September 21, 1914
At the suggestion of Lucy M. Salmon, professor of history, the first Academic Convocation for the opening of college was held in the new Students' Building, where "a girl's purpose in coming to college" was examined. "For the first time in the history of Vassar," reported The Vassar Miscellany, "its opening has been dignified by the formal assemblage of all its members." After Professor of Economics Herbert Elmer Mills "gave a short address of welcome and explanation," Amy Reed '92 from the English department "spoke on the early history of the college in the hope that we should do our work in the spirit of the best traditions."
The main address, on "Going to College," was from Professor Salmon. Comparing for the entering students the life of "school," which they had left, and of "college," where the "a pupil" becomes the "a student, the playground develops into the campus and play becomes athletics, teachers are now instructors...and instead of preparation for college, he hears much of preparation for life," she said "in all external surroundings and in much of the daily life the college differs widely from the school. The student feels that he has a new and wider outlook on the world even if gained from the vantage point of separation from it and he looks forward with eager anticipation to his college work, feeling that this also must show the same if not greater transformation.
"Yet it is here that the unthinking student is prone to feel disillusion. The subjects in the college curriculum are much the same as those found in school...all these he has already studied.... Even if new authors are read in Latin, he is convinced that Latin is Latin. The test-tube, the blowpipe and the balance are familiar to him. He has perhaps 'finiished' in school Robinson's History of Western Europe, and with Alexander sighs for new worlds to conquer.
"In depression and discouragement the student casts about for an anchorage and he soon thinks he finds it in a new word, or rather a familiar one used in a new sense to him—the word democratic." Quoting the conclusion drawn recently by the chemist and journalist Edwin E. Slossen, that "the two things that every collegian in speaking of his Alma Mater is most apt to boast about are the superlative beauty of its campus and its unique democratic spirit," Salmon proceeded to point out the many ways in which collegiate life, among students and their organizations, among the several elements of the campus society—student groups, college administration and employees, even admission to the student body—confound the ideal of a truly democratic society.
"This," she said, "many college students soon realise, and baffled by disappointment in the failure to find in democracy an explanation of the meaning of college life, they return once more to the question, 'What is it to go to college?'" Her answer compared the question to "the first visit to Lake Mohonk" in the nearby Shawangunk Ridge, which begins on "a familiar road," but which, "doubles and redoubles on itself" as "the view of the plain and of the valley widens and changes with each turn of the road," until "the magnificent view of the valley stretches out below, but on the horizon there are still higher mountain peaks as yet unscaled...."
"Going to college," Professor Salmon concluded, "means that a part of the road the student traverses is a familiar one, but it differs in that he leaves behind him the secondary school frame of mind. As the college road redoubles on itself he comes to understand that Latin is more than Latin, that balances and blowpipes differ, and that not all history is narrated by Robinson. The student realizes that he enters college to learn rather than to be taught. He quickly abandons the notion that in college and only in college is democracy found, and he learns that democratic spirit is not the most permanent asset he takes with him from his four years' college course....
"Going to college means not only an outlook on the past and an understanding of the present—partial even though such outlook and understanding must be—but it also means such a glimpse of the future as will show the unity of all subjects in the college curriculum, and the ultimate unification of all knowledge. But going to college means that survey of the past a glimpse of the future comes only to those who follow the road that leads up the mountain." The Vassar Miscellany