2006 Convocation: Chancellor's Address

Delivered on September 27, 2006

"Our Personal and Collective Calling: To Make a Difference"

Thank you very much, Jessie Ann, for that introduction and for being our emcee today.

And thank you, Kern, for the uplifting music that you and the Symphony Orchestra always provide as we gather to welcome our newest campus community members and to celebrate the beginning of a new year.

I am grateful, as well, to all of you – our students, parents, staff, faculty, alumni and special friends, including several of our elected representatives, community leaders, and colleagues from the University of California Office of the President. I thank all of you for being here today.

I know everyone is very busy with lots to do, so I especially appreciate your giving this hour to come together as a UC Davis family.

This is our special time to look back, to be sure, but more importantly to look ahead, to remind ourselves why we've chosen to be a part of this community – through the many ups and the occasional downs – and to see possibilities to truly make an even bigger difference not only here at home, but in this world.

I'm wishing I had Angelina's help today. Angelina Malfitano was my student assistant last year. We worked closely together. Then, tragically, just two weeks before graduation, she was killed in an automobile accident. Her spirit lives on, though. It was an irrepressible spirit – and in no small way influenced the theme of today's convocation.

In a "Personal Compass" essay she wrote for last year's campus-wide "deep listening" initiative, she encouraged us all to see the opportunity in every moment and to energetically seek ways to make a positive personal impact. If we put our mind to it, she believed, she passionately believed, we can truly make this a better world.

And we can! In big ways and in little ways, that's what we do – each and every one of us – each and every day.

From our earliest years as a campus, that belief seems to have taken root right at our core.

For example, 100 years ago, George Pierce Jr. persuaded the Davisville Chamber of Commerce to purchase and donate water rights to the land that would become this campus. And even the Great Earthquake of 1906 could not keep him from hand-delivering those documents to the attorney general's office in San Francisco. He later wrote regarding his trip back home, and I quote: "Walked down California Street to Kearny. Was forced to go up to Washington. Climbed debris to Battery, back to Washington and finally to the ferry." Unquote. It wasn't an easy or a safe trek at all, and we owe a lot to Mr. Pierce for making it his personal mission to ensure that this campus was founded in good stead.

But we don't have to go back 100 years to find inspiring stories of people making a difference. They are all around us – stories that have inspired you, stories that you've inspired, and stories that are yet to be told as we consider how we can additionally make a personal positive impact this academic year.

Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth, reminds me of the inspiration that occurs each day in our classrooms. In this documentary, Gore warns about the dangers of global warming and credits his former college professor, Roger Revelle, who was an early predictor of global warming. Revelle the teacher was still inspiring Gore the student, decades later. So, too, in classroom after classroom after classroom on the Davis campus, seeds are sown every day. We may not know when, and we may not know exactly how, but we know for certain that they'll flower, and that they will bloom all over the world.

In fact, in the area of the environment, it's hard to find another campus with greater impact or commitment to ensuring that we care wisely for our natural resources. We know that our children and our grandchildren and their grandchildren are depending on us – as are children, in fact, all across the globe.

And our positive impacts are felt in so many other ways…

…from our firefighters and our veterinary specialists who just last week rushed to the aid of people and animals whose lives and homes were threatened by wind-fanned wildfires…

…to our avian influenza experts who are taking the lead in helping to prevent and to prepare for a possible outbreak in California…

…to an alum who is helping to rescue and preserve historic social-issue films...

…to a physician who is training future pediatricians by getting them out into their young patients' neighborhoods so they can chip away at childhood health problems outside the exam room…

…to an alum in India who has pioneered agro-tourism in that country to help restore dignity to farming...

…to our air quality experts who were the first to analyze the air breathed at Ground Zero, sounding an early warning about rescue workers' health problems…

…to an alum named California's Teacher of the Year for her classroom innovation and inspiration…

…to our law school students who offer assistance to clients seeking help with immigration, prison law, civil rights litigation or family protection…

…to our many campus community members who rushed to the aid of the victims of the hurricanes, the tsunamis and the earthquakes that struck around the world this past year…

…to the more than 1100 students, staff and faculty who annually contribute more than 300,000 hours of volunteer service.

And these are just a few of the many things we know about, and we don't know about everything. I've barely scratched the surface.

It's all of this and more that led the Washington Monthly magazine to rank UC Davis in the top 10 in the nation among all universities, both public and private, when it recently ranked universities not by the usual criteria but by their contributions to society – a very important measure.

That Top 10 ranking doesn't surprise me. I think we have an advantage – an advantage of history and of attitude.

Our history, as one of the nation's leading public universities, predisposes us toward solving problems. It's our calling. It goes way back to 1862, when Congress authorized the creation of public universities in every state and territory. With that action, Congress said clearly that every American should have a chance to attend college and that these newly created universities must always have society's challenges and needs clearly in mind.

And, additionally, we have an advantage of attitude – an attitude that's infectious, that's the result of how our campus came to be, and of the values we've passed along from generation to generation. We clearly aspire to be the best in what we do – but we recognize that our job's not done unless we can chart a new path, share what we've learned, and better someone's circumstance.

So, you see, making a difference is indeed our calling. And we – and the world – are better off for it.

That's a lesson two of our faculty are making sure their 8-year-old daughter, Bay, and six of her friends are learning. With the help of Bay's mom, veterinary medicine assistant professor Patricia Pesavento, and her dad, biological sciences assistant researcher David Warland, and three other sets of Davis parents, the girls have established the Yummy Dummy Chocolate Company. They make chocolate bars.

Described as "girl owned and operated," Yummy Dummy donates 10 percent of its profits to charity – most recently to a children's shelter in Haiti. In the process of making candy, the girls are learning that good businesses give back to society and that there are children in the world whose lives they can help make better.

As one dad put it, they're not the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but the girls' two $20 checks to the children's shelter have gone a long way nonetheless. Twenty dollars in U.S. currency will buy $80 worth of food and medicine in Haiti.

Yet another example of making a difference in this world…and learning the joy and the reward of doing so at an early age….

The girls are with us today. Could you please stand up so we can see where you are? I hope the rest of the folks here will come say "hi" to them at the reception. I bet I know where you'll find them – taste-testing the chocolate cookies!

And now we'll hear from five members of our campus family who will share with us brief reflections on making a difference.