Dr. David Taylor speaks like a pirate at Opening Convocation

Dr. David Taylor, assistant professor of mathematics, was asked to give the 2012 Opening Convocation address to help kick off the new academic year. His remarks follow.


Thank you Dean Smith, I'm very honored to be here, and even more honored to have this chance to welcome the class of 2016.  Oddly enough, this is the first fall semester since I started teaching here that I have no classes where I can welcome new students to the college, which I have always loved to do, so allow me to do that to you all now:  Welcome to Roanoke College!

In honor of the International Talk Like a Pirate Day coming up on September 19, I thought we could use this time to talk about how pirates can be educational.  Let me start with a question to you all:  what single word comes to mind from common pirate speak?  On the count of three:  one, two, three:  "Arrr".  Good.  That's exactly right.  And how is that spelled?  An A, followed by three Rs.  How do I know that?  Mainly because that's how I had it printed in your program.  And only because I wanted to talk to you about three Rs that are romanticized in popular pirate culture:  relationships, rewards, and responsibility.  Three Rs that will serve as the basis for your time here in our academic community.

Relationships:  Each of you has already formed many valuable and enriching relationships in your lifetime.  From your parents, siblings, and other family members to your school classmates, teachers, sports team members, and neighborhood friends, you have found people in your life that bring you joy.  Continue that here.  Get to know your professors; they look forward to getting to know you.  Join an athletic team, a student organization, or a choir or theater presentation, and make new friends.  Join many.  Take time to turn your acquaintances into trusted friendships and relationships.  Each person you get to know can help you in your life.  Each can help you grow.  Each can answer questions for you or be a resource for things you may need.  Tell them when things make you happy and life is going well.  Lean on them when you need them in times of stress or discomfort.  These relationships will keep you engaged in our academic community, and will be more rewarding to you as time passes by.

Rewards:  We all love rewards, and some of our rewards in life come for free.  We all probably have seen commercials on TV, online, or in print for credit cards that offer rewards.  I pay off my credit card every month to avoid interest charges, and I typically do spend money on items such as groceries and gas, so these reward points are given to me for something I would have to do anyways.  I recently signed up for a Delta Sky Miles credit card to earn a free plane ticket after spending $500 in three months; I typically do spend that much in three months, so for me, that free plane ticket truly is a free reward.  Some rewards come through chance.  A spin on a slot machine or a hand of Blackjack can provide a reward, but to receive the reward, a wager must be placed.  You can spend $1 on a Mega Millions lottery ticket, but unless the jackpot is at least $143,752,177, the expected return on that $1 is less than $1.  And even if the jackpot is that high, the expected return is still less than $1 if others also hit the jackpot

No, it is not the free rewards or chance rewards that I want to talk about.  For me, the rewards that are earned are the ones worth working for.  You are here to learn.  You are here to earn your reward for your studies here at the college:  your degree.

Go to class.  Read your books.  Engage in discussion.  Each of these activities will be rewarding to you and provide you with the knowledge, background, and skills necessary to success here.  Do your homework.  Study for tests.  Proofread your papers.  Use your time here to earn a good grade in your classes.  Let those "As" be your reward for your dutiful classwork.  After your four years, you will have earned your diploma, a reward itself, but the bigger reward you will have earned is your liberal arts education.

As Dean Smith mentioned, we are about freedom with purpose.  Freedom from "reliance upon received opinion."  Freedom from "entrapment within the conventions of our present place and time."  Freedom from "isolation within ourselves" and from "purposelessness."  Your reward, your liberal arts education, will train your skills of "critical thought, sound research, and informed and reasoned debate" to allow you to form and support your own opinions.  Your reward will give you a wider perspective that will let you comprehend our own legacies, the breadth of human history, and the variety of human cultures.  Your reward will deliver you into a world community of learners and sharers.  A world of discovery and collaboration.  With this reward comes the responsibility to continue the lessons of freedom with purpose throughout your lives.

Responsibilities:  I think of the three Rs we are talking about, this is the most important.  As you grow older, you naturally take on more responsibilities, and have people and tasks that depend on you.  Finishing a specific paper, organizing a campus event for your club, or meeting a friend at Mac & Bob's for dinner are all responsibilities, but I want to talk about the larger responsibilities over the next few years.  Namely, be responsible to yourself and to your professors.

Take charge of your own learning.  Many of you are likely taking fewer classes than you did in high school.  Use the extra time to study and prepare for quizzes and tests.  Study the day before an exam, yes, but study well before that as well.  It is your responsibility to schedule time to finish your work, visit your professors' office hours, and keep up to date. 

Keep yourself occupied.  There are plenty of opportunities on campus for staying a part of our community without being in the classroom.  Balance your time so that you can eat in the dining hall with new friends.  Get to know people around you and take trips to the mall.  Allow time to attend special lectures and events on campus, and allow time for sitting back and relaxing in a lounge or your room.  Keep yourself engaged so that your time is enriched and your learning continues outside of the boundaries of class.

Ask for help when you need it.  Your professors are happy to answer any questions you might have.  The Center for Learning and Teaching offers free peer-tutoring for many subjects and can be useful for a one-time visit or regular weekly appointments.  The Writing Center can help you polish some drafts of papers before you turn them in, and others all around campus, from Student Services to the Health Center and Counseling Center, are there for you when you need them.

Do your homework.  If you think that your professors give you homework because we love assigning, collecting, and grading homework, become a teacher yourself and you will soon see that that is simply not true.  Your homework is a chance for you to practice what you're learning.  Your homework allows your learning to continue outside of the three short hours per week in class.  Your homework is an opportunity for you to learn where your understanding is excellent and where your understanding is lacking.  For the statistically inclined, at least for my own classes, your homework performance is the single best predictor of exam performance; there is a very high correlation between homework scores and exam and class performance.  And, yes, that correlation is positive.

Talk in class.  Yes, really, do talk in class, but only within whatever framework your instructors have provided.  Offer answers to questions that your instructors pose.  Participate in small group discussions, and take your turn as a leader of such discussions.  Your opinions and thoughts enrich us all, and provide for the best learning opportunities, not just for others, but also yourself.  Some of the best class ideas come from students asking a question or making a point in class.

Communicate with your professors.  You should always go to class, but if you must miss a day for an athletic event, family emergency, or extreme illness, we want to know about it.  Don't ask if you missed anything important that day; all of the time spent in class is important.  Instead, check your syllabus, see what you may have missed, check with a classmate, and learn what you can yourself.  Stop by and see your professor afterwards to clear up any misunderstandings or questions that you may have.  We'll be impressed and happy to help. 

Don't ask us on the last day of class if there's any extra credit that can be done to improve your grade; instead, ask us earlier in the semester what you can do to improve your study habits or properly prepare for class examinations.  Ask your academic advisor how your semester is going from their perspective and see your professors when you have any concern about your grade.  They can help focus your efforts for that class to point you in the right direction.

Take all of this advice together and remember to be responsible in your relationships with yourself and your professors.

So what is it again that pirates say?  One, two, three:  "Arrr".  No, they really don't.  The classic pirate speak that we all think of on International Talk Like a Pirate Day hasn't even been around for 100 years.  It first appeared in film in a 1934 version of Treasure Island and was driven into our popular culture most with the arrival of the 1950 Disney version of the same movie.  Pirates have been around for many years, from the ages of the Roman Republic, through the Middle Ages, up to the present time.  Pirates have been sailing the seas all over the world, from the Mediterranean, to East Asia, India, Eastern Europe, North Africa, and even to the coasts of North America.  And, yes, there were even "Pirates of the Caribbean."  Despite popular culture, pirates rarely buried their treasure or flew the Jolly Roger.  Pirates rarely killed or engaged in combat unless absolutely necessary.  But pirates did develop trusting relationships with their crew (well, most of the crew).  They remained responsible, if only to themselves.  And they certainly enjoyed their rewards.

I did not know all of this about pirates before I started writing this talk.  I did a good deal of research to prepare, reading various articles, books, and newspaper stories about them.  I may even have done some arithmetic along the way.  Well, not really, but it at least allows me to mention some more Rs that are important.  Along with research, there is the famous trio of reading, writing, and 'rithmetic.  That is, if you allow me to expand the definition of what it means to start with the letter R.

You will do plenty of research while you are here; some will be in the flow of your regular classes along the way.  Capstone courses in your majors as well as in the Intellectual Inquiry curriculum will require research.  Take advantage of other research opportunities and do an independent study or a Summer Scholars project with a professor.  You will do plenty of reading while you are here; some that you may not enjoy.  Read it all, you will be learning something, and, even though it may not appear useful to you right now, it may very well be useful later.  You will do plenty of writing while you are here; improve your written communication skills, seek advice from others, and most of all, be sure to proofread your writing, preferably after letting that writing sit for a few days.  Finally, you will spend time here enhancing your quantitative reasoning.  Numbers, statistics, and data are all around us, from our own experiments and studies to news reports of polling data, organizational reports, and tax and mortgage forms and documents.  Embrace this and do not be afraid of mathematics and its joys; do not be afraid to ask questions and get help.  Overall, allow research, reading, writing, and arithmetic to transform you into resourceful, informed, and responsible citizens in our world here and beyond.

Each of you wrote an essay over the summer and brought it with you to campus.  A "this I believe" essay.  Remember responsibility, relationships, and reward.  These are the Rs that lead us to success in life; these are the Rs that will lead you to success here in our academic community.  It is this that I believe.  Keep these inside of you as you look around campus and do all that you can.  Keep these inside of you as you travel and discover the world around you.

Before I leave this podium, let me mention one more R that is important to all of us:  Roanoke.  May your four years here be filled with friendships, fun, and, yes, finals.  May your four years be filled with moments of greatness and memories that long last.  May those four years also be filled with responsibilities, relationships, rewards, and many more Rs that find themselves within you.

Welcome to Roanoke College.  Thank you.


Released: September 19, 2012
Contact Name: Public Relations
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2282
Contact Email: gereaux@roanoke.edu