Hofstra University

The Provost's Welcome Week Speech

Address to New Students - Welcome Week – September 2, 2011

Herman A. Berliner, Ph.D.

I am pleased to greet you this morning.

This is the 42nd incoming class to Hofstra that I have had the opportunity to teach and interact with.  The reality is that I have been at Hofstra more than double the time that most of you have been alive.

My inspiration for years of service is Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts.  Dumbledore served at Hogwarts for over 50 years.  Now, though he is my role model for years of service, I am not looking to end my service the way his service ended.

The death of Dumbledore occurs at the end of Year 6, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but I'm not here today to talk about that.  I'm here to focus on Year 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which are book 7 and movies 7 and 8.

Let's talk about the second half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  After Severus Snape is killed by Lord Voldemort's sidekick snake Nagini, Harry finds out the startling truth that part of Voldemort lives in Harry (that Harry is in fact a Horcrux).  We furthermore find out through Snape's memories that Dumbledore believes that Harry must die for Lord Voldemort to die.  At this point in time, Lord Voldemort also makes his not surprising feelings known about Harry:

“I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you.  You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself.  I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forrest.  If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences.  This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me.  One hour.”

And then, prepared to die, Harry enters the Forbidden Forest to confront Voldemort but in reality (JK Rawling reality) Voldemort is beginning to doubt that Harry will show up.

“I thought he would come,”  “I expected him to come.”

“I was, it seems…mistaken.”

YOU WEREN'T says Harry and Voldemort says

“Harry Potter,” “The Boy Who Lived.”

“Voldemort raised his wand.  His head was still tilted to one side, like a curious child, wondering what would happen if he proceeded.  Harry looked back into the red eyes, and wanted it to happen now, quickly, while he could still stand, before he lost control, before he betrayed fear –”

And then, Voldemort's mouth moved, there was a flash of green light, and it looked as if Harry had died.

But Harry was not killed; the only thing that dies is the part of Voldemort living in Harry.

(For those of you who have not read Harry Potter or seen the movies, I am sure that someone sitting next to you, or behind or in front of you will be able to explain what I am talking about.)

The end is near and I loved reading and seeing Neville kill Nagini (I would have enjoyed doing that myself) and Mrs. Weasley killing Bellatrix.

And then in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, a final showdown.

“I don't want anyone else to try to help,” Harry said loudly, and in the total silence his voice carried like a trumpet call.  “It's got to be like this. It's got to be me.”

Voldemort hissed.

“Potter doesn't mean that.”  “That isn't how he works, is it? Who are you going to use as a shield today, Potter?”

“Nobody,” said Harry simply.  “There are no more Horcruxes.  It's just you and me.  Neither can live while the other survives, and one of us is about to leave for good….”

Avada Kedavra.  Expelliarmus

And it was over.  Voldemort was at last completely and totally dead.

The book could have ended at that moment and with that scene but it didn't.  The ending takes place 19 years later with Harry and Ginny's kids and Hermione and Ron's kids etc., going off to Hogwarts for another year of education.

And what will they find at Hogwarts?  What will they be taught?

If you look on-line at the Harry Potter Lexicon, you will find under “Academic” the Hogwarts curriculum.  The courses are fascinating including such courses as “Defense Against the Dark Arts,” “Potions,” “Transfiguration,” “Muggle Studies” and “Care of Magical Creatures” etc.  Our curriculum is very different from what is offered at Hogwarts but just as fascinating.  And in addition, we are fortunate to have a curriculum that provides students with a significant amount of choice almost regardless of their major.  Take advantage of that choice.  Be it art or music or economics or literature or health, increase your horizons, increase your expertise, increase your sophistication in an area that may not be a strength of yours, or in an area you aren't familiar with, up to now.  Take a chance and go outside your comfort level.   For example, take Religion 103 which is Warrior Saints: An introduction to the Sikh Religion.  You will have a far better understanding of South Asian culture in the context of Sikh religious traditions.  Even more than Harry Potter, we live in an inextricably interwoven world.  We need to understand more of that world. Or take a course in Personal Finance—because  you may be able to open a bank account in Gringotts and regardless of your interests, if you don't have a handle on your own finances—especially as you become more independent—your stress and vulnerabilities will increase.  Consider a course in Public Speaking or Interpersonal Communication.  Interpersonal Communication examines how relationships develop, endure and deteriorate and how to respond in social, professional and family contexts.  I think that Severus Snape could have benefitted from taking such a course and many of us could benefit as well.   Consider a course in stress management because we may not encounter a deatheater but we all encounter stress.  Or a course in self defense.  What about a ballroom dancing course?   Or an introduction to LGBT studies.  Or a Contemporary Art course (with field trips to NYC).   I'm interested in all the courses I've mentioned.  Animal ethics is another option as is the Archaeology of the Material World (this course does not focus on Madonna).   Hogwarts students don't have these options and opportunities.  Neither did I when I went to college.  But you have these options, these opportunities to expand your horizons and I encourage you to do so. The college years should be one of the best times in your life.  Take advantage of all that we offer.

As an aside, I will admit that Hogwarts has the more imaginative grading system.  Where we have the standard A, B, C grades, the Hogwarts grades are O – outstanding, E – exceeds expectations, A – acceptable (equivalent to our C) followed by P – poor, D – dreadful and T – Troll.

In the world of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, and therefore in a significant part of the wizarding world, discrimination against muggles and mudbloods was an everyday occurrence.  And if you read all the Harry Potter books or see all the movies you will find that there is also discrimination against elves, giants, goblins, centaurs, squibs, and werewolves.  Our world, as we know, also has been no stranger to discrimination.  But just as Harry Potter's world changes at the end of book seven, our world has changed as well and most importantly, you have changed (and you are part of the reason the world has changed).

You are different from my generation or your parents' generation.  As a group, you are millennials, also referred to as Generation Y or the Net Generation; your parents and I are Baby Boomers or Generation X types. As groups we have very different characteristics (and at the same time there are substantial differences within each of the groups).

What you are, as defined in a recent conference on Generation Shockwaves and the Implications for Higher Education (TIAA-CREF), is a group that believes in 24 hour days, you are team oriented, immediate, overtly confident but with self doubts, fascinated by new technology, continuously integrating technology almost seamlessly into your academic and personal lives (social media, such as facebook, text messaging, tweeting, and blogging), and you are very much a name and resent being just a number.

You also, according to the conference, like close family relationships.
You are academically better prepared.
You place a premium on job/financial security.
You want the college you attend to have the programs that help achieve job security.
As the last presidential election demonstrated, you are a political powerhouse.
And you are a much more diverse group.

In the world that Harry Potter and Hermione Granger grew up in, and the world that I grew up in and your parents grew up in, not that long ago, diversity was not always appreciated or encouraged.  Within that somewhat black or white world, separation and segregation existed in significant parts of the country and discrimination was an everyday occurrence.  Even when the laws changed, attitudes took much longer to change.

Our University celebrates and encourages diversity.  As indicated in our Diversity Mission Statement:

The University believes that institutions of learning have a responsibility to provide and sustain multiple cultures, to encourage scholarship and knowledge production incorporating multiple perspectives and to demonstrate commitment to fair and equal access to higher education.

Diversity includes the recognition and incorporation of a multiplicity of voices and perspectives in thought and action, in policy and practice, in all spheres of the academic enterprise.  It involves recognizing the value of “difference” and the inclusion of members of groups that experience discrimination or under representation.
Join with us in embracing diversity.

As our statement says, we are all better off recognizing the value of differences and the value of inclusiveness.  And we work hard to do this.  But Hofstra is much more than diversity.  Our campus life, the education we provide, everything we do is designed to be a best fit with, and meet the needs of you – our students.  Our education recognizes and values your millennial identity and it is a different education than we provided to boomers and Gen X.

The Hofstra you are entering is the strongest in our history, and as a person who goes back further than half the buildings on campus and half the trees on campus, I know that first hand.

In terms of credentials and national reputations of faculty, in terms of national accreditations (which are third-party expert verifications of how well we are doing ), in terms of facilities, in terms of student life, in terms of technology and most importantly in terms of teaching excellence, we have always been a good University but never better than now.  You are more knowledgeable than previous generations and we, as a University, are also more knowledgeable.  Together this helps facilitate the best education possible.  And in terms of the choices we provide you with, the 140 majors and many options within those majors, and the quality of our faculty, our administration and our staff, we have also never been better than today.

At one point in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Dumbledore says to Harry: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, more than our abilities.”  Class of 2015, your ability is great; make the right choices.

Welcome, again, to Hofstra.  I look forward to seeing you on campus.  And please stay in touch.  You can reach me via email and my office is on the second floor, west wing of the Library.  Thanks and continued success.