The President’s Investiture Address
A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D.
October 14, 2011
"Archbishop John J. Myers, Mr. Patrick Murray, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Ambassador Mario De Leon, Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, Assembly Speaker Shelia Oliver, NJ Banking and Insurance Commissioner and alumnus Tom Considine, South Orange Village President Alex Torpey, the many other local, state and federal government dignitaries, members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Regents, Executive Vice President and Provost Larry A. Robinson, Faculty Senate President David Beneteau, past university presidents, delegates, distinguished faculty, students, staff, administrators, members of the priest community, members of the Seton Hall community, members of my family and honored guests.
Please allow me to thank the members of the Presidential Investiture Committee under Monsignor Wister and our many staff and especially student volunteers.
I stand before you, my Seton Hall family, humbled and honored to be entrusted with the immense responsibility to serve and lead this great Catholic university.
I stand before you, thankful not only to His Grace, our Trustees, Regents, faculty, students, staff, administrators, alumni, and our larger university community for your unwavering support and encouragement – but also grateful to those who have preceded me in this enormous task.
I stand before you my family, our family, but in particular our parents but most especially my best friend and wife of 26 years, Josephine, and our daughter, Ysabella, and thank you for being part of this journey.
I stand before you, my Lord and God, and thank you for all the blessings we have received: Let Your will be done.
Where do I start? As a youngster, my late father, who was a university professor, drilled in the importance of a university education. More importantly, he instilled a love of books and learning. My parents encouraged us to discover and develop our passions and find our own voices.
I still remember the day in late August, 23 years ago, when my wife and I packed all our cash, about $5,000, which was all of our savings as a married couple, and almost all our earthly belongings in four suitcases for a 8,000 mile trip, half-way around the world to start our new lives as graduate students in California. Not unlike millions before us, we left behind our families, friends and everything we knew to take a chance at a better life through education, in this great country.
We arrived on our Ellis Island, the Los Angeles International Airport on a hot summer day, and I quickly realized that due to a mix-up there was no one there to meet us. Taking a deep breath I thought of a proverb of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who said, “Do the difficult things while they are easy, and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Our first step consisted of finding a place to sleep that night. I found the phone number of an old friend – whether by luck or, as I believe, divine intervention – he was at home, and he was able to take us in for a couple of days until we could move into our on-campus housing. So began our journey.
The journey almost ended after our first trimester. I needed surgery which was not going to be covered by our student health insurance. We realized that we could not afford to pay both my wife’s tuition to continue her studies and my surgery. My wife’s graduate adviser learned about our plight and gave her the funding we needed.
This was a pattern which would repeat itself many times over the next few years. Every time we were faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges that we thought would cause us to drop out of graduate school, someone would intervene and offer us a lifeline. In the Philippines, I remember my parents sharing an old proverb which goes, “Nasa Diyos ang awa nasa tao ang gawa.” Loosely translated it says, “The Lord shows mercy, but we have to do our part.”
I share our story because in institutions of higher education – not just in the United States but around the world – we have millions of students taking their own journeys, facing their own challenges. Inadequate preparation, unexpected emergencies, limited financial resources or lack of support can severely impact the chances of success. Some students are given second, third or even more chances. Unfortunately, too many do not get that second opportunity and end up leaving. So why do so many take the chance we did?
I daresay that the majority take it because of the opportunity to make a better life. In this country, maybe more so than anywhere else in the world, education has proven to be the great equalizer and allowed upward mobility. Education has become a symbol of hope – hope for a brighter future, especially for individuals born with fewer resources than others.
Our history at Seton Hall and my visits with our alumni bear this out. I hear the same expressions, the same words, over and over again: “Seton Hall provided me opportunities that otherwise would not have been available,” or alternatively, “I have Seton Hall to thank for what I have today.”
However, institutions operating in today’s higher education environment, as we present with a few gray hairs know, are facing unprecedented challenges. In this country, population growth has slowed and with it we have fewer traditional-age students. Even the notion of a “traditional college student” is being challenged with the entry of vast numbers of working students in their mid-20s and older. Some of our older alumni are very surprised when I talk about the six-year graduation rate and not the traditional four-year graduation rate.
Unemployment and underemployment remain stubbornly high as we struggle to recover from this recession. The collapse of housing prices coupled with the loss of one or both incomes in households has made it almost impossible to finance the cost of higher education. Most disturbing, with the decline of the middle class, is increasing income inequality not just in this country but across most developed countries.
Our student population has become very diverse and global. Technology has continued to evolve and has changed the whole notion of physical distances and physical campuses. There has been a call for increased accountability and greater transparency as evidenced in recent federal and state regulations. Finally, competition from for-profits has been on the rise, with new business models being developed and successfully brought to bear against traditional higher education models.
How do we at Seton Hall intend to meet these challenges and strengthen our institution? How do we at Seton Hall intend to continue our tradition of excellence? How do we at Seton Hall intend to develop the next generation of servant leaders well versed in the Catholic intellectual tradition?
I propose that just as our students undertake their own journey, we must embark on our own journey of transformation as a university. I ask that you walk with me as we demand excellence not only from ourselves but also from our students. The late educator and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, John W. Gardner, was quoted as saying: “The idea for which this nation stands will not survive if the highest goal free man can set for himself is an amiable mediocrity. Excellence implies striving for the highest standards in every phase of life.”
I ask that you, our university community, commit with me to strengthen our Catholic identity by finding ways to infuse Catholic values throughout our curriculum as we have in our new Core. We need to promote understanding of our rich Catholic intellectual tradition and to encourage deepening of faith among the members of the university community.
I ask that you, our university community, commit with me to strive for excellence in academics by encouraging and supporting research and scholarship among our faculty while enriching the mentoring and teaching of students that is our hallmark. Let us not forget the words of the late President John F. Kennedy, who said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” We pledge to hire, retain and motivate faculty who are committed to excellence. We intend to not only reallocate our existing resources and reinvest in our faculty but also find new sources of revenue to allow our faculty and university community to be the best. Our goal should be to set our standards higher every year.
I ask that you, our university community, commit with me to recruit, retain and graduate students who can best benefit from a Seton Hall education. Toward this end, our recently announced undergraduate public tuition rate incentive directed toward academically qualified students, wherever they may be, demonstrates our commitment to this principle. We pledge to provide the support services and learning environment needed to ensure that our graduates become successful alumni and servant leaders.
Finally, I ask that you, our university community, commit with me not only to discover ways to make the best use of our resources, but also to encourage our alumni and our friends to recommit to the mission of Seton Hall. I ask you to pledge not only to recommit your wisdom and your time but also your treasures. As my wife and I are beneficiaries of the generosity of others, we ask this university community to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain open to the next generation of servant leaders.
When Seton Hall University was founded in 1856, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley conceived of the College as "a home for the mind, the heart and the spirit." We have remained steadfast in our adherence to his vision. Today we step forward on that path with renewed confidence and energy. Please join us on this journey.
HAZARD ZET FORWARD! GO PIRATES!"