University leaders, faculty and fellow students shared reflections and advice for making the most of the next four years in an annual program on new students' "first day of a lifetime relationship with Elon."
Elon University leaders welcomed the Class of 2019 to the campus community on Saturday in a New Student Convocation program that challenged freshmen and transfer students to forge strong relationships with faculty and staff whose support will stay with them throughout life.
The program was the only time that all 1,520 students in the incoming class will gather Under the Oaks in the heart of campus before they graduate in four years.
President Leo M. Lambert, administrators, faculty and the Student Government Association president gave advice to new students for making the most of their collegiate studies.
Lambert’s address was the highlight of a program attended not only by students but by thousands of parents and other family members. The president emphasized that students’ presence on campus made them among the most privileged people on an earth confronting so much poverty and so many health, political and social challenges.
He encouraged students to find mentors, embrace Elon’s community, become better writers, take advantage of a wide range of opportunities and connect with the Elon network of alumni and parents. There is a big difference between earning a college degree, he said, and receiving a great education.
In addition to the president’s address, students and families heard from other representatives of the faculty and student body. Elon University senior Avery Steadman, a finance major from Williamsville, New York, and Student Government Association president, promised students a bright future if they capitalize on what they find here.
“This weekend is just the first sentence of a long novel you’ve yet to write. You determine how you will write this novel,” Steadman said. “Will your novel be full of Yik Yak, video games, and pizza? Or will your novel be full of internships, research, study abroad, Phoenix spirit, lifelong friends, and mentors?”
As an Elon student, be encouraged to ask questions, Steadman told the Class of 2019. Don’t just ask your peers what is normal and socially acceptable. Challenge them and embrace a culture of intellectual curiosity. And don’t let Elon define you, she added. Instead, define Elon.
And invite someone to lunch, she said. Discuss with faculty and staff mentors your major, organization meetings, career paths, or many other questions. Embrace the deep relationships that characterize Elon University.
“Create and build meaningful connections on campus,” Steadman concluded. “Here at Elon, there are many individuals that are excited to share with you their passions and life paths to ensure that your tenure on this campus is a positive and impactful experience that will extend well beyond Elon into your post-graduate life.”
Smith Jackson, dean of students and vice president for Student Life, and Randy Williams, special assistant to the president and dean of Multicultural Affairs, described qualities of the Class of 2019 and listed some of their high school academic and extracurricular achievements.
“This class fits well with the values of the Elon community with remarkable academic achievements and their participation in meaningful and enriching out-of-class activities,” Jackson said. “While it is impossible to describe fully the breadth and depth of these new students here, throughout their high school careers, they were tapped for membership in prestigious honoraries, performed at the top of their classes, and earned numerous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate credits.”
The Class of 2019 features dedicated members of marching bands, concert bands, a cappella groups, barbershop quartets, and choral ensembles, Jackson said. They volunteered to improve the human conditions for others through countless hours of service and philanthropy, spearheading fundraisers or charitable organizations. They led clubs and organizations.
And they were superb athletes, having been crowned district champions and state champions, and
recognized with national awards in soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, baseball, football and several other sports.
“Class of 2019 and transfer students, we welcome you into the Elon community today,” Jackson said. “You will be challenged here to take new perspectives, further define who you are and want to be, consider how you will be of service to others, and to think about how you will fulfill your highest purpose in the world.
“Each of you will be stretched to climb to new heights and discover new gifts that will lead you to even more extraordinary achievements at Elon and beyond.”
Williams described the contributions of three individual students, including Selina Guevara from Danville, California, this year’s recipient of the William R. Kenan Honors Scholarship, Elon’s highest academic award; Tres McMichael from Baltimore, Maryland, has danced with the Inertia Dance Company, Mid-Atlantic Youth Ballet, and Carver Center and received a National Endowment for the Arts award to study ballet; and Serena Archer from Minneapolis, Minnesota is an avid cinematographer and award winning equestrian.
Steven House, Elon University’s provost and executive vice president, introduced the Class of 2019 to the professors who will guide them in their studies. In the past year, he said, faculty led study abroad courses involving more than 1,200 students traveling to more than 50 countries. They also taught courses with a service-learning component in which more than 1,000 students completed almost 36,000 hours of community service.
House described the teaching, mentoring and scholarly endeavors that characterize the university’s faculty, noting the high number of books, book chapters, research articles and conference presentations made around the world. Active scholarship is the engine that keeps faculty intellectually curious and stimulated, he said, and research influences and improves the ideas that professors share in the classroom.
“Elon faculty members take pride in their mentorship of students,” House said. “Sometimes this mentorship comes in helping students develop as researchers. Elon faculty members supervise honors theses, work closely with students selected for support with the Lumen Prize, and mentor students in research that is presented on campus at our Spring Undergraduate Research Forum and off campus at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
“Although these Elon faculty members may all look the same to you today, dressed in academic regalia and marching in lines, rest assured they are interesting, passionate and committed individuals.”
New students also heard from Evan Gatti, an associate professor of art history, who joined House the podium and praised three colleagues in particular – Cassie Kircher, Cynthia Fair and Janet Myers, professors who in May received the university’s highest honors for teaching, scholarship and mentoring, respectively.
House concluded the join remarks by noting how Kircher, Fair and Myers are just three examples of the many outstanding faculty at Elon. Hundreds more are ready to inspire and guide students in their educational pursuits.
“The faculty’s hope for you in your four years at Elon is that you will become independent, self-directed learners, that you will put serious and consistent effort into your studies, that your passion and curiosity about learning be contagious, and that you will continuously reflect upon and evaluate your own progress in this great learning adventure,” he said.
Following the convocation ceremony, students processed through lines of faculty and received an acorn, a gift that symbolizes the promise of an Elon education.
A university tradition is to give the gift of a small oak sapling at Commencement in four years as a symbol of the students’ strength and their ability to be a force for good in the world using an Elon education.