Office of the President > Speeches & Communications > 2020–2021 > Academic Convocation: Seeing the rose amidst the thorns

Academic Convocation: Seeing the rose amidst the thorns

​​Remarks delivered by President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., at DePaul’s annual academic convocation ceremony

Sept. 3, 2020

First, I would like to congratulate our newly promoted and tenured faculty, as well as our many award recipients. I also second Provost Ghanem’s welcome to our new faculty and staff.

My late father, a lifelong academic, used to say: “Bricks and mortar do not make great universities, but rather the people who inhabit them.”

DePaul’s greatest strength is its people. Nothing made this more clear than COVID-19.

When COVID-19 forced higher education institutions across the nation to switch to remote learning modalities, DePaul knew the fundamentals about how to succeed academically, professionally and personally would remain the same. You, our faculty and staff, responded with determination, grace and compassion. You demonstrated perseverance, flexibility and resilience. Every day, I witnessed our Catholic, Vincentian, urban mission in action.

With all my heart, I thank you.

Thank you to our faculty for continuing to deliver an exceptional learning experience to our students. Thank you to our staff for continuing to keep our university operating. I especially want to recognize the on-campus workers who continued to manage the Loop and Lincoln Park campuses throughout the spring quarter and this past summer.

While COVID-19 affected our academic year, it did not define it. I encourage you to follow the advice of St. Louise de Marillac and try to see “the roses amidst the thorns.”

You may be asking yourself: with all the uncertainty we’re facing right now, what roses? Perhaps that’s how St. Louise’s community responded to her, as they were coping with their own upheaval and challenges at the time.

If the thorns feel like they outweigh the roses, reflect on some of our accomplishments from this past academic year:

  • We welcomed our largest and most diverse freshman class.
  • We created new traditions, such as Blue Demon Welcome, and carried on established ones like the Christmas tree lighting.
  • The Center for First-Generation Student Success recognized our commitment to first-generation students and named DePaul a First-Gen Forward Institution.
  • DePaul was one of 14 schools in the Midwest region included on the Catholic Volunteer Network’s list of “Top Schools for Service.”
  • Our student media outlets earned many accolades:
    • Radio DePaul won Best College Station in the Nation at the 2020 Intercollegiate Broadcasting System Media Awards;
    • The Society of Professional Journalists named DePaul's 14 East magazine the Best Independent Online Student Publication.
    • And in January, the DePaulia launched its own Spanish language section called, La DePaulia – earning coverage in NPR and the Chicago Tribune, among other media outlets.

We also introduced several new academic programs, including:

  • Bachelor’s degrees in entrepreneurship, leadership studies, industrial design, makeup and wig design, non-profit management and sports communication;
  • Master’s degrees in speech-language pathology and human resource management;
  • An EDS in Educational Leadership;
  • And certificate programs in emergency management, health care administration, international studies, strategic writing and advancement for nonprofits, as well as translation and interpretation.

We launched the Grace School of Applied Diplomacy. Housed within the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the Grace School is the first of its kind in the world to offer a transprofessional program. We announced the creation of this new school last September, thanks to a $20 million gift — the second largest in DePaul’s history.

In fact, this past academic year, we had our second highest fundraising total in history.

Every day, I feel humbled and blessed for the thousands of generous alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends who make these extraordinary investments in our students.

Moving forward, we must continue to put students first. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has created even greater barriers for our students to pursue a DePaul degree. This fall, we are embarking on a yearlong fundraising effort to provide essential support for our students, called “Now We Must.” This campaign highlights critical areas of need, including emergency assistance, scholarships, internships, technology needs and mental health and wellness programs. Every dollar raised for these areas and others during this fiscal year will make a difference for our students during these unprecedented times.

As a Catholic, Vincentian university, we make a conscious choice to serve the public good and give people of ALL backgrounds the opportunity to reach their full potential. We respect the dignity of all people. We nurture a welcoming, inclusive community.

On behalf of DePaul’s senior leadership, I reaffirm our commitment to address inequities on our campus. We stand strong against racism and will do what must be done to make DePaul a more just and equitable university.

This commitment includes new initiatives, such as the Faculty Recruitment Incentive Program. The goal of this program is to attract talented faculty of color. Faculty will receive a grant of $10,000 per academic year for three years to support their research and professional development. This fall, we welcome the first two faculty members recruited under this program: Oluseyi Adegbola in the College of Communication and Rafael Vizcaino in the Department of Philosophy. Congratulations to our first two fellows in this program, and welcome to the DePaul family.

I may not have all the answers for what this academic year will look like, but I know that we, as DePaul, will stay true to our mission. We will continue to offer a conducive learning environment that enables ALL students to thrive. We will provide the critical thinking skills and space for difficult but necessary dialogue. We will listen with empathy and converse with respect. We will take care of each other. We will ALWAYS take care DePaul.

Thank you.