President DiSalvo's Remarks
Abbot Mark and Members of the Monastic Community, Chairman Chuck Pollard and members of the Board of Trustees, Bishop Libasci, Bishop Joseph, Elected Officials, Representatives of The New York Says Thank You Foundation, Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Friends and of course Family, especially Eileen, Tom, Andrew and Connor.
I am honored and humbled to stand before you today as the 10th president and first lay president of Saint Anselm College. I am proud to say I am an Anselmian!
Today represents one of several significant changes that have taken place here at Saint Anselm over the past several years, starting, significantly, with a new governance structure adopted by the monastic community and the Board four years ago. Then the election and installation of a new Abbot just over a year ago. This year a new core curriculum and curricular structure begins finally to make its way to our classrooms. Just yesterday, the trustees elected the first woman to Chair the Board, Joanne Pietrini-Smith. And last spring the search for a new president was concluded in late April, news broken to the world first by The Saint Anselm Crier. This is the news that brought me and my family to New Hampshire, and brought Saint Anselm its first First Lady. Let me assure you that we could not have a better role model for our students, particularly women, than my wife Eileen.
As the first member of my generation in my family to have the privilege of attending college, I understand and appreciate deeply the importance of higher education. My parents worked several jobs each so that my sister and I could enroll in Catholic schools beginning in the first grade. You see, I grew up in a middle class section of Queens, New York. It was a blue collar neighborhood predominantly made up of police officers, fire fighters and construction workers. It was a place where men would wake up at 4:30 in the morning to go to work in New York City. And when they got home in the late afternoon, with calloused hands and sore feet, they would rush off to another job repairing televisions or selling real estate. They did all the work around the house and made sure the family was taken care of. They spent little on themselves and became fathers for a host of young people in the neighborhood.
The moms were homemakers who cooked and cleaned, chaperoned school trips and were Den Mothers for the Cub Scouts. They wanted nothing more for their children then to have the benefit of a Catholic school education. In order to make high school tuition payments, they would find a job working in airport gift shops or managing catering operations for the local sports teams, staying deep into the night to prepare for the next day's event. The moms organized the family vacations, mostly road trips, so that their children could learn about this great country in which we live. They were the glue that held these families together.
I know this to be true because I witnessed all of these things. These are not just examples, they are actual events. The hard work and sacrifices these couples made was so that one day their child could go on to receive a college education, attain a master's degree, receive a doctorate and stand before you as a college president. These are not just any moms and dads; they are my parents, just a week shy of their 54th wedding anniversary who are here with us today, Arline and Sal DiSalvo.
Along with my parents, my grandfather Reno Bracchi taught me the value of hard work, ethical behavior and the importance of faith in one's life. He came from a small town in northern Italy and made his way through Ellis Island. He believed in service, finding a job protecting the city in which we lived by working as a NYC police officer. My grandmother Lena cooked the food that he would grow in the garden of their retirement home in upstate New York, a home he built with his own hands alongside those of his brothers, his sons and in-laws. He would take me to mass on a daily basis during my three month visits over the summer. And when I became ill my senior year of high school, he joined my parents at my hospital bedside for six months until I was fully recovered. There is no doubt Reno Bracchi is looking down on us today in awe of all that education can bring.
The foundations of my own education were laid by the remarkable Sisters of St. Joseph, and then built upon by the Franciscans, with the critical finishing work being done by the Jesuits. Now I have managed to be hired by Benedictines to be the president of their college! Taught by the Jesuits and employed by the Benedictines. Perhaps this is proof of Pope Francis's first miracle!
Actually, the real miracle lies in the close friendships we have formed along the way, with priests and nuns, with incredibly dedicated laymen and women, educators and leaders who serve the Church with their great talents, many of whom have traveled to be here today and share in this special day with us. Eileen and I look forward to widening that circle of friends among Anselmians here in New Hampshire and throughout the world.
These past few months have allowed me to get to know Saint Anselm better with each passing day, and of course the wonderful people who live, work and study here. Now I know that selecting a lay president represents a big change for this community, but don't worry. I will remind the board that you went from one emotional Italian to another.
Transitions, no matter how large or small, almost inevitably create some anxiety. For with new leadership comes the fear of the unknown. Yet the transition that took place this past summer was a model for higher education. During the previous nine presidential transitions at Saint Anselm College, there was little need for ceremony as the keys were quietly handed from one monk to the next. I learned quickly that Saint Anselm College, while steeped in tradition, also prides itself on creating elegant ceremonies. And so on July 15th, we began with the celebration of mass, capped off with a special blessing by the Abbot. We then processed to the president's office surrounded by members of the College community. There the keys to the office were officially handed over. But was really transferred was the mission of the college. All of this was orchestrated with true Anselmian hospitality in mind and served as a warm welcome to me, as well as a final tribute to my predecessor, Fr. Jonathan DeFelice. On a personal note, my family is eternally grateful for the care Fr. Jonathan provided us during this time of transition. Fr. Jonathan, on behalf of the Saint Anselm community, both near and far, thank you for your dedication, your 24 years of leadership and your friendship.
Among the many well-wishers who I must thank, special gratitude goes to the students. I have received personal notes, emails, phone calls, texts, tweets, and have even had some old fashioned face-to-face conversations. Every day I am reminded that I am here becauseI have a true passion for education. If I forget, I need only look out my window and see the students moving across the quad between classes. As an institution of higher learning we must constantly ask ourselves one fundamental question: Are We Doing Our Best To Serve Our Students? This question must be answered affirmatively in regards to the student experience inside the classroom, during athletic competitions, in the residential environment, among social settings and in their faith formation. That task lies in our hands, and the future of our mission and this great institution lies in their hands. Whatever else we do, we must guide and support our students each and every day.
It does not take long for someone to recognize that Saint Anselm College is a very special place with a unique story to tell. And we must tell it every chance we get. I call on each of you to join me in celebrating all that is Anselmian. We must enlist our alumni and friends from coastal Connecticut to New York City, from the shores of New Jersey to Washington DC, from the heartland of St. Louis to greater Chicagoland, and yes, all the way to the other coast of this great country. We must strengthen our presence within the New England region, while at the same time making our name and the quality of our education known well beyond these parts. In the parable of Salt and Light in Saint Mark's Gospel, as part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaims: "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."
Well, take a look around you. The Benedictine monks who traveled to New Hampshire 125 years ago set their new monastery and college upon a hill. There is no hiding the light of this small city of learning that is Saint Anselm College. And who would want to? It is of no benefit to the thousands of prospective students near and far whose lives can be transformed by a Saint Anselm education for us to remain "the best kept secret." We need to proclaim who we are and what makes us unique. People need to know about the centers of excellence that celebrate our mission and provide our students with unparalleled opportunities.
The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College is an absolute gem. As host of the first in the nation presidential primary, our campus is coveted by candidates, media, and, yes, other colleges and universities. We will develop additional programs through the institute that provide educational opportunities about the history of the presidency. Summer camps for students that teach civic awareness will lead to mock debates on the very stage where every presidential candidate for the past thirty years has stood. We can take our show on the road, providing high school students with a taste of what makes our college so special.
Saint Anselm students arrive on campus with a moral compass, as evidenced by the fifty thousand community service hours logged each year through our Meelia Center. We will explore ways to build upon this foundation to create programs that offer opportunities to do social good. Social entrepreneurship is not just a new buzz word. It invites us to join the strength of our service and leadership with others in creative partnerships. Venture philanthropists can work with our students to create platforms that address growing social needs. Our students will learn that they can do good while they do well.
The academic experience is soon to be anchored by a new curriculum which allows students to experience a true liberal arts education with enough flexibility to tailor a program suitable for their interests. Now we can explore new ventures, from blended learning to master's degree programs. Enhanced summer programs can offer a bridge for some students. And summer conferences will showcase our beautiful campus while creating additional sources of revenue. We will remain true to our traditional liberal arts residential experience, for we understand very well how to help our students grow academically, socially and spiritually and we have the very best faculty in place to help them do so. We can be innovative and traditional. It is not a case of either-or. We can and will accomplish both.
Excellence comes in many forms. While we have had admirable success in some sports, we will build a comprehensive athletic program that is highly competitive. Our place in college athletics should be to compete against institutions that share similar values as Saint Anselm College. Our Catholic identity is critical to the way we compete, the leadership opportunities we provide and the development of our athletes as student scholars. We know we can both win championships and prepare our students for lifelong success in the workplace.
The crossroads of the academic and social spaces create a vital intersection necessary for a vibrant student experience. Learning should not be done in isolation, and as a Benedictine school we embrace the fact that students desire to form connections outside of the classroom. This means that we need adequate student engagement space, where students can meet, greet and eat. Such common physical spaces are critical to fostering our mission. This will be evident in the new residence hall that will open next August. Enhancing the Cushing Center to create a true student union is the next phase of our campus development program. We already have the 12th best food in the country. It is imperative now that we provide gathering rooms, program spaces and plenty of room for clubs and organizations. Creating a true living learning environment will not only enhance the lives of our students, but help to bring us all together as one community.
These future endeavors will take both time and resources. I am pleased to announce that our Board of Trustees has authorized the launch of a capital campaign to coincide with the celebration of the 125th anniversary of Saint Anselm College. The prioritization of needs includes alignment with the execution of the strategic plan. A steering committee has been convened and we have begun the process of determining a goal that is both attainable and a timeline that is aggressive. Key elements include capital improvements, academic program enhancements, student scholarships and the growth of our endowment to reach $125 million to coincide with our anniversary year.
I will be calling on many of you to participate in this endeavor. This cannot be accomplished without the generous support of our alumni population, our friends and our benefactors. It will also require the engagement of our faculty and every employee of Saint Anselm as we set out to tell our story anew. The Board has committed to leading this effort so together we can celebrate the next phase of the college. And for those who cannot afford to make a gift immediately, have no fear. For where there's a will, we want to be in it!
You all know, these are challenging times for higher education. Families expect a high quality academic experience with a reasonable price tag. Students want to make sure they can be employed or get into graduate school immediately following commencement. Variable student loan rates can wreak havoc on the student debt schedule. Income contingent student loans should not penalize students who secure service sector jobs such as nursing or education. Common sense must prevail and we must do our part to control our costs, limit tuition increases and work with our elected representatives to keep college affordable.
Traditional liberal arts colleges like Saint Anselm will lead the way with innovative models for our students and families. In keeping with our mission, we must provide opportunities for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, to meet or exceed their highest potential, students like me for whom Catholic higher education was a transformative gift. This means having the proper resources available along with the necessary student support. We must also extend our Anselmian hospitality to those students at risk.
As it turns 125, the future of Saint Anselm College is bright, but not without challenges. We must recognize our place among some of the best liberal arts colleges in the country and see our potential to be greater than ever before. We must come together as one community, with a common vision. We must be creative in building new paradigms for learning that are appropriate in today's environment. We must work together for the common good. And all of us need to use our gifts to support Saint Anselm College to the best of our ability. We will accomplish these things in the spirit of our Benedictine charism that is over 1500 years old.
I ask you to join me as we walk together into tomorrow. Think bold thoughts. Spread the word about this great institution of higher learning and this magnificent campus. Proudly proclaim what we know to be true. That Saint Anselm College, as a center of faith and learning, has long been, and will remain a city on a hill, shining more brightly than ever before.
May God continue to bless the monastic community who founded our college, the Board, alumni and benefactors who have sustained and support its vision, and the faculty and staff who have committed themselves to the tireless service of our students. Together let us celebrate and pledge our Faith in the Future to which we are called.
Thank you. God Bless you. And may God Bless Saint Anselm College.