The more than 1,500 members of Elon's newest class of students gathered Under the Oaks for the ceremonial start to their academic career at the university.
Following words of encouragement and guidance, more than 1,500 members of the Class of 2020 walked forth Saturday morning from Under the Oaks on the university’s campus with an acorn in hand —an Elon tradition — to begin their academic career at Elon University.
The traditional gathering of the university’s new class of students is one bookend to the experiences they will have while at Elon. Convocation offers insight into what the next four years will hold, advice on taking advantage of the opportunities the lie ahead and encouragement for students to become their “best selves” while at Elon. These students will gather again as a class 1,365 days from now as they graduate with a degree from Elon.
Joined by thousands of friends and family members on Saturday, Aug. 27, Elon President Leo M. Lambert, administrators, faculty and the Student Government Association president delivered an overview of what Elon has to offer to the new students. In his keynote address, Lambert began by helping the Class of 2020 understand that in a world marked by violence, poverty, hunger and oppression, they have the distinct privilege to study at Elon and take advantage of a unique opportunity and a wealth of resources.
Elon students are uniquely positioned to tap into the breadth and depth of knowledge that comes with pursuing a liberal arts education, Lambert said. It’s incumbent upon them to actively design their futures while at Elon by finding mentors and establishing relationships with faculty and peers alike. During the next four years and beyond, they should live their lives in a way that exemplifies Elon’s honor code and exudes respect, integrity and responsibility, he said.
Representing the Student Government Association, Elon senior Kyle Porro emphasized that beginning a college career at Elon means joining a family with members that look out for one another.
“You will find out very quickly that the people who walk these paths, the people who are sitting among you right now, they are some of the best people you will meet in life,” said Porro, executive president of the SGA. “Do not be afraid to reach out for assistance. I’ve had professors, administrators and even classmates who have proven to be incredible support systems, and even better friends. I would not be standing before you here today were it not for these people.”
The Class of 2020 comes to Elon from a diverse set of backgrounds, with these students representing more than 40 states and nearly 30 countries around the world, said Smith Jackson, vice president for student life and dean of students. This well-rounded cohort of students arrives after serving as leaders of clubs and organizations, recipients of academic honors and as captains of teams in a broad array of sports, Jackson said.
They include Sarah Dolce from Wellington, Fla., recipient of the William R. Kenan Honors Scholarship, the university’s highest academic award. She’s a flautist whose interest in environmental studies led her to be selected from among 4,000 high school, college and graduate students as one of 12 international finalists for the Project Green Challenge, a competition designed to cultivate a healthy and just planet.
There’s Harish Prasad of Chapel Hill, N.C., a certified instructor of Taekwondo who arrives at Elon as an accomplished entrepreneur, having created an e-library of current advances in health care, wellness, nutrition and human relationships with nature called Wellness Primer that is on its way to being patented. The class includes accomplished runner Molly Offstein from Frostburg, Md., who holds seven school records for her alma mater and comes to Elon as an honors fellow and member of Elon’s cross country team.
These three students highlighted during convocation are just a few of the exceptional young people who have now become a part of the Elon community, Jackson said.
“While these three students are remarkable, the accomplishments and abilities of each of these students here today are no less significant,” 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.”
Helping students rise to those challenges will be Elon’s more than 400 faculty members, a group of accomplished professionals who are “truly remarkable and devoted teacher-scholar-mentors,” said Provost Steven House.
House and Evan Gatti, associate director of the Elon Core Curriculum and associate professor of art history, highlighted several faculty honored within the last year for their excellence in the classroom and with their scholarship, including Associate Professor of Physics Tony Crider, Professor of Exercise Science Eric Hall and Elizabeth Bailey, a lecturer in health and human performance. They exemplify the commitment to scholarship, passion for teaching and dedication to making a difference in the lives of students, the surrounding community and the world at large.
”As teachers, Elon faculty members will help you learn to examine more critically, think more analytically, question more insightfully and reflect more thoughtfully,” House said. “They will stretch you and challenge you more than you thought possible.”
That was exciting to hear for Luis Laosfarfan, a transfer student who is pursuing an engineering degree at Elon. Originally from Peru, Laosfarfan comes to Elon after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps and then working with industrial engineers, an experience that is driving his passion for engineering.
“Hearing how engaged and passionate the faculty are — that really gets me so excited,” Laosfarfan said.
With the advice and encouragement delivered, members of the Class of 2020 processed through lines of faculty members and received an acorn — a symbol of the promise of an Elon education. That gift will be followed in four years by the presentation at Commencement of an oak sapling to represent the strength these students will have developed during their time at the university and their ability to be a force for good in the world.