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President Coppola’s speech at Keystone College Opening Convocation 2013

Mr. Pfeifer—an elementary school custodian—was well-known for his huge smile and his exaggerated limp under the weight of his gigantic ring of keys to the school. Ask any timid 2nd grader and he or she would tell you with certainty that Mr. Pfeifer was the most important person in the school. With all of those keys, he was even more important than the principal!

From one perspective, locks and keys are about protecting property or keeping people out of rooms or locked boxes or secret passageways. I prefer to focus on keys as those tools that are more about opening up doors, places, things, or even insight—as when one figures out the encrypted meaning of a poet or code with the help of a key. From this perspective, Mr. Pfeifer actually was the most important person in the school: He opened doors with his keys, and he opened small frightened hearts with his smile. If you have ever lost your keys or locked yourself out of your house or car or classroom, you know exactly what I mean.

A couple of years ago, many of you realized how wonderful and powerful keys are when you got your license and the keys to a car. Whether you drove the family’s station wagon, SUV, pickup truck, VWBug, or in my case, a beaten up Green Dodge Dart, the freedom and possibility I felt the first time with the wind blowing through my hair as I put my arm out of the rolled-down window has stayed with me to this day. . . . Ah. . . .

Some psychologists have observed that there is a kind of “ah ha revelation” or “key” or “metaphor-story” that brings together the journey of the thousands of different doors through which we have passed as individuals. And happily, when we share our stories or journeys with others, we see our connections and appreciate ourselves and others more deeply. Perhaps you have experienced a time when you were simply enjoying someone’s company and the next thing you knew hours had passed in conversation or quiet appreciation of a sunset. And somehow, you came to know the other person—and yourself—in a more profound way

The faculty and staff of Keystone College are here for YOU because our stories are now inextricably connected with yours. We want to help you figure out the combinations, pick the luminous locks of a Liberal Arts and Sciences education that empowers you with the freedom to critically, civilly, and compassionately open the doors of opportunity and fulfillment for you, your family, friends, and the community. We want you to feel the wind of curiosity in your hair and all the way down to your toes.

Today, we celebrate your courage and intelligence in coming to Keystone College.  (Yes, you were smart to come here because by starting here, you can succeed anywhere, as any of our 17,000 alumni/ae will attest.)

Today, we celebrate the beginning of your journey towards the grail of unlimited potential to achieve your goals and dreams—even if they are only dimly perceived at this time.

Today, we enthusiastically and confidently give you the keys to the city, the keys to the college. And the secret is this—the master keys that open every door in this place and everywhere else you go in life are PERSEVERANCE and HUMILITY.

Perseverance and humility are key to understanding our Latin motto that we translate as: “Progress through effort.” The implication of the word “effort” is unrelenting effort; in other words, perseverance. Perseverance means never giving up, always trying another way, sticking it out, working it through with others. Humility means being true to yourself and not worrying about who gets the credit. Together, perseverance and humility are the keys to success in college, graduate school, a doctoral dissertation, one’s career, and a life well-lived.

Some time ago, there was a retirement dinner celebrating Mr. Pfeifer’s 50+ years of service as a custodian—perseverance and humility, indeed! Dozens of principals had come and gone in those 50 years, but to the hundreds of former students and their families who came to the dinner, Mr. Pfeifer had definitely been the most important person in the school.

Today, you and you and you . . . are the most important people in this school. We officially welcome you to Keystone College as a full member of the community! Get in the driver’s seat, turn the keys of perseverance and humility, roll down the window, put your arm out and enjoy the ride!