Welcome Address by Chancellor Jeffrey S. Vitter
January 16, 2017, 10:30 a.m.
Burns Belfry Church, Oxford, MS
Good Morning! I am so pleased to be here. First, let me thank all the organizations that joined together to organize this day of community events. You have done a fantastic job.
Today we celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King taught us the importance of empathy and understanding. He taught us that with empathy and understanding, we can reach across divides and forge just and inclusive communities. I can think of no better way of honoring his message than by coming together as a community and recognizing the power and purpose of service.
As a flagship university of the state, the University of Mississippi embraces the responsibility of addressing our state’s most pressing societal issues. Doing so allows us to build healthy and vibrant communities. It is a goal that spans healthcare, education, the environment, economic development, and many other issues.
At the University of Mississippi, we participate in service through a number of avenues, including service learning classes, the UM Big Event, the wonderful service programs coordinated and led by the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, and the many research and outreach activities in our College and Schools. And our service work has a major impact — in the 2014–2015 academic year, the UM community served over 600,000 hours, contributing an estimated $12 million to the state economy. We are grateful to partner with the L.O.U. community today and throughout the year in service efforts.
Last year’s MLK Day ceremony was one of the first events I attended in my official capacity as a new chancellor. Now, one year later, I am proud to be joined by the university’s first-ever Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement, Dr. Katrina Caldwell. Dr. Caldwell’s presence on campus and in the L.O.U. community signals our university’s enduring commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment.
Dr. Caldwell shares with me a vision of making our university a leader in promoting diversity, inclusion, and community partnerships. Diversity makes us stronger as a community. Diversity makes our ideas better, our approaches more effective, our results stronger, and our relationships deeper. By promoting these values, we honor the legacy of Dr. King. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Caldwell.
In so many ways, our nation has made incredible progress since Dr. King served as a faithful leader of the Civil Rights movement — yet much work remains to be done. In his moving piece, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
These words remain painfully relevant when we consider the many tragic, racially charged events that spread throughout our nation in 2016. We must challenge ourselves and our community to work in service of hope, justice, and peace. It is not easy work, so we mark this occasion as a call to reaffirm our commitments and come together with those who share our vision for a more just and inclusive community.
I chose to be an academic leader because I am so passionate about the transformative power of higher education. Higher education serves as a means to bring together diverse stakeholders and voices. Through this union, we can change our society. I share Nelson Mandela’s belief that “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
In closing, I encourage you to take advantage of the many events that have been organized for today’s event. I also hope you will make an ongoing commitment to serving others. Thank you for being here today.