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Dr. Botzman's Inauguration Address

Dia dhuit, jingdobree, bonjour, la ora na, hola, annyeong, moyen vihasit, konnichiwa, mer haba, goededag, salaam aleekum, ni hao, salve, aloha, zdravo, whassup, hello.

I would like to begin by briefly thanking each of you who made this day possible for my family and for me. Thank you to the members of the transition and inauguration committees and to my new colleagues at Misericordia University for making this time so special. We’ve enjoyed the week of lectures by faculty and the Yamanouchi lecture by Ishmael Beah , poetry readings, video game and cooking tournaments – the students prevailed both times – and look forward to tomorrow’s day of service.
Bishop Bambera and members of the clergy, the Religious Sisters of Mercy and representatives of the Council on Mercy Higher Education, Chairman Metz and members of the board of trustees, Dr. and Mrs. MacDowell, Presidents and delegates of so many outstanding universities and colleges, and elected officials, I thank you for your continued encouragement and counsel in the weeks, months, and years that have led to today. To the faculty, staff, and alumni of Misericordia University, my deepest appreciation goes to you for your support and trust as we begin this journey together. To our community and friends, I look forward to meeting each of you and to our work together as we address the dreams and challenges of the Valley. I want to especially thank our students for attending today and for the warm welcome that you have given to my family and to me during our first year at our University.
Special thanks go to my colleagues and friends from the my Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, the University of Mount Union, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the University of the Americas in Mexico City, St. Mary’s Ryken High School, the American Council on Education Fellows program, and the Harvard University executive leadership programs. It’s also special to have friends from my grade school and high school days here with us today.
My father, George, is with us today. My mother, Willie, passed away several years ago. George and Willie had 13 children, and several of us are gathered here today. I would like to ask the members of my family to please stand. I also welcome my cousins, nieces, and nephews. My mother-in-law, Fina Pecchia, is also with us today. Her brother, Gabriel Bernabeo, was unable to attend today. Gabriel is a fourth degree Knight of Columbus. Thank you to the Knights of Columbus for providing the honor guard today. It’s good to have the Knights with us. We also invited a Squire, a Sir from Japan, a Duke from Hungary, and a Princess to be with us today, but they were unable to attend.

I thank my wife, Vanessa, and daughter, Gabriela, for being with me today and all days. I love you and will always be grateful for your patience and understanding.

As I began to prepare for this address, I began to think about presidential installations, investitures, and inaugurations. Most of them that I have seen have occurred in the last decade as my colleagues and friends have moved into leadership positions. I suspect that I am a part of a large majority that had no idea that our path would lead to a presidency. In fact, the first time I ever saw a university president was during my first year as an undergraduate student. The president of Case Western Reserve University, Louis Toepfer, was a qualified scholar who made one very unfortunate choice of words, saying to the students that “Learning is Suffering” during an address about budget challenges. The outcry was strong and even resulted in a T-shirt with President Toepfer’s most unflattering portrait surrounded by those words: “Learning is Suffering.” Sadly, the university archives retained proof of President Toepfer’s days of challenge.

Perhaps we can learn a little from thinking about Learning and Suffering. After all, our founders, the Sisters of Mercy, “are an international community of Roman Catholic women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children.” Our students and academic community learn through our University mission in concert with the charisms of Mercy, Service, Justice and Hospitality. In just a few months, I’ve observed students teaching children, providing food to those in need, sharing concern for the rights of immigrants, visiting the elderly, supporting returning veterans, and demonstrating the charisms in a number of ways. They see the challenges and often witness suffering. So, perhaps, the clearer view is that “Suffering is Learning.” It is my hope that we can learn to live the charisms at Misericordia University and then take our good works into the world to address the suffering of others.
At this morning’s Mass, Monsignor Bendik shared lessons with us related to three readings from the Bible. The first, from the book of Jeremiah, lets each of us know that God has a plan for us. The plan is not always evident, or steady, and at times can lead to great challenges and setbacks. Each of us has found our way to move beyond the setbacks and to move forward with the plan. Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, trusted and followed in God’s plan in her drive to serve women and children, especially in the areas of education and health care. Catherine’s story is not one of a mad dash to do what was important, but rather a continued devotion to what is vital – service to others. The plan was not accomplished in minutes, but began with a few steps toward her future guided by her faith. As Catherine McAuley said, “The simplest and most practical lesson I know… is to resolve to be good today – but better tomorrow… Thus we may hope to get on – taking short careful steps, not great strides.”
I am so pleased that you have joined together today to guide me as I take my first short careful steps.
Monsignor Bendik also shared his insights about St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians which reveals that power is made perfect in weakness. Catherine McAuley’s Presentation Rule, written in the formation of the Sisters of Mercy, notes that “They shall be ready on all occasions to help and assist one another, bearing with patience and charity each other’s defects, weaknesses, and imperfections.” Misericordia University, now in its 89th year, continues to echo the words of both St. Paul and Catherine McAuley, as is evidenced by the continued emphasis on the charisms of Mercy, Service, Justice, and Hospitality. We each have defects, weaknesses, and imperfections, but we also have power to change ourselves and the world to be more perfect. I should also note that Catherine McAuley considered patience to be a virtue that she lacked and that it was her greatest weakness. Noting that she built the Sisters of Mercy from a small startup idea to a powerful intergenerational force for change in only a decade, we might all wish to have the same lack of patience. Perhaps Catherine McAuley’s weakness was a part of God’s plan in that the lack of patience she displayed – her weakness – was further evidence of God’s power made perfect.
The third reading is a bit more difficult to understand and to place into our personal actions. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a passage about loving our enemies. Surely we all love our family and friends, and perhaps are inclined to be kind to our neighbors and acquaintances, but do we really know how to love our enemies? I’m not very good at that. But, what is the lesson to be learned from the Gospel? Perhaps, we are called to get to know others as well as we have our neighbors and acquaintances, or even our family and friends, so we can learn to love all, even those who are or were our enemies.
In higher education, we examine and study and debate topics in a variety of areas: the humanities, social sciences, business, education, health professions, physical science, religion and philosophy, and the fine arts, to name just some of the areas of inquiry on our campus. Frankly, some of us don’t love trigonometry, or verb tenses, or even late night essays. However, by getting to know the subjects and looking at things from many angles, we seek the truth and perhaps learn to love those subjects that have previously been our enemies. “Suffering is Learning” mandates that we must focus our love through all of our distinctive fields of inquiry. Likewise, there are people we meet, or choose to pass by without a greeting, who through our institutional heritage as a Catholic institution sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, we are required to recognize. We can, indeed, learn to love our enemies, and are called to do that well. Each of us faces our common enemies, such as poverty and prejudice, and our personal enemies. Our personal and professional mission is to move forward, meet the enemy, and learn to love our differences. We are a Catholic institution, we celebrate the charisms of the Sisters of Mercy, and we will always ensure that all are welcome. Yes, all are welcome. We’ll still debate about the important and not so important differences: fuchsia or gingham, visible or invisible, red dog or blue dog, mustard seed or popcorn, Dallas or Exeter, kielbasa or pierogi – some of our debates seem a bit less vital as time passes. In the end, our willingness to listen to others, to learn from them, and to serve will be sufficient. May we all suffer a bit and learn even more.
An essential part of this address, I am told, is to lay out a vision. I’ll present some today and leave it to you to decide if the president having visions is really a good thing. You’ve heard about the incredible successes and struggles of Misericordia University since its founding in 1924. We all recognize that the path has been uncertain with a few detours along the way. The world around us is changing, many times in ways that are contrary to our institutional mission. We’ve evolved from a small college with only a few buildings with most of the courses taught by the Sisters. Many of our alumnae, and I note that alumnae indicates only female students, studied in the traditional fields of nursing, nutrition, and education. And, we now have alumni, indicating that we enroll and graduate both women and men. The campus is much larger yet continues to be a safe place largely removed from a very confusing world. Our fields of study are diverse and fitting of a place that has grown from a college into a young and vibrant university.
This is a safe place. However, our history and mission call us to take risks, to walk away from our safe place in the service of others. It is a joyous day for me when I get to hear from our students about their adventures beyond the borders of campus, some in nearby Noxen or Plymouth, and some far away in Guyana or Jamaica. My hope is that we can continue to strengthen our work outside the campus borders, in service and in learning. We’ll learn to love our enemies, including those we haven’t yet met, by learning their languages and culture through direct interaction. That will require Misericordia to reinforce our core programs in the arts and sciences, professional studies, and health sciences through study of foreign language and more opportunities for international and off-campus study. At the same time, we must embrace the risk of bringing others to campus by creating opportunities for our new friends to visit us for academic, athletic, cultural, and fine arts programming. We may even look to bring international scholars and students to campus in greater numbers. It all starts with being able to say hello.

I mentioned earlier that I have 12 brothers and sisters. When we were younger we would sometimes ask our parents if we were the favorite. I remember my mother’s answer that followed a moment of reflective silence: “Bert, he’s my favorite, because he’s the farthest away from here.” Given the decibel level of our house, it makes sense that the favorite would be serving in the military somewhere in South Korea. Vanessa and I never heard the favorite question from Gabi since she is an only child, and I’ve always wanted to have a chance to answer it. Next fall, Vanessa and I will hopefully be able to identify our favorite students. In honor of the Botzman and Bernabeo families, we are personally supporting development of international education and study abroad. It is with care, affection, and love that we say to our students, “Please, go away. Go far away. Be my favorite.”
A second part of the vision relates back to a story that has been told to me many times during the past few months. It seems that every alumna thought that she was special and was the only student who received scholarship support through the work of the Sisters of Mercy. Many of you realized years later that many of your classmates also received scholarships. If we want Misericordia University to continue to be the place where all are welcome we will need to build an endowment that provides the long-term base for scholarship support. We are blessed to have a well-run, solid, and stable institution. Our transition from a small college to a university is underway as we build upon our teaching, research, scholarship, and service foundations. Our work is to join together to ensure that the success continues far into the future. That success is, in part, financial and facilities. It is also spiritual and about the education of the whole person. Sister Concilia Moran wrote, “In another 150 years, the bones of everyone here present will be well bleached. Perhaps our ashes scattered to the four winds. But what of our spirit?  Will the depth of our mercy and compassion so influence others that they will keep alive our vision beyond their time and place into tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?”

We must find a way to ensure not only the short-term success of Misericordia University, but work to make that success stretch long beyond our reach. My hope is that at Misericordia University we find our way to serve the mission and to ensure the long-term support of that mission. Nearly 800 of our students are from first-generation university families. A similar number are eligible for federal and state aid based on financial need. And, the Bourger Women with Children program supports 10 women and their children as first-generation university families. My dream is that we find ways to more fully support the charisms and vision of our founders, the Sisters of Mercy.

The third facet of the vision is a bit more pragmatic in the sense that overall, things are already pretty good here. Misericordia University is, by many measures, wildly successful at what we do. Our students graduate at levels beyond those of many other higher education institutions. The students log countless hours of service to others. Our faculty colleagues publish and teach and mentor and do anything and everything in support of our students. Our academic community, including the staff and the trustees and our alumni, cares deeply about our students and their present and future success. I note that many of those things that we do, and do well, were not even envisioned when College Misericordia was founded in 1924. Indeed, many of our areas of study, such as informatics or biochemistry, didn’t exist as a separate field until much more recently.
As such, we must challenge ourselves to build capacity for the future that exceeds our present levels of success. We can do that by continuing to provide the best possible facilities in support of our faculty and students. We can dare to explore new fields of inquiry, seeking the truth in ways that are new and unclear at present. In short, we can, in the words of Ray Haas, think about things that we haven’t thought about yet. That’s a very roundabout way of thinking of what higher education is and what it should become, a space where we can think about things that we haven’t thought about yet. Our imagination of the future, guided by our storied past, is both exciting and enticing. 

I recognize that some will wonder why my vision isn’t clearer. Simply, I haven’t listened to you and learned from you enough to articulate our shared vision with great clarity. Change does not always happen at the drop of a hat, or as some say, at the drop of a pocket. I’m looking forward to sharing a cup of tea, or sherry, or coffee, as we exchange ideas and dreams and as we move into an exciting future. 

In closing, my deepest thanks go to each of you for your continued support, encouragement, patience, and prayer. I look forward to more conversations about how we can best serve our students and our academic community. Once again, thank you for your continued support for Misericordia University and thank you so much for joining me at the beginning of this exciting journey.