Ben R. Sells
Last academic year, Ouachita was one of the few universities to provide a fully in-person education. As we prepared for this year, we challenged ourselves to provide all the benefits of a traditional campus experience.
Each year we select a theme to help us focus on Ouachita’s essential purpose. That theme is based on our university’s vision, mission and value statements. This year’s theme is: “Vision, Integrity, Service.” Each year, my convocation remarks introduce the theme. This morning, I want to spend a few moments to offer one perspective on the idea of “vision.”
I feel a special relationship with this graduating class. Many of you began in the fall of 2017, but we first met during your senior year in high school – my first year as president. We’ve been on this journey for five years. Our kinship runs especially deep because of our shared struggles and shared responsibilities. The persistence of COVID-19 marked your entire senior year. We asked you to help us manage that threat, and you rose to the occasion.
In the midst of a pandemic, Ouachita’s progress makes us an encouraging outlier in higher education. While total university enrollment in the country continues to decrease, Ouachita increases – our highest in 20 years. We’re also graduating students at our highest level in history plus a placement rate of 97%.
Ouachita’s progress in recent years reflects the input and ideas from listening to responses from two questions in regard to our future: “What shouldn’t change?” and “What should change?” A part of our listening includes hearing the voices of our students and alumni of color. Until we listen, we can’t understand how to make Ouachita a place where belonging is central to an outstanding educational experience.
In an historic commencement for Ouachita, Dr. Ben Sells addressed 2020 graduates on Dec. 5 by reflecting on the difficulties of the year and offering words of wisdom that were once shared with him.
By the end of this academic year, and certainly by the time students graduate, Ouachita intends to prepare them to be better – to be more skilled – in their reasoned engagement with the world. Dr. Sells addressed, "What is reasoned engagement with the world?" in Convocation Chapel on August 25.
What is the value of the Ouachita experience? It depends on who you ask. Students and parents are pleased that Niche.com ranks Ouachita #1 for “Best Value” among Arkansas universities. This helps explain why our undergraduate enrollment increased 4.5% the last three years while overall statewide enrollment decreased 16% the last decade.
As we begin a new semester, I want to share a brief reflection on this year’s theme, taken from our mission statement, “intellectual and spiritual growth.” Here's what I've been reflecting on: How do we make choices that will help us become the person God intends us to be?
At Ouachita, we have fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously. But we’re serious about intellectual and spiritual growth, and I want to spend a few moments introducing this year’s theme.