It is my privilege to greet the University of California
Merced campus community, on behalf of your colleagues throughout
UC, as you open your academic year.
On this day of celebration, our hearts must go out to our fellow
Americans in the Gulf States. In keeping with the spirit of
California and the University of California, we have had emergency
medical teams on the ground there for the past week with hundreds
of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals either there or
on their way there. Every one of our campuses is offering to
continue the education of the students in the universities in the
region until they are in the position of taking the students back.
We will, of course, be providing housing, financial aid, and
counseling services to these students.
As we take pride in today’s events, let us take a moment to
think of our fellow citizens.
Now, to the Merced community, you have aimed high and worked
hard to reach this glorious day. Over the past decade, as you built
this campus from the ground up, you have pursued a dream that is
older than the state of California itself.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1849, a year before
California was admitted to the Union, Californians began planning a
university that would assemble the finest minds to create knowledge
and benefit the citizens. The convention delegates were mostly
immigrants who moved here from other places for a better life. They
had no money to build a university. They had no land to put it on.
But they did have a bold vision for the future of this state.
And they shared a peculiar trait: They simply did not comprehend
the meaning of the word “impossible.”
Like those pioneers, UC Merced’s founders - its faculty and
students, administrators and staff, and community supporters - have
defied the odds to build this magnificent institution. In the
process, you have forged a template for higher education in the
21st century. Future universities will follow your lead in shaping
their programs to fit the resources and the needs of their regions.
As the site of our new UC campus, the San Joaquin Valley will
offer scholars an array of research opportunities in environmental
stewardship, economic development, health care management, and
cultural engagement. Students from across California will see this
valley as their gateway to a UC education. Young Valley residents
who attend “their” UC campus may follow in the path of our
illustrious keynote speaker, Merced native Charles Ogletree, in
bringing honor to their hometown.
The leaders of this community grasped that potential early on.
They wanted a UC campus to boost their economy, and they were
determined to improve their children’s prospects.
I have fond memories of a July 1997 Regents’ meeting - I was
there as the new UC San Diego Chancellor - when Bob Carpenter, Tim
O’Neill, Jim Cunningham, and a cadre of Valley leaders made a
forceful case that a UC Merced would transform Central California.
Five years later, that theme was taken up by a distinguished UC
alumna when she was inaugurated as the founding UC Merced
chancellor. In her inaugural address, titled “Transforming Lives,”
Carol Tomlinson-Keasey predicted that this new campus would
stimulate, quote, “our state’s continued economic viability …
our children’s opportunities and careers … [and] our
society’s ability to solve critical issues.”
The 55 or so members of the UC Merced founding faculty have
already begun to deliver on that pledge. In the Schools of
Engineering, of Natural Sciences, and of Social Sciences,
Humanities and Arts, scholars are charting new intellectual
terrain. They are pursuing ideas at the intersections of
disciplines, which is always the area most fertile for academic
excellence. They are focusing on what makes this Valley unique
today - and on what will help it thrive in the years to come.
Let me end with a thought that was expressed by the last UC
President to launch a new campus.
Clark Kerr was on hand in September 1965 when UC Santa Cruz
formally opened. Years later, when asked why the startup succeeded,
he gave as a primary reason, quote, “the leadership of that
impressive pioneer faculty.”
To the impressive pioneer faculty of UC Merced, and to the
impressive pioneer students and staff, I would like to express my
appreciation… and also my envy. As UC President, I know that
this university campus exists because you took risks and then you
performed miracles. I am personally and profoundly grateful to you.
As a UC professor at an older UC campus, I can only imagine the
exhilaration of shaping a brand new campus. You all have had quite
a ride. Fasten your seat belts - you’re in for more.
This is a proud day for our system and our state. I wish the
best of luck to the University of California, Merced. I look
forward to watching it grow and shine for decades to come.