Rider University welcomed 61 new Andrew J. Rider Scholars at its annual Founder’s Day celebration on Saturday, November 5. Dr. Joel C. Philips delivered a stirring faculty address, urging students to rise above a culture that too often values homogeneous mediocrity.
President Mordechai Rozanski presented certificates to the 61 new Andrew J. Rider Scholars on November 5.

President Mordechai Rozanski presented certificates to the 61 new Andrew J. Rider Scholars on November 5.

Imploring them to embrace their intellect, Dr. Joel C. Philips told the University’s 61 new Andrew J. Rider Scholars that it would be up to them to shepherd their generation through a “culture of distraction” that has seen our ability to reason and remember crippled by a “stream of media infotainment.”

“I ask you to stand apart from the herd, at its edge, and to lift your head high above the crowd, defiant of all risks. I ask you to question the assumptions, to read the articles not just the headlines, to differentiate facts from slogans, to base your judgments on reason, not belief, to distinguish authority from drivel,” said Phillips, a professor of Composition and Music Theory who was selected to present the faculty address at the Founder’s Day Program on Saturday, November 5. “I ask you to find the courage to lead others who lack the gifts of your intelligence and conviction. I ask you to live the life of the mind.”

The annual event, part of Rider’s Family Weekend 2011 festivities, recognizes the top one percent of seniors, juniors and sophomores, by grade point average, as Andrew J. Rider Scholars. Students from each of Rider’s six academic colleges and schools – the College of Business Administration, the School of Education, the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the College of Continuing Studies, Westminster Choir College, and the School of Fine and Performing Arts – were chosen for the distinction, named to honor the first president of the institution.

“You are an important, select and versatile group,” said Dr. Donald Steven, provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, who presided over the event. “This is an outstanding achievement, worthy of our admiration and congratulations.”

President Mordechai Rozanski awarded certificates to the new class of Rider Scholars, which included 16 repeat honorees, during the ceremony in the theater inside the Bart Luedeke Center. He reminded them that they represent more than 4,800 eligible undergraduates, and lauded them for their commitment.

“You accepted the personal challenge to develop, intellectually,” Rozanski said. “We proudly recognize you for your achievements.”

Phillips, the 2009 recipient of the Rider University Distinguished Teaching Award, joined the faculty of Westminster Choir College in 1985. During his address, he took issue with a series of aphorisms that seem to demean principles of education and thought, beginning with an oft-repeated quote from Oscar Wilde: “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

“The more I thought about it, I realized my aggravation with his epigrams stems from the fact that they harmonize with the anti-intellectualism that pervades society,” Phillips said. “After all, all I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. Apparently, additional education serves no purpose.”

Phillips urged the Rider Scholars to resist such notions, and to embrace their intellectual curiosities.

“Every day our society assails you with reminders, blatant and subtle, that there is safety within the herd … You don’t want to stick out. There’s safety in numbers,” he said. “I’m not having any of it, and I hope you won’t either.”

Even among her Rider Scholar peers, Carolynne Lewis-Arévalo ’12 is clearly not a member of the pack. Lewis-Arévalo, a Psychology major in the College of Continuing Studies who delivered the student address, dropped out of high school 30 years ago with, she said, no plans for her future.

“I never thought of myself as bright and capable,” she recalled of her youth. “I carried failure with me like a ball and chain.”

Married at 23 and divorced not long thereafter, Lewis-Arévalo was left with two small children while she worked a series of unfulfilling jobs. It was only six years ago, with her children nearing their own high school graduation and looking ahead to their futures, that she really began to take stock of her own life.

“I began thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up,” said Lewis-Arévalo, who subsequently enrolled in community college. Four years later, she had earned her associate degree, summa cum laude.

“All my failures were erased,” she proudly declared, adding that Rider’s CCS program offered her the best opportunity in the area to continue toward her bachelor’s degree.

Lewis-Arévalo, set to finally earn that degree three decades after her premature exit from high school, now devotes much of her time to helping those in need. An active volunteer for the domestic violence response team at the Trenton-based Womanspace, Lewis-Arévalo also works to empower youth in impoverished neighborhoods.

“I think my success is a testament to the richness of the educational opportunities available to Rider students,” she said. “I’ve learned that college is a great place to get an education – something many students miss. In 2005, I wanted to leave a job and start my career. But, somewhere along the way, I got an education.”