More than 1,700 new Elon students celebrated the formal start of their academic year surrounded by friends and family members Under the Oaks.
The 130th class in Elon’s history — the Class of 2023 — and new transfer students gathered Under the Oaks on Saturday to mark the start of their academic careers at the university. Joined by thousands of family members and friends, these more than 1,700 new Elon students learned about what lies ahead for them at the university, began to learn about university traditions and received encouragement for the journey ahead.
As a new tradition, the new students processed through Alamance Building past the bell from Old Main, which was destroyed in the fire of 1923.
The Aug. 24 convocation is one bookend to the academic careers of the members of the Class of 2023, with each student presented with an acorn at the close of the ceremony, a tradition recognizing “Elon” as the Hebrew word for “oak.” These students heard advice for what lies ahead and encouragement to make the most of the opportunities they encounter. A little less than four years from now, they will have the opportunity to cross the stage at Commencement to receive a diploma, and then an oak sapling, representing their growth as students, global citizens and people.
President Connie Ledoux Book took the audience back 50 years to 1969, a year that saw many cultural milestones including Woodstock and the launch of the iconic television program “Sesame Street.” At Elon in 1969, the university offered its first study abroad program, saw Eugene Perry become its first African-American graduate and moved to a 4-1-4 semester format featuring a Winter Term.
Perhaps most captivating that summer, and celebrated anew this summer 50 years later, was the first moon landing, with astronaut Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the lunar surface. “Armstrong reminded us that ‘mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of our desire to understand,'” Book told the crowd. “At Elon, we know the power of that wonder and the search for understanding. Your classmates, faculty and staff ask the big questions, tackle the challenging problems. From that we build a great democracy.”
Book noted that the world still sees unrest and social challenges as it did 50 years ago, which underscores the idea that the world needs Elon graduates, an oft-repeated assertion among the Elon community. “You see, you are our hope, our hope for that smarter, stronger and kinder world,” Book said. “And as Neil Armstrong told us, your job is to embrace that sense of wonder and pursue new levels of understanding.”
In his remarks, Student Body President Jack Johnson said solely describing college as a four-year experience fails to capture its true nature. Looking at college as a daily experience allows you to take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and to recognize the changes at work.
“Today you’re starting an amazing journey of self-discovery,” Johnson told the crowd. “At Elon, you’ve been given the challenge and support to pursue whatever it is in the world you want to do, and the freedom to go after it.”
Those opportunities come with responsibility as well, such as the responsibility to be intentional with the choices you make, Johnson noted. “Of course have fun and live life, but confirm that you are moving toward the best version of yourself with the amazing help of mentors that we have sitting right here with you,” he said.
Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley provided an overview of the Class of 2023, which has 1,675 students from 43 states and 27 countries, including students from Ecuador, China and Australia. Ten of these students are starting their Elon education in Dublin, Ireland, as part of the Global Pathfinders program. The Class of 2023 has 81 students who are siblings of current Elon students or alumni and 28 who are the children or grandchildren of alumni. The class has 131 who are the first in their family to attend college and 70 who are transferring from other universities.
Dooley explained that the Class of 2023 begins a new university tradition. Before Convocation, the students gathered in Alumni Gym, and for the first time processed through Alamance Building and past the bell that hung in Old Main, the main college building that was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1923.
The new tradition of processing past the historic bell connects new students to the long history of Elon University, Dooley said, and is particularly special to this class, which will graduate 100 years after the tragic fire.
“You occupy a special place in the history and trajectory of this university, which continues its long and steady climb from that difficult moment,” Dooley said. “You are part of a great university that has quite literally risen from the ashes, and like our namesake, the Phoenix, continues to find itself transformed and reborn with each new generation.”
Randy Williams, associate vice president for campus engagement, offered profiles of three members of the Class of 2023 who speak to the variety of experiences and accomplishments of this new class.
Sophia Israel, from Charlotte, N.C., is this year’s recipient of the William R. Kenan Honors Scholarship, Elon’s highest academic award. Throughout her time at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, Israel balanced a rigorous curriculum with a variety of activities beyond the classroom.
She co-founded PACE News, a video series to teach her peers about culture and politics in Durham, conducted mentored research in the humanities, received a Global Navigator Scholarship to study language and culture in Madrid, and participated in the National Quiz Bowl Tournament. While at Elon, she plans to major in anthropology and has interests in law and civic engagement.
At the age of 13, Javik Blake of Norton, Massachusetts, founded his own sports network the “Lancer Sports Network.” By the age of 16, he had called more than 100 games and was featured in the Boston Globe. In 2018, Javik became a sportswriter for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle, co-hosted podcasts, and won in the Best Sports Film Category at the Lancer Film Festival.
Blake joins the university as a Communications Fellow and hopes to pursue opportunities at Elon to grow as a student and as a broadcast journalist.
Ignacio Alonso from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, is an avid surfer and high-performance athlete with the Puerto Rico Surfing Federation. He competed in the Pan American Games in 2017 and is a member of the National Junior Team in Puerto Rico, competing for a spot at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan – the first time surfing will be introduced as an Olympic sport.
The environment is not only Ignacio’s playing field, but something he cares deeply about. He volunteers his time to help reduce coastal erosion, install solar panel systems in areas of need and deliver supplies to assist with the recovery from Hurricane Maria. Along with his other achievements, Alonso brings to Elon an entrepreneurial spirit and an interest in international business.
Elon also highlights the accomplishments of Elon’s extraordinary faculty during New Student Convocation. In his remarks, Provost Steven House noted that Elon faculty enjoy teaching students both in and out of the classroom, and are noted for their accessibility and responsiveness to students.
During the past year, faculty members led study abroad courses involving more than 1,700 students who traveled to more than 50 countries. More than 1,000 students completed almost 100,000 hours of community service in courses with a service-learning component taught by faculty.
During the past year, they have authored more than 30 books and more than 300 book chapters and research articles, while presenting their ideas at professional meetings nationally and internationally, House noted.
“You will see the uniqueness of the faculty in the classes they teach, the laboratories they guide, the plays they direct, the art they produce, the polls they conduct, the internships they mentor, the mock trials and model UN simulations they create for you,” House said, “and the many, many other ways your paths will cross in the next four years.”
Amy Johnson, director of the Elon Core Curriculum and associate professor of history, recognized faculty members honored earlier this year for their excellence in the classroom and their scholarship including Janna Anderson, professor of communications and director of the Imagining the Internet Center, Jeffrey Carpenter, associate professor of education and director of the Teaching Fellows Program, and Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies and director of the Multifaith Scholars Program.
After hearing a musical performance by sophomore music production majors Bryson Smith and Eliza Spear and 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.
The presentation of the acorn made an impression on Nathan Moskowitz ’23 of Detroit. “I really love the symbolism of how we’re growing from this little acorn to a sapling by the end when we graduate, and we plant our roots and spread into the communities that we go out into,” he said following the ceremony. “It’s awesome to be a part of this.”
Isaiah Reyes ’23 of Durham arrived at Elon familiar with the acorn and sapling traditions at Elon, and said it was surreal to now be a part of those traditions. “My hopes and dreams are just making sure I get through college kind of knowing who I am and getting to know that whatever I do with this education is going to benefit my community around me,” he said.
During the start of orientation weekend that included unpacking, settling in and meeting new people, New Student Convocation offered Brittney Hope ’23 of Covington, Georgia, an opportunity to begin feeling at home. “I’m really excited, and I was nervous, but Convocation kind of calmed me down because it was a very welcoming ceremony,” she said. “I’m very happy to have people alongside me who I know are rooting for my success.”