Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., at the College of Communication's inaugural celebration
May 12, 2008
Thank you and good afternoon. Let me begin with a word of pride and thanks to our musicians, students in DePaul’s acclaimed School of Music. Thank you, gentlemen.
Pulitzer Prize poet William Carlos Williams once remarked inside a poem titled “January morning,”
I wanted to write a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
if you can't understand it?
But you got to try hard --
A new college is erected at DePaul University. Communication: that simplest of acts, and yet most complex of acts. Even those first communications of an infant wanting to be understood, and its new parents trying to understand what the cries mean. “You got to try hard,” Williams enjoined. Nor does it necessarily get easier. Try interpreting a kiss from a stranger. Try watching the wealthy understand the poor. Parents, their teenagers. Corporations, their markets. Societies, their artists, and artists, their societies.
So simple. So not simple. So much to learn.
As President of this university, I bring you the institution’s congratulations today, and also our hopes. I congratulate everyone who had a hand in bringing this new college into being, especially the faculty who built this program over many long years from a few courses to the vast assemblage of majors and concentrations it has now become.
You are exemplars of the teacher-scholar model we pride ourselves on at DePaul. This past year alone, you taught nearly 1,000 majors and more than 130 graduate students in four successful MA programs. You contributed to your profession, published three books, seven book chapters, 13 journal articles, three book reviews and 63 encyclopedia entries, presented at conferences or as external keynote speakers 35 times, and won three national awards.
Your college ethos is characterized by a focus on challenging students and helping them to succeed and includes an open-door, students-first attitude that embodies Vincentian personalism. You have truly created community among your faculty, so much so that on any weekday, it is not unusual to find 10 of you brown-bagging it together around the large lunch table you keep in the hallway among your offices. The university particularly owes the staff of this college an enormous thanks for the many hours you put in to get this college up and on its feet. You astonished the university with the speed, efficiency and good judgment with which you accomplished the many, many tasks you were doing for the first time ever.
I also thank the trustees of the university, the alumni, the advisory boards and the members of the communication professions who have shaped our curriculum with their advice, and offered rich internships and other learning opportunities, so that future students might learn “on the job.” There are so many in this room today who can justly take pride in their contribution. I am looking at the room of people who built this college. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
But as President, I bring more than thanks. I also bring words of hope for this fledgling we now name the College of Communication—but not just the College of Communication—the DePaul University College of Communication. You’ve put the name of a respected university and a Catholic saint on your school, and such names have history and expectations.
I hope that the women and men who will grace our halls and classrooms will aspire to the highest standards, taking their place as respected leaders in their fields, joining their fellow DePaul alumni like Joe Cappo (Crain’s Chicago Business), Arbin Smith (senior consultant at Deloitte), Renata Pasmanik (marketing and strategy director for Alter+Care, one of the country's leading commercial real estate firms), Neal Heitz (corporate relations director for the Mayor’s office), John Vitanovich, (group executive vice president of Tribune Broadcasting), and Tim Knight, (publisher and CEO of Newsday) — alumni who serve society in important ways through their contributions to their profession, their cities and to DePaul.
In the short time they spend with you, I hope your students will fall in love with language, syntax, the color and evocative power of words. William Carlos Williams was a doctor, a general practitioner, but each evening he came home a poet. He said, “no matter how late it was before I went to bed I would write something. And I kept writing, writing, even if it were only a few words, and at the end of the year there were 365 entries.”. (WCW, I Wanted to Write a Poem, p.27)
I hope our graduates will write constantly. I hope they will read constantly. I hope the name “DePaul University College of Communication” on a diploma will signal to employers that a candidate is well prepared, expert in his or her craft, and willing to work hard.
I hope, too, that DePaul Communication graduates will be committed to truth:
-Journalists who will stand above the shock-jock fray; and the political pundits playing to a station’s demographic; Journalists who are trusted by the public because they do their homework, know their fields, and refuse to be seduced by others’ spin.
-Public relations professionals grounded in honesty, even as they advocate for their clients.
-Advertisers who feel a responsibility to the public good.
-Artists who reflect back truth in its fullness, always seeking to restore humanity to what’s most honorable.
-Consultants who can help clients and organizations listen as well as speak.
-That all DePaul College of Communication graduates who are given a public platform from which to speak will always respect the power and effect of their speech.
St. Vincent de Paul did not have radio, television or the Internet. But he did have a pen, a church pulpit, and free access to the king and queen of France and numerous other powerful people of his time. He used these as platforms and opportunities to give voice to the voiceless: the poor, those displaced by the two wars of his lifetime, the orphans left at church steps, women who needed assistance to raise their families, the intolerable conditions of prisoners, the lack of facilities for the sick, and more.
He and his collaborators built solutions for them all in his lifetime. And yet there is one initiative to which I wish particularly to draw your attention. St. Vincent and his partner St. Louise de Marillac taught women to read and write, in a time when women were not taught to read and write. Using women as teachers, known as the Daughters of Charity, he taught women to communicate for themselves. He didn’t just speak for them or to them, he gave them their own voice. He empowered women, so that they in turn could change their lives and the lives of their families.
He used the tools of communication and put them in the hands of others so they could communicate for themselves. He spoke for the voiceless to be sure, but he also helped the voiceless find their voice. And that, perhaps, should be a key aspiration of this newly formed college bearing his name.
And so, let us pray.
Great God, you give us life and breath, and you give us care over the earth and its peoples. Today we formally establish a new college. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to build something important for the next generation, and through them, to make a difference in your world. May we – and those who will follow after us - always be worthy of the great name and work of Vincent de Paul. May our work, be an extension of his work and Yours.
Bless the food we are about to share. The company we will keep. Bless especially our students. May they grow in stature, wisdom and generosity. May the world be a better place for their efforts and our own.
We ask this of You, who live and love, now and forever. Amen.
Thank you again. God bless you all, and may God bless the DePaul University College of Communication.