New Student Convocation marks the start of a journey for Class of 2024

More than 1,600 new Elon students celebrated the formal start of their academic careers at the university at the ceremony, with small groups of students gathering to watch the live-streamed event.

PHOTO GALLERY: New Student Convocation 2020

Members of the Class of 2024 and new transfer students celebrated an Elon tradition in a new way on Monday to mark the start of their academic careers at the university.

These more than 1,600 students gathered remotely in small groups and in a small group in Alumni Gym for New Student Convocation for an opportunity to learn more about what the next four years hold for them while offering words of encouragement and support during a disrupted time. The ceremony is one bookend to the academic careers of the members of the Class of 2024, with each student presented with an acorn at the close of the ceremony, a tradition recognizing “Elon” as the Hebrew word for “oak.”

President Connie Ledoux Book speaking during New Student Convocation

“More than ever before, the world is waiting in anticipation of you, the next generation, to bring your creativity and grit to our future,” President Connie Ledoux Book said during her convocation address. “2020 is a landmark moment in our history and you, the Class of 2024, you will write our future.”

First-year and transfer students began arriving on campus on Friday, Aug. 14, with new practices and protocols designed to promote health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic including pre-semester COVID-19 testing, an extended move-in period, and health check-in. New Student Orientation has been adapted this year to avoided large gatherings, with students participating in small groups for many events, including New Student Convocation which was streamed live from Alumni Gym and viewed remotely by most students at more than 80 locations around campus. A small number of students participated in convocation inside Alumni Gym wearing masks and physically distanced during the ceremony.

In her remarks, Book noted that these new Elon students are living during a time when they could say either say, “Why me?” and question why they are facing such widespread challenges, or say “Send me” as they respond to what has been put in front of them with curiosity and resilience. It is OK during this time of uncertainty to admit you don’t know everything or exactly what might lie ahead, Book said.

SGA Executive President Robbie Miley speaking during New Student Convocation

“There’s a vulnerability in saying, ‘I don’t’ know’ and ‘I don’t know why,’ acknowledging that we don’t have answers in a time when people are craving the certainty of the world we once knew,” Book said. “It is the intellectual curiosity of ‘I don’t know,’ that stages the curiosity necessary to ask the critical questions for leadership.”

You have come to Elon equipped with curiosity to ask critical questions and seek knowledge and understanding, Book told the students, and it’s those goals that are hallmarks of the journey at Elon.

“This year, your journey begins with a foundational understanding that our future together requires your leadership and is dependent on each other,” Book said. “This is your moment, your moment to shine, your moment to lead, your moment to learn and your moment to grow. When you said, ‘Send me, send us,’ Class of 2024, you demonstrated the most powerful aspect of any education — you raised your hand and said, ‘I’m here.'”

Book called upon these new students to recognize the opportunity they have been given to pursue a college degree, using the small group of students in Alumni Gym as a “human bar graph” to demonstrate how few have access to quality education. Book explained that there is a sense of responsibility that comes with being part of a campus community where racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance and sexual violence will not be tolerated. Elon’s Honor Code requires that students conduct themselves with the highest standards of human decency and respect, whether on campus, in Alamance County or around the globe, Book said.

“We join you in this important beginning for all of us, to face the new opportunities and the new challenges, and we are grateful that you have answered this call with, ‘Send me,'” Book said. “Let’s send Elon.”

SGA Executive President Robbie Miley ’21 offered his congratulations to the Class of 2024 and transfer students on beginning their journeys at Elon, noting that on top of the typical challenges of beginning a college career come the added challenges that come with living during a global pandemic.

“You’ll be adapting to an entirely new environment, in the middle of a pandemic,” Miley said. “This is an incredible task, perhaps making the shift more difficult than it was for those who came before you. You’ll come to learn the importance of remaining resilient in your academic and non-academic lives.”

That was a lesson Miley explained that he learned during multiple failed attempts to become part of the Student Government Association earlier in his Elon career. Miley acknowledged the various other challenges each student may have faced in their own life, such as racial discrimination, dealing with a family member sick with COVID-19 or seeing their lives disrupted by the pandemic.

“The ability to stay resilient despite an overwhelming amount of hardship is a very powerful thing,” Miley said. “This is your year to be ready for whatever curveballs come your way and to never give up.”

Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley provided an overview of the Class of 2024, which has 1,600 students from 40 states and 23 countries, including students from Jamaica, Malaysia and Mexico. The class includes 78 students who are siblings of current or former Elon students and 26 who are the children or grandchildren of alumni. Among the new students, 119 are the first in their family to attend college and 66 transferred from other universities.

“You are joining the university at a time of tremendous challenge and uncertainty — here on campus, but also in our nation and world,” Dooley told the students. “As we navigate these challenges, I am reminded that we are in this together and that there is power in community and relationships.”

Dooley challenged the students to build a network of mentors during their time at Elon, and to rely on that network when they face setbacks. “Even as this morning marks the wonderful beginning of your Elon journey, it’s OK to be nervous, maybe sitting here with a few doubts and fears,” Dooley said. “Know that this is a community ready to support you and help you grow in mind, body and spirit.”

Vice President Randy Williams, left, and Vice President Jon Dooley during New Student Convocation

Randy Williams, vice president and associate provost for inclusive excellence, offered profiles of a few members of the Class of 2024 who speak to the variety of experiences and accomplishments of this group of new students.

Akani Bey, from New York City, is this year’s recipient of the William R. Kenan Honors Scholarship, Elon’s highest academic award. For the past 10 years, his passion has been to live a green life while harboring a passion for exploring this extraordinary planet.  While balancing an extremely rigorous curriculum and participating in a variety of meaningful activities outside the classroom, he has become an avid botanist in New York City and studied tropical biodiversity in Costa Rica.  Akani joins the university as an honors fellow this fall and hopes to pursue opportunities in Environmental Science.

Joining Elon from Anoka, Minnesota, Veda Karlsen-Heil made her mark as an entrepreneur competing not only in statewide competitions, but also in the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy in California competition, promoting her efforts to remove pollutants from our environment.  Veda’s care for well-being extends beyond the environment to the cultural and social issues facing her community.  As a result, she also founded two non-profit organizations focused on women’s empowerment with multiple chapters nationwide.  With a desire to spread her impact further, Veda is a Leadership Fellow and Odyssey Scholar, with an interest in International and Global Studies.

Elon also highlights the accomplishments of Elon’s extraordinary faculty during New Student Convocation. In his remarks, Provost Aswani Volety noted that Elon faculty enjoy teaching students both in and out of the classroom, and are noted for their accessibility and responsiveness to students. They strive to “stoke the flame” of curiosity in their students, Volety said.

“Elon is all about developing a love of learning and about being engaged in the learning process,” Volety said. “It is not just about knowing the answers to what is on the exam, but rather the joy from asking questions, questions that require deep thinking and that may not have answers.”

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 Steve Friedland, senior scholar and professor of law at Elon School of Law, Lynn Huber, professor of religious studies and the director of the Honors Program, and Colin Donohue, director of School of Communications student engagement and alumni affairs and instructor in journalism.

After watching a pre-recorded musical performance by Kevin Lacey ’21, Dariana Mullen ’21 and Elijah Wheeler ’21, the Class of 2024 and transfer students participated in the singing of Elon’s alma mater, and received an acorn, a symbol of the promise of an Elon education.