Quality of educational experience can come down to just one word

Jody Roy, professor of communication and interim vice president and dean of faculty, spoke at Matriculation Convocation Aug. 23 and urged new students and their families to look for an opportunity in everything they do.

A transcript of Dean Roy’s address follows:

“Thank you all for taking time out of your busy day to be here. I know you have many other things to do. Students and parents have to unload cars and set up rooms. Faculty and staff have to finalize preparations for the semester. We all have so many things on our to-do lists. So you might find it a bit odd that I want to spend this precious time talking about editing. Bear with me: I promise it’s relevant.

“Most of us had our first encounter with editing in elementary school, when a teacher first required that we correct our spelling errors. Next came grammar and structure. Then substantive matters—such as the way we used evidence to support our arguments. In time, for those who continue to more advanced study of writing, the focus of editing turns to sophisticated issues of style and voice. Yet, while we learn to edit by breaking a piece of writing down into parts, those parts ultimately must all work together. Form and content cannot really be separated: the most complex idea in a book is carried on the back of each single word chosen by the author. Each word matters. Each word choice has the potential to change the quality of the argument or the plot of the story. I have come to believe that word choice also has the power to affect the way we learn and even the way we live.

“Today, as you begin your life as students at Ripon College, I want to share with you one of the most important things I’ve learned about editing. It involves editing at the level of a single word—one single word in particular. It is a word you may be tempted to use a lot at Ripon. Let me use it in a sentence. “I have to write a paper.” Now let’s consider for a moment what happens if we make a one-word edit: “I get to write a paper.” Really think about that for a moment. I get to write a paper. I get to learn some new things. I get to grow. I get to challenge myself. I get to make mistakes and get feedback, and, as a result, get stronger and better and also wise. Wise enough to accept that I will always make mistakes. Wise enough to set my ego aside so that I can ask for help when I need it. Wise enough to know that there will always be some new fact or new skill set that I will get to learn.

“Your education at Ripon College will be hard work. It should be hard work. But it is not a chore. It is an opportunity. That truth lives inside the one word edit. So, members of the Class of 2018, I am going to ask that you associate this idea of the one-word edit with the coin you received a few minutes ago. Look at it often, especially on days when you feel overwhelmed by all the things you have to do, and ask yourself, “What do I get to do today? What do I get to learn today?”

“I would now like to ask the Class of 2018 to be patient for just a couple more minutes while I speak to two other very important groups of people. First, to the parents who are with us. Later today, you have to travel back home, without your child. That will be hard, very hard. But the one-word edit applies to you, too. For example, within seconds of leaving campus you will notice, perhaps for the first time in years, that you get control of the music in the car. You also get to take pride in a parenting job very well done. On behalf of my colleagues, let me say thank you for that and thank you for sharing your student with us.

“Finally, let me direct a few words to my faculty and staff colleagues. Thank you for everythng you have done for Ripon College and for everything I know you will do. I ask that we all remember the one-word edit this year, too. We have a lot to do this year. We get to do a lot this year. We get to work together to shape the future of this college we love. And we get to help these amazing students prepare themselves to achieve their dreams. Please join me in saying to them, ‘Class of 2018, Welcome to Ripon College!'”

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