment must be a priority. We have broken ground for Rafferty Stadium — which will host our men’s and women’s lacrosse program and other teams for both the University and the Prep. We are also very grateful to have received a major gift of $10 million from our trustee John C. Meditz ’70 to modernize the Leslie C. Quick Recreation Complex. Over 95 percent of our students use the “Rec-Plex” — it is a very important dimension of student life — and thanks to John we have taken a significant step toward bringing this critical facility up to the appropriate standard.
To innovate, while remaining true to our roots —that is what Jesuit educators have been challenged to do for centuries. We have reached a critical juncture when we must do it again. I am excited at the prospect and look forward to what will appear on the horizon.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.