October 6, 2021
President Fry asserts that, to accomplish the greatest possible good for society, everyone at Drexel — faculty members, students, and professional staff — must strive to become outstanding innovators.
To all new and returning students, faculty, and professional staff gathered here on beautiful Korman Quad, it is great to see all of you here.
To everyone attending Convocation virtually, I am glad you could join us, too.
As we begin a new academic year, it’s wonderful being able to work and learn together in person again. And while it may feel strange to be gathering outside for Convocation, it also broadens our perspective: We can see that Drexel University is thriving in many ways.
Our campus is more beautiful and vibrant than ever.
We continue to grow more civically and economically engaged as partners with our neighbors in Mantua and Powelton Village and throughout Philadelphia.
We are setting new records for research expenditures.
We’re welcoming to campus two cohorts of phenomenally talented undergraduates and graduate students determined to build a better world.
We have never been better equipped to offer all our students transformational learning and life experiences … along with amazing opportunities to translate aspirations into action and to become the innovators and leaders of the future.
And as today’s keynote speeches will illustrate, Drexel University is in the vanguard of innovation at a moment when we need innovative solutions more than ever.
We are contending with a public health catastrophe of an unrelenting pandemic that has killed 700,000 Americans and more than four and a half million people worldwide, with people of color and lower-income people bearing a disproportionate brunt.
We are confronting the heavy burden of racism with the determination to root out racial bias within our university and across society.
And seeing Hurricane Ida turn Philadelphia's expressways into rivers brought home the existential threat of climate change, as devastating droughts, wildfires, and floods are occurring with greater intensity and frequency.
These realities are daunting, but not insurmountable.
As the brilliant climate change leader and visionary Christiana Figueres has said, “No reality is set in stone. It can be changed.”
As the United Nations’ lead negotiator for a multilateral Climate Change agreement, Figueres also kept a framed motto on her wall: "Impossible is not a fact, it's an attitude." She ought to know. Through six years of sheer persistence, Figueres became the chief architect and driving force behind the Paris Global Accords.
Impossible is not a fact. Nor is it in Drexel’s DNA.
Innovation is in our DNA.
And if we are going to accomplish the greatest possible good for society, then each of us — as faculty members, students, professional staff, trusttes and members of this community — must strive to become outstanding innovators.
While successful innovators exhibit several traits, each of us could do well to cultivate three essential principles to guide our work.
First, although it starts with “I,” innovation, as you’ll hear this morning, is a team enterprise. In the last century, Bell Labs became a premier hotbed of innovation by assembling teams of eminent physicists, materials scientists, engineers, and metallurgists. Collaborating in close quarters, these scientists helped to create the world we live in by inventing the transistor and driving major advances in lasers, fiber optics communications systems, satellites, and cellular telephony.
Bell Labs’ heyday as an innovation powerhouse is sort of ancient history, now. Drexel’s best days for reimagining and reinventing the future lie in front of us.
The second quality that all outstanding innovators share: They recognize the vital role that failure plays in learning, discovery, and eventual success. The greater or more complex the problem, the more we need to test, challenge and hold one another accountable. But we also need to make room for failure.
The third quality that successful innovators share: An unwavering cultivation of diversity and inclusion. Put simply, innovation flourishes when people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
These are challenging yet very exciting times. As we relearn how to live and work together, embracing these principles will help us to flourish together. Let’s harness the power of collaboration to get our creative and inventive juices flowing. Let’s achieve progress by making room for failure and learning from our mistakes. And let’s embrace fully diversity and make Drexel the most welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.
If we come together to do all these things, we will keep growing into a much better and more innovative Drexel that accomplishes even greater things for the world. And, hopefully, we’ll have some fun along the way. Thank you.