New Student Convocation offers look ahead for Elon's Class of 2021

More than 1,600 new Elon students were surrounded by friends and family Under the Oaks as faculty, staff and students celebrated the formal start of the academic year. 

Students sing Elon's alma mater at the close of New Student Convocation. 

PHOTO GALLERY: New Student Convocation 2017

Marking an official start to their academic careers at Elon, more than 1,600 new and transfer students gathered Under the Oaks in front of West Hall to hear words of encouragement and learn about the university’s traditions during New Student Convocation. 

The Aug. 26 convocation event is one bookend to their academic careers at Elon, with each student presented with an acorn at the end of the ceremony. These members of Elon’s Class of 2021 heard words of advice about what lies ahead during the next four years, as well as encouragement to make the most of the opportunities presented to them. A little less than four years from now, they will have the opportunity to cross the stage at Commencement in May 2021 to receive a diploma, and then an oak sapling, representing their growth as students, global citizens and people. 

Joined by thousands of friends and family members, Elon President Leo M. Lambert, administrators, faculty and the Student Government Association president delivered an overview of what Elon can provide to the new students in the years ahead. In his keynote address, Lambert began by helping the Class of 2021 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. 

SGA President Morgan Bodenarain offers words of advice to the Class of 2021. 
Representing the Student Government Association, Elon senior Morgan Bodenarain talked about her own arrival at Elon, and the transition from high school to university that, while exciting, also presented challenges. She ran for president of the sophomore class and lost, which led to a period of trial and error for her before she found the courage and confidence to be a leader. 

“There is not a thought, dream or goal that will cross your mind that Elon will not have the tools to prepare you for,” Bodenarain said. “These next four years will undoubtedly be some of the best of your life. … The challenges you face will seem impossible at times, but they are meant to help you become the best version of yourself.”

The Class of 2021 arrives at Elon from a wide set of backgrounds and with a diversity of experiences. These students represent more than 40 states and 25 countries around the world, said Jon Dooley, vice president for student life. This well-rounded cohort of students includes leaders of clubs and organizations, recipients of academic honors and as captains of teams in a broad array of sports, Dooley said. They’re scholars, volunteers, artists, performers and leaders, he said. 

Already, many have seen success, but each is likely to face challenges and adversity during their years at Elon. “A great gift of engaged and experiential learning is developing resilience in response to failure,” Dooley said. “I hope you will take some risks while you are here at Elon, which may mean experiencing a few failures as well – those can be significant learning moments.”

Randy Williams, associate vice president for campus engagement, offered profiles of three members of the Class of 2021 that speak to the variety of experiences and accomplishments of this new class. Lucia Lozano Robledo from Carrboro, North Carolina, is this year’s recipient of Elon’s highest academic award, the William R. Kenan Honors Scholarship. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Robledo moved to the United States in the 8th grade and has pursued her passion for increasing access to and improving health care around the world. She was president of the Red Cross Club and the Global Health Club, raising more than $50,000 to help with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

Williams also highlighted Samantha Casamento from Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, whose passion for journalism has driven her to succeed as anchor of her high school’s news program and garnered an invitation to the Washington Journalism and Media Conference. Williams also introduced Elliot Rivette from Charlotte, North Carolina, who has become an accomplished martial artist. Rivette’s pursuit of excellence in Sensekai Goshin-Jitsu led him to be selected to participate in the Special Team of Role Models, where he developed leadership skills and gained advanced training that he used to teach developing students. 

The three are just a few examples of the types of people who make up the Class of 2021, Dooley said. “Each of you will be stretched to climb to new heights and hone the gifts and talents that will lead you to even more extraordinary achievements while at Elon and beyond,” he said. 

New Student Convocation also offered the opportunity to highlight the achievements of Elon’s accomplished faculty. Provost Steven House explained the Elon students benefit from the passion that its faculty have for teaching, scholarship and being mentors to those around them. 

House and Amy Johnson, director of the Elon Core Curriculum and associate professor of history, highlighted faculty members honored earlier this year for their excellence in the classroom and their scholarship, including Sophie Adamson, associate professor of French and chair of the Department of World Languages & Cultures, Profesor of Computing Sciences Megan Squire and Professor of Exercise Science Eric Hall. 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.

“They will stretch you and challenge you more than you thought possible,” House said of Elon’s faculty. 

After participating in another Elon tradition — the singing of Elon’s alma mater, the new Elon students processed through lines of faculty members and received an acorn — a symbol of the promise of an Elon education. Holding her acorn and reflecting on the ceremony, first-year student Georgia Zalk from Minneapolis, Minnesota, said President Lambert’s words resonated with her as he reminded students that they were privileged to attend a university, given the adversity so much of the world’s population is confronted with. 

“It’s easy with all the excitement of Move-In Day, arriving on campus and meeting new people to lose sight of that,” Zalk said. “He reminded us of the opportunities that we have, and to make the most of them in the years ahead.”