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29 August 1991 
George Washington University 


"Remarks for New Students, Preceding American Pictures"

If it weren't for the new Columbian College advising system, Jacob Holdt's American Pictures presentation would not be part of orientation activities here at George Washington University. 

This experience is new and challenging to us as well as to you. What do we mean by including it so prominently in our activities? 

In college you are encouraged to think differently in two ways. First, you are encouraged to think originally, as you discover your own unique individual identity in this larger world of research, hypothesis, experiment, and articulation. And secondly, you are encouraged to think skeptically, calling into question previous notions you have learned, questioning your fellow students and your professors, re-examining for yourself all the assumptions, theories, and institutions around you. 

High school was a time to learn many large, important, and often complicated things; building on that in college, you will encounter new and diverse information, some of which will doubtless conflict with some of your current beliefs and opinions. Disagreement, despite the emotional havoc it sometimes brings, is an essential part of learning. Be of good cheer! 

College is a time to go after the reasons why those high school notions were thought to be so important, and to study not just what we think we know (as a society) but how we believe we know it. Furthermore, it is a time to ask why we have chosen to learn some things in certain ways; it is a time to learn how the ways we formulate our questions shape the answers we obtain; and it is a time to initiate what should be a life-long process of discovery as we expand the ways in which we understand the world. Part of this life-long discovery process involves looking for the biases, blindnesses, and preconceptions which shape the theories, ideas, beliefs, and values we live with all the time. 

We have invited Jacob Holdt here to deliver his portrait of America's underclass in part because we understand that new college students at other excellent universities have been extraordinarily receptive to the experience. They have been moved and stimulated to participate in our great social dialogue about justice and equality. Many of them have been exposed to aspects of American experience they had not previously been aware of. All of them have seen the on-going drama of a single individual courageously witnessing people living in marginal conditions of poverty, deprivation, and disorientation, where drugs, homelessness, and violence are endemic parts of life. 

Agree with him or disagree; cast the issues in the same or different terms; respond with understanding, sadness, guilt, frustration, or anger; seek a social solution or an individual accommodation. None of us can predict how you new students here at George Washington University will respond to American Pictures. We do not have a conviction as to how you should respond. We can endorse the courage of this social geographer, the unique odyssey of this Danish photojournalist with his vision and his mission -- we can wish you good luck as you try to incorporate this experience into your own world -- we want to encourage you to keep your mind open even when your heart becomes heavy and full -- but we are not requiring you to believe any of it. 

Except you should believe that we are proud to have a part in shaping the educational opportunities which George Washington University is making available to you. Thank you for joining us. 

All best wishes 
David McAleavey  
Associate Dean,  
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences  

WASHINGTON. DC 20052 (202) 994-8686 

American Pictures

Copyright 1997 AMERICAN PICTURES; All rights reserved.