Celebrating Our Past, Building Our Future

President Christopher A. Capuano, Ph.D.

September 27, 2017

I have had the good fortune of working at this extraordinary University for more than 30 years, and the great fortune of leading this University for a little more than a year now. And during this past year especially, I have learned just how important every faculty member, staff member, student and alumnus and alumna is to the success of this institution.

I have also learned that everyone has a story, and that the stories of many in our community are remarkable. One story in particular stands out for me, and that is the story of my former mentor and good friend, the sixth president of FDU, J. Michael Adams, who unfortunately is no longer with us, but who I know is looking down on us today with a big smile. And I will never forget how his inaugural address began with his personal story of how his life was changed by education. Michael would often share an interesting riddle, and that riddle was: What’s the difference between a carpenter and a college president? The answer, he would say, is one generation!

Michael’s father was a carpenter while he was growing up on the plains of Illinois, and yes, Michael, with the love, encouragement and support of his father and many others, went on to become a college president (just one generation is all it took). Michael was always inspired by this and liked to talk about it. His story, and many others, have caused me to reflect on my own journey these past few weeks.

My Story

My father, who is here today, came to this country all by himself from a small town in central Italy soon after World War II. He was a 20-year-old international student, and when he first stepped onto U.S. soil, he had only a small suitcase and some loose change in his pocket.

Like many international students and immigrants coming to the U.S. in the early 1950s, he was seeking a better life for himself and for his family. He enrolled at Northeastern University and went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in analytical chemistry, and after graduating, he was hired by Union Carbide, which was the largest chemical corporation in the U.S. at the time.

Before completing his degree, he met my mother, they married, and a few years later they had their first child — in their words, a little rascal (or as my father often said — un cattivo ragazzo), who never took no for an answer and stands before you today.

It was the sacrifices that my father and mother made for me, and for my brother and sister, that made my journey possible. It was the lessons that my parents taught me, namely to work hard and never be satisfied with anything but my best effort, that resonated most with me. Above all, I learned — and this is what I tell my children and our students — that the best things in life are not those things that are given to you, but rather those things that you work hard for and earn.

And so, it is fitting that I am now leading an institution that prides itself on being a University of and for the world, a University that has always welcomed students from every corner of the globe and a University that has provided opportunities to countless first-generation college students —students who are willing to work hard, transform themselves and in the process change their worlds.

FDU’s Birthday

And I have another remarkable story for you. Seventy-five years ago this month, in a once-abandoned castle in Rutherford, N.J., an exciting educational experiment began. While our founder Peter Sammartino was certainly a dreamer, even he could not have imagined the reach that this institution would have, growing from a small junior college in the 1940s to a comprehensive University today, with campuses in three countries and an impact that extends throughout the world.

Certainly the people who have come before us deserve all the credit. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants, like Peter Sammartino, who built a tremendous foundation and instilled in the fabric of this institution core principles that have stood the test of time and that will in turn define our future.

These principles are our enduring values and will prove pivotal as we move forward. They include an unwavering commitment to developing world citizens, to innovation and adaptation, to access and opportunity for diverse populations and to rapid responsiveness to real-world concerns and society’s changing needs.

We do indeed have a wonderful history to celebrate and many memories to cherish, and even more reasons to be proud and hopeful about our future.

And that future is not in some distant horizon; it is not decades or years or even months away. That future is today! And what we are doing today is going to make possible an even better and brighter future for this institution, one that will make future generations just as proud as we are today of our first 75 years.

FDU Today

So, where does FDU stand today? Well, while I can tell you that FDU is on solid ground, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that there are winds of change blowing all around us. Higher education has never faced anything like today’s challenges. These challenges include an increasingly crowded marketplace with more traditional, online, for-profit and corporate universities than ever, a declining number of high-school graduates both regionally and nationally, higher costs and climbing student debt, lower graduation and job placement rates than we all would like to see, significantly fewer men than women going to college and still far too few students from underrepresented populations going to college and successfully completing a college degree — just to name a few.

Without question, the challenges we face today are very serious. However, at FDU, we are not sitting idly by hoping that we get blown in the right direction. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”

At FDU, we are educational pioneers, innovators and entrepreneurs, and we will actively shape our fate. In addition to improving existing programs, we are always looking to grow and develop innovative and cutting-edge programs and to extend our reach to more students around the globe. Recent examples include our new School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and our newest campus in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Our School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is one of only two pharmacy schools in the state of New Jersey. Since opening in 2012, it has earned full accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, has forged relationships with numerous hospitals and other healthcare organizations in the region, has raised nearly $10 million in gifts and grants to support programs and initiatives within the School, and this year was ranked by NJBIZ as the best place to work in New Jersey among small- and medium-sized corporations. Clearly, the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is a true center of excellence, and more is in store.

Our newest campus in Vancouver, Canada, is also a center of excellence and has advanced the University’s long-time commitment to global education, as well as its global reach. Since opening in 2007 with just 18 students, enrollment has grown to more than 825 students, who hail from more than 55 countries and five continents. Moreover, since its beginning, the Vancouver Campus has maintained retention and graduation rates above 92 percent and has been referred to by the leadership of the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education as a “model” international campus.

Looking ahead, the University’s strategic plan provides a roadmap to establishing even more centers of excellence, and to further elevating the University’s reputation — regionally, nationally and internationally. Over the next few years, the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences plans to add the Doctor of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in physician assistant studies to its existing programming, and the Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health will work closely with the School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to further strengthen the University’s reputation and reach in the health sciences.

The Silberman College of Business, which is a nationally-ranked business school and accredited by AACSB International, the gold standard in accreditation for business schools, has been a center of excellence at FDU for decades and will further distinguish FDU in business education with new programming in digital marketing, and in wealth and risk management. The International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which is currently ranked sixth in the nation by Bestschools.org and 11th in the world by CEOWorld magazine, has expanded its programming to the University’s international campuses in Canada and England and is finalizing an agreement with a major hotel company to construct new facilities, including a new hotel, on the Metropolitan Campus.

In addition, a new School of Public and Global Affairs and a new School of the Arts are planned, and last fall, the University initiated the quiet phase of what will be the most successful capital campaign in its 75-year history. And just one year into the quiet phase of the campaign, which is appropriately titled One University, Many Dreams, I am happy to report that we already have commitments totaling more than $30 million.

Blueprint for Tomorrow

George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

So while we commemorate our past and celebrate the present, I personally now pledge, and indeed all who care about this great institution should collectively pledge, to take responsibility for our future. The responsibility for the success and prosperity of this great institution belongs to all of us. And, as we look ahead, let us all agree that each move we take together should always be considered in the context of how we can better serve our students and help them transform their lives.

I am deeply humbled and honored by your faith and confidence in me for this important position. I promise to do all that I can to meet your expectations and to support you in your efforts. However, the true measure of our success will be what we do together.

I had the fortune of meeting Peter Sammartino, and he was indeed an extraordinary man. And I knew many of the other names that we frequently cite in our institutional history — people like Helen Brudner, Michael Adams, Frank Mertz, Henry Becton and Ed Hennessy, to name a few. And, of course, I have read about many others like the Colonel himself (Fairleigh S. Dickinson), Maxwell Becton and Edward Williams.

But these leaders didn’t entirely define FDU, and they certainly didn’t act alone. They had the incredible help and tremendous support of countless other faculty, staff, students and graduates whose names maybe we don’t know so well, but whose actions echo in time and whose spirit lives on today.

And so, my friends, I need your help. It is our collective will and effort that will carry the day, and it is the contributions of all of you that will matter most.

We cannot rest on our laurels. Change will continue to come; there’s no avoiding it. We must stay true to our values, adapt when necessary and always do what is in the best interests of our students. In the words of John F. Kennedy, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

At FDU, we will not miss the future! We will not miss our opportunity to build on past success and create something even better than what has come before us. Our legacy deserves nothing less, and our students deserve all that and more. We will honor our past, while building a brighter future.

Godspeed to all of us and to this wonderful University.