This is the text of the keynote I delivered as part of the Charter Day celebration (video here) at Seton Hall University on April 20, 2016.
Members of our Boards of Trustees and Regents, Dr. Esteban, Dr. Robinson our McQuaid Medal recipient, Dr. Balkun, my friends and colleagues on the faculty, staff and administration and especially our students.
We have gathered today to celebrate our one hundred fifty-fifth Charter Day.
Well, in 1856 Bishop Bayley responded to one of the great challenges of his time. Higher education was not available to his Catholic congregation so he decided to offer them an opportunity.
He envisioned a place where faith would be nurtured and great minds could take flight. He dreamed that Catholic ideals would infuse the curriculum and that graduates would become strong participants in American society as servant leaders.
So he founded Seton Hall College.
And, as we celebrate today, we continue to fulfill Bishop Bayley’s vision. Our Catholic mission is at the center of the broader university experience and our core curriculum speaks to those Catholic ideals. The successes of our faculty as teachers and scholars are well recognized and our students and alumni are exemplars of servant leadership.
Today I speak with you about our motto … Hazard Zet Forward … and its continued relevance in our lives and the life of our university.
Rooted in Norman French and Old English, Hazard Zet Forward has been part of our tradition since 1856 and was a part of the Seton family crest for centuries before that. There are several translations, among the most frequent are “hazard yet forward” or “move forward despite challenges”.
Its message is powerful and clear … we can overcome all sorts of obstacles!
As a proud alumnus, I often draw upon my own experience here as a frame of reference. I arrived at Seton Hall for my first day as a freshman in September 1971. I was a first generation college student, as were most of my classmates. We were fulfilling a dream that our families had pursued for years … the opportunity to attend college, complete an excellent education and launch a successful life.
The conventional wisdom went something like this … good grades at a good school would deliver a good career … a future that would support a family and a fulfilling life.
For most of us in the Class of ‘75 that was a well established route we eagerly embraced.
A centerpiece of our undergraduate experience, shared by thousands of Seton Hall students over the years, was our encounter with a group of highly dedicated and extraordinary people. Today … that would be all of us … faculty, staff, administrators, classmates and alumni who bring life to our university’s mission, purpose and meaning. In particular, the faculty introduced us to a world that was largely unknown, and most certainly unfamiliar, before we arrived on campus.
Our professors helped us to navigate the expectations, demands and challenges that appeared during our undergraduate years. They helped us develop a frame of reference that became the foundation upon which we built a life.
I mentioned Bishop Bayley’s courage earlier… founding Seton Hall was a risk. But we faced another great challenge during the post World War II years. We offered returning GIs admission to college if they had served and were high school graduates. Another risky move but Seton Hall again offered an unprecedented opportunity.
Our small college grew from several hundred students to several thousand in a matter of a few years and helped those returning GIs move on with their lives and become Seton Hall alumni.
Our alumni each have a unique story but there is a common theme that binds those stories together. They will tell you that their expectations for the future changed dramatically, for the better, when presented with the opportunity that would change their lives forever … a Seton Hall education. This opportunity prepared them to succeed beyond their most generous dreams. Importantly, they would describe how their Seton Hall experience helped build the foundation of an ethical life.
Their education … here in South Orange, or Newark, or Jersey City, or Paterson … developed an ethical framework built on the foundational lessons of right and wrong learned from their parents. A framework that would serve them very well over the years that, I am convinced was, and is, among the most important gifts of a Seton Hall experience. It certainly was for me and my classmates. Seton Hall continues to provide that gift to our current students and will to future classes.
Why is Hazard Zet Forward still relevant today?
Our students now and for the foreseeable future face challenges that are in many ways unlike those we have faced in our own experience. These last years have seen the scope, pace and intensity of change accelerate. Economics, politics and social norms are all in flux … and not always for the better. Entire industries have been disrupted in ways that were unimaginable twenty, ten, even five years ago. Think about music, publishing, media, manufacturing and even our own … higher education.
Of course, every era is different from that which preceded it but I suggest to you that the future for this generation will be almost nothing like our experience. In fact, I think it’s become increasingly difficult to use the past as a reasonable predictor of the future and rather than stability and predictability our students today face a future of constant change.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!
Why is that a challenge for us? Because we continue to enjoy a wonderful privilege. We are in a unique position to provide advice and counsel to our future servant leaders as they begin their journey. Since the future is increasingly unpredictable, our role … our responsibility … becomes more challenging.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!
Think about our current first year class and the world they will live in. The class of 2019 was born in 1997. Many of the challenges they will face flow from technology mediated innovations. The internet has changed everything. Technology is facilitating many trends whose effects are, and will, continue to impact our students and us in dramatic ways.
Let me describe several of the developments forecasted by some of our best thinkers from organizations like the World Economic Forum, Gartner and Deloitte, among others.
Exponential growth in access to, and the leveraging of, the internet coupled with ubiquitous access to computing power has facilitated those technology mediated innovations. Their effect is transforming how people connect with others with information and with the world around them. Wearable and implantable technologies are enhancing everyone’s “digital presence”. This is all part of the Internet of Things. We expect to see 200 billion connected devices by 2020.
This exponential digitization creates exponentially more data. The ability for software to learn and evolve itself, combined with artificial intelligence and big data is accelerating the development of more, and smarter, devices.
The sharing economy is also driving a shift toward networks and platform-based social and economic models. This is creating not just new efficiencies but also whole new business models and opportunities for social self-organization.
Finally, the digitization of matter is driving the transformation of manufacturing allowing us to print physical products at home, actually, essentially almost anywhere. This will also support the creation of a whole set of new human health opportunities. So … everything from toys to prosthetic and implantable body parts.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!
What are some of the potential outcomes of these trends? A 2013 Oxford Martin School study estimated that 47% of U.S. jobs could be replaced by automated processes within two decades. Some 2 billion jobs are expected to disappear as a result of technology advances by 2030 … that is roughly 50% of all of the jobs on the planet. By 2019, that is less than three years from now, it is estimated that approximately one quarter of the entire U.S. workforce will be independent workers. In other words, freelancers … not employees. Let’s remember that the foundation of our health care and retirement infrastructure is largely dependent on employment status.
We expect that we will see the creation of new careers for our students but the the impact of these trends, the unknowable nature of those new opportunities and the ethical questions raised demand that we make every effort to prepare.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!
Our position as faculty is now more important than ever and helping our students navigate these remarkable changes is more necessary than ever. These challenges demand that we find creative ways to understand, to anticipate and to adapt to our changing world so that we can continue to provide our students with the foundation necessary for a 21st century life.
Our core curriculum helps our students to develop the ethical framework that will see them through these challenges. We also need to strengthen the position of the humanities as the cornerstone of our learning environments while ensuring the continued relevance of both.
In fact, the changes I have described argue forcefully in favor of a broad, comprehensive university experience, firmly rooted in the liberal arts tradition, as the best preparation for such a future.
In other words, preparation for the challenges of this century is firmly ingrained in what we already do very well, and have since 1856.
Our commitment must not just be about vocational skills and employment. It will be difficult to prepare for the skills of the future when we do not really know what the necessary skills will be but nurturing the whole person leads to the development of dynamic individuals actively engaged in civil society.
What we might describe as servant leaders.
The breadth and depth of the change I describe demands that we engage with our students to assure that we help them prepare for their future. We must develop and nurture learning environments that will not only help them to develop their chosen subject matter expertise but also help them to become flexible, adaptable, imaginative, resilient and ethical individuals.
Flexible because they must be open in their thinking and approach to see change coming and recognize it when it appears.
Adaptable because they must adapt to change, always looking for new possibilities and opportunities to improve what they do.
Imaginative because they must be creative in their responses to those changes. Devising ingenious solutions will be critical for them to be effective.
Resilient because they must be resilient in the face of the setbacks that will inevitably result from meeting these challenges head on.
Ethical because they must recognize that a moral person will not only be successful in all the ways that term is conventionally understood but will also be a person capable of a greater commitment to the well-being of others.
The past one hundred fifty-five years have seen great change. Seton Hall has and continues to be an extraordinary role-model of success demonstrating a steadfast commitment to developing the moral fabric of its students. Today’s persistent change and shifting societal norms will continue to raise daunting moral and ethical questions.
Most assuredly, the next one hundred fifty-five years will be different from the last one hundred fifty-five years. Let’s remember that a great university meets its students at their points of greatest need. At least for the foreseeable future our students’ points of greatest need will be related to navigating a future of great change.
When we help them get there then we’ll fulfill that most important responsibility.
And so my friends … to be successful in preparing them … we must first commit to purposely preparing ourselves with a perspective that is flexible, adaptable, imaginative and resilient. We will then be uniquely positioned to help our students work through those challenges We will help shape and influence future Seton Hall alumni who are recognized and celebrated as ethical servant leaders by their families, the communities they serve and their professions.
The how-to, of course, is a significant challenge and not without risk. But we have faced challenge and risk before, our founding in 1856 and our expansion in the late 1940s were periods of real risk and we came through stronger and better than we were.
We are now at the beginning of yet another period of change, challenge and risk. We will succeed again because Bishop Bayley was correct … we do have many great minds here and meeting these challenges will require them to really take flight.
I am confident that we will continue to realize Bishop Bayley’s vision because, after all, we are the place Where Leaders Learn!
Thank you so much for your time today.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD!