On Red Hawk Day, Montclair State University’s new president Jonathan Koppell opened the academic year with two welcome addresses – one to employees and one to incoming students – encouraging all to seize the opportunity to use their imaginations to envision the future and to act to make the world a better place.
He congratulated students for not only becoming a part of “this powerful, inspiring, amazing community” but also for their resilience in getting through the extraordinary experience of the last 18 months of the ongoing pandemic.
“I’m sure you’re all thrilled not just to be at college but to be in the same room with a whole bunch of people together – finally – on campus,” Koppell told the masked crowd in Memorial Auditorium, pointing out that masks are required not just because it’s a University rule, but “because we’re part of a community and being part of a community means we take care of each other. … And there’s joy in being part of something bigger than ourselves.”
In his remarks to faculty and staff, he also talked about the importance of the greater good and urged the academic community to build on its history of public service to address the challenges of the present moment and model the philosophical saying “I criticize by what I create.”
“By criticizing through our creation, I don’t pretend for a minute that Montclair State University can solve all the world’s problems. But we can create solutions and show that those problems can be solved,” Koppell told faculty and staff in the Kasser Theater and via livestream. “We can show that despair and hopelessness is not the right reaction. It’s using the tools that we are giving to our students, and that we have cultivated in ourselves, to come up with better answers, to achieve the aspirations we have for society.”
Koppell said that it’s important to address the world’s most pressing issues, including the global pandemic, systemic racism, political and ideological divides and climate change while also ensuring success for a diverse and talented student body, including the largest incoming class in the University’s 113-year history.
“We are committed to learning inquiry and discovery, but that is not enough. We must also be committed to action. And we must ask the question: How might we harness the power of more than 20,000 souls so that we can be a powerful force for good in the world?”
“My goal as your president is to lead that effort, to create a dynamic, innovative institution that is capable of adaptation and redesign. One that is able to empower faculty, staff and students to make an impact in the world.”
When addressing employees, Koppell repeatedly returned to the themes of public service and criticism through creation – including the system of higher education in the United States, and he criticized the assumption that providing access and providing excellence are mutually exclusive.
“I’m super excited by what we’ve seen at this institution, the achievements in terms of graduation, retention and student success. They are indeed something to be proud of, but we need to push ever higher to show that those who accept mediocrity as the inevitable outcome of this system to be wrong. We will criticize by creating something entirely different and be proud that we have shown it is possible.”
During his welcome address to students, he asked them to empower their imaginations – to picture themselves not only graduating but also to think about what kind of person they want to be and what kind of world they want to live in 10, 20, 30 years from now.
“Then say to yourself, ‘How do I make myself the person I need to be in order to help make the world that I want to live in come into reality?’ ” he said. “And say to yourself, ‘I’m going to start that journey right here at Montclair State University.’ ”
Scenes from Red Hawk Day
Rain couldn’t dampen the spirit of students being back on campus for Red Hawk Day.