Centre College an oasis of diversity in world of escalating rhetoric

Published 12:00 pm Sunday, October 2, 2016


President, Centre College


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In this season of our most recent “most important” presidential election, with political rhetoric at its height, I am reminded more than ever that for America to remain the land of opportunity, education must continue to pave a pathway to access the American dream.

“From her beacon-hand / Glows world-wide welcome,” Emma Lazarus writes in that most famous of poems about America as the land of opportunity. I couldn’t help but be reminded of these and other lines from “The New Colossus” and how Lady Liberty’s torch acts as a kind of North Star for all those seeking the chance for a better life as we welcomed our newest class of students in August. 

Light, after all, is an important metaphor in education, too, and colleges commonly invoke the liberating, enlightening role that learning offers. Our own motto at Centre College, Doctrina lux mentis, which we translate as “learning is the light of the mind,” is a case in point. 

Yes, Centre is known as that college where record numbers of students study abroad on an annual basis — an average of 85 percent. In this sense, Centre is “centrifugal,” sending our students away from campus for a time as part of our focus on educating global citizens.

Increasingly, however, Centre College is a place that is “centripetal” in nature, since so many from around the world have been drawn to us as well.

Our 401 new students this year — a record enrollment for the College — demonstrate how Centre is becoming more and more a place of “world-wide welcome,” to reference Lazarus.

College presidents love to rattle off statistics, and I’m proud to say that in our incoming class alone, we have 74 first-generation students, representing 18 percent of the class. Also, 21 percent of those U.S. students reporting race identify as students of color. Hispanic and Latino students represent the largest percentage, followed by African American, Asian American and Native American. In total, we now have students from 45 states and 13 countries.

But here’s the data point of which I’m currently most proud: Fifteen percent of our new American students in the Class of 2020 are immigrants or children of immigrants, with roots in 28 different countries spread across five continents, nearly covering the gamut from A to Z.

North and South America are represented by Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela. 

China, India, Indonesia, and Japan represent Asia, along with Korea, Pakistan, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria represent Africa. Cyprus, England, France, Germany, Norway and Spain round out European countries.

The students are terrifically talented. One-third of these first- and second-generation Americans won premier merit awards and will matriculate with full tuition and full-ride-plus scholarships.

As Centre’s Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Bob Nesmith reminds me, “In a national moment when political conversation on immigration falls to polarizing stereotypes and generalizations, it’s worth noting that our new class owes much of its brilliance to new Americans of many backgrounds.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We certainly believe that this makes for an even stronger educational experience, and it’s a win-win situation not just for all our students but also their communities and families, this great nation, and the world. 


Because combining attention to excellence and access results in bolstering a core strength of this country: our diversity.

We are a better college because we remain a place of high achievement and opportunity. The nation needs such places, and we are proud to be Kentucky’s “entry” in this category.