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Dianne Harris 10/06/2022
Dean Dianne Harris meets with students during Early Fall Start

Dear Huskies,

In his 1855 poem, “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman famously wrote,

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scholars, critics and readers of all kinds have interpreted these three lines variously, but as I read them through the lens of my post as a 21st-century dean, I see them as a prompt for thinking about the desirable cultivation of a richly multi-faceted self, one that permits a fulfilling life well-lived and the career success we also associate with a high-quality education like the one you are about to embark upon. When I read these lines, I think about you, our students.

Today, right now: This is how the story of your many selves begins. This is the place where you see pathways that are neither straight nor singular but instead have inviting twists, turns, and forks. You will make decisions and move forward; You may double back, choose again, choose differently. Your families have asked you to make wise choices. Here, you will see that all choices contain a wisdom waiting for your discovery.

None of this will be time wasted or even spent. It will be time gathered and activated, yielding you and then another possible and unforeseen dimension of you, and then yet another… you. And when you look back as eventually you will do on your time as a student at UW, I can guarantee this:

It will be from the perspective of a yet more multitudinous you. And that is as it should be. Your time here will be well gathered if you allow yourself open-ended opportunities with unknown outcomes -- we sometimes call these ‘risks’ but they are mostly the gentle kind -- and moments that fold upon moments to look closely, breathe deeply, reflect patiently, interact generously, deliberate thoughtfully, and find the spaces to live joyously. This will be the place where all that happens -- in the College of Arts and Sciences -- and it will be the time when you ventured into unexpected realms of deep thought and intense beauty because you could. This was the time you gathered so that you could grow into the very best version of yourself, the one you have always wanted to be even though you don’t yet know who that is.

Although some parts of our world may appear to be contracting, yours is the generation that will inherit the realm of new multiples, in which “this or that” will become “this and that and also this and also maybe that, too.” Yours is the generation that will help us rethink the categories and structures that have given us the contours of thought for hundreds of years so that we can move from what we know towards what we must understand and into galaxies of possibility. This will not be an option. It will be an imperative.

So this is where the story of your many selves begins. Welcome to the place where you will begin to make the future. Welcome, to the College of Arts and Sciences.

With warmest wishes to you,
Dianne Harris, Dean

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