The following is a slightly edited version of Dickinson President Margee Ensign’s opening remarks at the Eta Sigma Phi National Convention, delivered in Allison Hall, Dickinson College, March 24, 2018.
Dickinson College was established in 1783, the first college founded at the close of the American Revolution. That was a revolution led by learned men, including our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush, men who brought a classical education to their understanding of politics, of history, of philosophy, to the issues of their day. And Dickinson, like all colleges of its time, was careful to ensure that a study of classical civilization was at the core of its new liberal arts curriculum.
This was done because the enlightenment intellectuals who led our revolution and the creation of our new nation knew that the writers of Greece and Rome had thought and written so deeply and carefully about the polis and about the res publica, had examined and explored those issues of morality, of psychology and of community, of civic responsibility and governance which continue to engage and perplex us to this day. It is no accident that the study of classical languages and literatures have been continuously taught at Dickinson over its entire history.
Dr. Rush, a physician and university professor himself, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was steeped in ancient history and the classics, and indeed even went so far as to suggest that Spartan broth be included in the diet of all Dickinson students. I am glad this suggestion was never acted upon!
Our college’s very first faculty member, James Ross, was a classicist. He published a Latin grammar text in 1794 which remained a standard text for more than half a century. Further, at the time of our founding, our namesake John Dickinson and his wife, Mary, launched our college library by contributing nearly 2,000 books to the college. Among them were editions of Aristotle, Cicero, Euclid and many other classical works. These books from the dawn of our Western European civilization are still found in our library’s special collections today. This spirit of critical inquiry and remarkable insight into the human condition continue to be at the core of our mission as a liberal-arts institution, a mission which is to educate thoughtful, questioning and responsible citizens of our still new and evolving republic.
At the time of the formation of our chapter of Eta Sigma Phi in April 1964 there were 68 chapters nationwide. Today there are 219. Like you, I find this growth in classical scholarship heartening, as an affirmation of the very values of classical Western European Civilization, values of free inquiry, of debate, of democracy and representative government, of a vigorous humanism. We take pride in our own role in preserving that classical heritage, including our annual summer program of spoken Latin immersion.
I also draw your attention to our digital resources for Latin and Greek, including Dickinson College Commentaries, which serves thousands of users throughout the world. And now we have a website of resources for Latin and Greek scholars in Chinese, called Dickinson Classics Online.
As President of Dickinson College, I am very proud of the work of our classics faculty and students, grateful for all of their hard work in helping to bring you here, and so very pleased that you are all here on our beautiful campus to celebrate Eta Sigma Phi’s 90th convention.
May your time here be fruitful, and may it advance your education. As Plutarch reminds us (On the Education of Children 7): “The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education.”
Welcome to Dickinson College.