Welcome, families! It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today. I’m delighted that you could join us on such a beautiful weekend here on campus.

¡Bienvenidas!, familias. Es un placer estar aquí hoy con todos Uds. Estoy encantado que se pueden unirse con nosotros en un fin de semana tan hermoso como éste. Voy a continuar en inglés, pero invito a todos a comunicarse conmigo tanto en español como en inglés.

Before I begin, I just want to say, go, Sagehens! Our women’s soccer team won their NCAA playoff game today in a 1-0 overtime thriller.

This is my first Family Weekend at Pitzer and I couldn’t be happier to welcome you all and to share a few reflections on where Pitzer College has been and where we are headed.

First of all, I want to thank you for your amazing students. I have met many of them already and look forward to meeting them all eventually. I just have to say, wow! I am endlessly impressed by them. They are some of the brightest, best, most engaged and most thoughtful students I have had the pleasure of working with in my nearly three decades of work in higher education. My wife Isabelle is here with us today. She and I have had the pleasure of seeing three sons graduate from college over the past five years, so it hasn’t been that long since we stood in your shoes. We are grateful that you have shared your students with us here at Pitzer, and with the wider world.

Starting off with a bit of our history, I would like to share a vintage film clip from 1963, the year of our founding. It’s the then-five Claremont Colleges presidents (we are now seven) reenacting the creation of Pitzer College, which began as a women’s college. You may recognize a familiar voice narrating:

(video clip plays from “A Continuing Vision of Greatness: The Story of the Claremont Colleges,” a documentary narrated by Ronald Reagan)

I’d like to echo something Gary Cordova, interim vice president of Advancement and Communications, said. Pitzer was waaay ahead of its time when it was founded in 1963. As a student at Pomona in the 1980s, I got to know Pitzer a bit, eating meals and even taking a class here. Pitzer was most definitely distinctive, and still is. Any baseball fans here? I’m a big one, so I hope you’ll indulge me a metaphor. While we started in a way that some may have considered kind of out there, way out in left field, we are in many ways standing squarely at home plate now. And I like to think that we now have the bases loaded, with no outs and a 3-0 count.
What I mean by this is that the world has, finally, come around to the importance of the values that Pitzer has championed from its very beginning: social responsibility, intercultural understanding, interdisciplinarity, student engagement, environmental sustainability…These are now mainstream ideas, and Pitzer is poised to lead from the front of the pack, rather than the periphery, or left field.

I mentioned a story briefly at last month’s inauguration and thought I might extend it a bit here today. In the fall of 1964, Pitzer College’s first president, John W. Atherton, stood behind a podium overlooking the rocky rough draft of the college that was founded only 17 months before. He urged the college community to see not only potential, but purpose, in Pitzer’s incompleteness. “The danger to education never lies in discussion and change,” he said. “It lies in silence and completion.”

Almost 60 years later we gather today not far from where President Atherton spoke, right over my shoulder here, more or less where your students will cross the stage to receive their diplomas. And, while the physical campus has transformed dramatically—and very much for the better, I must say—since then, Pitzer’s mission and values have remained consistent, but, purposefully, never complete. The heart of Pitzer’s mission is that students receive an exceptional residential liberal arts education that equips them with the knowledge and know-how to become engaged, analytical, socially responsible citizens of an ever-evolving world. Those are skills that will always be useful, especially in the face of technological and other changes that will inevitably disrupt the future world.

Since its founding, Pitzer has celebrated critical inquiry—what President Atherton called “that constant search for truth and freedom begun ages ago when [humans] first lifted [their] eyes from the earth and asked a question.” The youngest of Claremont’s undergraduate colleges, Pitzer has never stopped questioning itself, and everything else, looking for new and better ways to understand and improve the world.

As valuable as such a values-driven mission is, it can also bring its own challenges, which the College saw back in the heyday of the 1960s and which we are living again today in the shockwaves of recent events in Israel and Gaza, where thousands of innocent Israelis, Palestinians and others have perished since October 7. As it has at many schools—but less severely here than at some you hear about in the media—this conflict has generated passionate disagreements among some in our community. We, and I, remain steadfast in our commitment to maintaining both academic freedom and a safe learning environment and mutually supportive community. This can be a delicate balance to strike, but I have every confidence in this community’s ability to achieve it.

With that goal in mind, and as I described at last month’s inauguration, I am launching a presidential initiative to promote constructive dialogue around challenging topics. We must develop our collective tools of engagement to join in constructive dialogues within, across and beyond our community, even—especially—when we might disagree on the specific methods or means for achieving our broader shared goals. I do believe those goals are truly shared across our community, more than at any other place I have known. When it comes to specific issues on which views might diverge, let us agree to disagree agreeably, and to engage, respectfully and bravely, uncomfortable ideas in the service of education, knowledge and mutual understanding. Or, as our Student Senate President Sanya Dhama put it so succinctly earlier this year, let’s cancel cancel culture. Above all, we are an intellectual community, and we cannot learn from and with each other by simply shutting others out or down when we disagree. As the world has become increasingly complex and our country has become more fractured in recent years, Pitzer’s mission to produce “engaged, socially responsible citizens of the world” has never been more vital.

Amid this global crisis, we experienced the worst kind of local tragedy a community like ours can face: the loss of a student. Jesse Lopez was a truly remarkable young man, with one of the most amazing journeys to Pitzer that I’ve ever heard of. In a vigil organized by the Student Senate, in an ofrenda, or altar, created by our Latinx Student Union, in our community-wide memorial service, and in their ongoing deep connections with each other, the members of our community rallied together in support of one another in ways that touched my heart and made me incredibly proud to be part of it. Thank you, again, for your students. They are truly special.

Pitzer opened its doors in 1964 and admitted men in 1970. That inaugural year, Pitzer had about 150 students, a dozen professors and five majors.

We now have about 1200 students, 100 professors, and more than 40 major fields of study. Thanks to faculty who expertly blend their complimentary passions for teaching and groundbreaking research, students and alumni who excel across disciplinary boundaries, and dedicated administrators and staff, Pitzer is a top national liberal arts and sciences college. Among so many strengths, it is a leading light in environmental education and home to the country’s first secular studies program.

Our natural sciences program employs an interdisciplinary approach that puts normally isolated fields into constant conversation, both with each other and outside of the sciences. And, as you can now see in real time, the Nucleus, the new science facility we are building in partnership with Scripps College, is taking shape. We are moving from one building that three schools share to double the space, shared by two. This is enabling us to hire more faculty and develop new science and science-connected research capacity and curriculum. The visual is powerful—you should check it out.

One of our signature innovations that has become a national model is our prison education program, which has two linked pillars. We have expanded the Justice Education program that Pitzer leads at The Claremont Colleges, commonly referred to as the Inside/Out Program, whereby Inside students who are incarcerated study alongside Outside consortium students in the prison facility. I recently visited one of these classes at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, CA, and to a person each student, inside and outside alike, spoke of these classes as a pinnacle of their educational experience. The connections these students make with each other, from such divergent and diverse backgrounds, are unlike any others.

The second pillar of this initiative is our Pathway to BA program, in which incarcerated students take Inside/Out classes and earn Pitzer degrees. There are a lot of prison education programs that enable inmates to take classes here and there, but few that offer bachelor’s degrees. We are currently on our third cohort, with a 100% graduation rate thus far. Our graduates who have been released have received prestigious fellowships, including Fulbright, a legislative fellowship in the CA State Assembly, and others. Some of you met a few of these graduates at a panel this morning. This program is literally saving and transforming lives. Our graduates’ recidivism rate thus far is precisely zero.

Speaking of fellowships, the College is in the habit of receiving annual recognition for the number of global research and teaching Fulbright Fellowships our students and alumni receive. In fact, nearly 70 of our seniors this year have applied for a Fulbright. We look forward to hearing the good news about those and other prestigious fellowships, like the Coro and the Watson, in the months ahead. This is another area where we far outperform our modest size.

Pitzer is all about student engagement. Many of our students participate in one of our study-abroad programs or promote social change locally through the College’s Critical Action and Social Advocacy, or CASA, Program, or our Community Engagement Center. I am a direct beneficiary of such experiential learning. Isabelle and I met on a study abroad program in Madrid, where I fell in love both with her and with doing original research.

Pitzer College remains in the top tier of rankings for national liberal arts colleges, including U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Princeton Review. And for the second year in a row, Pitzer ranked No. 1 in Princeton Review’s “Top 20 Best (Private) Schools for Making an Impact.” We ranked in the top five for “Green Matters: Everyone Cares about Conservation,” “Best Campus Food,”—I hope you are all enjoying the wonderful food here—and for being “LGBTQ-Friendly,” among others. While we really don’t focus on the rankings for their own sake, we do appreciate the recognition. Where we are focused is on providing your students with the highest quality holistic educational experience possible, grounded in our unique mission and core values.

To that end, we welcomed five amazing new tenure-track faculty to Pitzer at the start of the academic year. We are on track to hire eleven more tenure-track faculty over the next two years, plus a similar number in our shared Department of Natural Sciences. This is a significant investment in capacity, breadth and depth that will directly benefit our students.

Supporting our world-class faculty and students is a similarly talented staff, who keep this place running and functioning at a high level. When you see them this weekend, please join me in thanking the facilities, dining and housekeeping staffs, the office assistants, the IT and Student Affairs teams, and the Advancement and Communications group, all of whom made this weekend of events possible and who provide constant support for our students and faculty.

I also have a wonderful senior leadership team here at Pitzer, many of whom you may have met or interacted with already this weekend, or perhaps on move-in day or other previous events. Collectively, this group has many decades of experience in higher education and at Pitzer. The two newest members of that group are:

• VP for Student Affairs Jan Barker Alexander, who arrived at Pitzer in September on a one-year appointment, brings a wealth of experience from 28 years at Stanford in various roles, including as the Director the Black student theme house on campus. In fact, she was so beloved at Stanford that they named the Director position after her when she left! Those of you who are attending the Family Leadership Council breakfast meeting on Sunday morning will have the opportunity to meet Jan in person if you haven’t already.

• Gary Cordova, who introduced me, started just last month as Pitzer’s Interim VP for Advancement and Communications. Gary has over 30 years of experience in communications, engagement, and fundraising in private and public education, including 20-plus years of service in leadership positions at various institutions. Gary is returning to Pitzer after working here in the late 1990s as board secretary and in advancement. You may have already met him—he seems to be everywhere!

I am also exceedingly fortunate to have my wife Isabelle alongside me on this journey. Isabelle was an attorney in New York, Massachusetts and Georgia representing low-income people in a variety of civil legal areas. She is deeply committed to Pitzer’s mission and values and has selflessly shifted her focus to supporting me and the College. She and I have met so many warm, welcoming, and wonderful people at Pitzer and in Claremont since we arrived, including all of you. We have made a concerted effort to attend as many events and meet as many people (particularly students) as possible this semester, and we also love hosting gatherings at the President’s residence here in town. Whether it be attending a Sagehens sporting event or an activity sponsored by a student organization, we are here to represent and support Pitzer. We are looking forward to next week’s a cappella concert!

A Pitzer education is not confined to the classroom, or event to co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. It goes deeper than that. We take great pride in fostering an inclusive environment that values diversity in all its forms, and we are committed to making a Pitzer education accessible to every admitted student and to do everything we can to foster their success, both here at Pitzer and beyond. The friendships students forge here, the conversations they share, and the ideas they exchange are enriched by the myriad backgrounds, experiences and identities that make our community stronger, more adaptable, and better equipped to address the increasingly complex issues facing a rapidly changing global society.

I hope that this presentation has given you a bit of a sense of the history, the present achievements, and the future promise of Pitzer – 60 years young as we gather together this weekend. Founding President John Atherton called Pitzer “the wonderchild who came to transform the world.” I believe that it has done exactly that and will continue to do so, and I hope you and your students are as proud as I am to be associated with this very special, very transformative place.

Thank you! And I think we now have a few minutes for questions…