Opening Day ceremony marks start of a new academic year at Elon

Faculty and staff gathered Monday to celebrate the accomplishments of three professors named to endowed professorships and to hear remarks from President Connie Ledoux Book.

Elon University officially kicked off a new academic year on Monday with a traditional Opening Day ceremony, a celebration that saw the naming of the Medallion Plaza to honor “the collective service of our community during an extraordinary year.”

SGA Executive President Jack Corby ’22 rings the bell to mark the start of the academic year.

President Connie Ledoux Book announced the new name for the plaza that sits adjacent to Lakeside Dining Hall and Lake Mary Nell during her remarks to faculty and staff gathered in the Schar Center and joining the ceremony online. In the coming years, bricks honoring recipients of the Elon Medallion, Elon’s highest honor presented by the president for service to the university, will be added to the newly renamed plaza. Book said Medallion Plaza will serve to memorialize acts of great service to Elon like those of students, faculty and staff during the past 18 months.

Book made the announcement following a recognition of the Ready & Resilient Committee, which has guided the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The committee’s efforts are truly symbolic of the larger community, each of you providing service at the highest levels and at the most critical time so that our university, our community could persevere,” Book said. “We acknowledge the hundreds of you who volunteered, the work of each of you on behalf of each other, the kindness and grace and most of all patience — even when we have disagreed — that we demonstrated during difficult conditions. You have inspired us.”

The Opening Day ceremony offered an opportunity to look back at how the university community has weathered the pandemic so far, but the main focus was squarely on the academic year that lies ahead and the opportunities the university will have to achieve the lofty goals of Boldly Elon, its 10-year strategic plan launched in 2020.

“We are different people than we were 18 months ago, we live in a different world and Elon is a different institution,” Book said. “What hasn’t changed from my seat is the critical importance of the mission of the university, the residential learning environment that drives our student success model and the graduates that we produce who go out to engage in the world and make it a better place.”

Elon will capitalize on what’s been learned during the past 18 months, and will build upon what students, faculty and staff have been able to achieve, Book said. Book acknowledged that challenges still lie ahead, but that the university is working diligently to be prepared to face them. “As much as I would like to cast off COVID and each of its variants, we know that’s impossible,” Book said. “Instead we are working to navigate our health in a new way of living and learning.  While I am confident that we will find our way, the journey will not be without turns and every now and then we will need to pull into a rest area and take a break.”

University Chaplain Kirstin Boswell offers the invocation during Opening Day.

The name of the university’s strategic plan — Boldly Elon — expresses the hope we have for the university for the next decade, she said. “Elon — confident that we knew we could be better, be stronger, more effective,” Book said. “Bold, in that our community could advance and collectively change our future. We’ve done it before and we are going to do it again.”

Book pointed to new initiatives and projects taking shape on campus, with perhaps the most visible being the first two buildings in the new Innovation Quad — Founders Hall and IQ2 — now under construction between McMichael Science Center and Sankey Hall and scheduled to be completed in 2022. Elon will welcome the first students into its new undergraduate nursing programs this fall in the School of Health Sciences, Book noted.

A team of Elon faculty and staff is now working on an initiative to more fully understand the power of mentoring as part of the American Council of Education’s Learner Success Laboratory, enhancing Elon’s standing as a leader in engaged learning. The university has launched the Black Lumen Project to support initiatives to support the experience of Black students on campus, and a new website for the Division of Inclusive Excellence provides an overview of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

Elon will mark the 50th anniversary of women’s intercollegiate athletics this year, as well as the 20th anniversary of Rhodes Stadium. The university community will look back two decades at the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to memorialize those who were lost and to more fully understand the impact of the attacks. On Labor Day weekend, Elon will welcome back to campus the Class of 2020 for a commencement celebration.

Boldly Elon also provides a pathway for the university to deepen its ties with the surrounding community, an area the university is already making headway on, Book said. This summer, students interned with businesses and organizations in Alamance County through the innovative Elon Interns Advance Alamance program. Announced this year, the Alamance Scholars program is a partnership between Elon, Alamance Burlington School System and Alamance Community College to provide a pathway for local students to become K-12 teachers. This summer saw a new grant from the Oak Foundation that will allow Elon’s “It Takes a Village” Project, a unique literacy and academic support program for K-12 students, to triple the number of students it serves.

Book shared that the university is seeing great success three years into its Elon LEADS Campaign, with $225 million raised toward a goal of $250 million, with a primary focus on increase student scholarships and access to an Elon education. Among the gifts to the Elon LEADS Campaign was a historic and generous gift to name the Dr. Jo Watts Williams School of Education. Made by her family, the gift recognizes the steadfast service of Williams, a 1955 graduate who would return to Elon as an educator, administrator and senior leader.

“Jo inspires us all with her great confidence in Elon and her understanding that embracing change is how we move forward to a more hopeful future,” Book said.

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To officially mark the beginning of the academic year, Elon continued its tradition of ringing the bell that in the 1850s sat atop one of the first N.C. Railroad locomotives and was later used at Graham College, a predecessor institution to Elon College. Ringing the bell this year was Jack Corby ’22, executive director of the Student Government Association.

During the event, Book also presented Kyle Wills, senior associate athletics director for business and operations, with the Administrative Staff Member of the Year Award. The award is traditionally presented on Staff Appreciation Day in May, but Wills had been unable to attend that event.

The president’s remarks followed the awarding of endowed professorships to three exceptional faculty members to support them as teachers, scholars and mentors. Receiving professorships were:

  • Associate Professor of Biology Jen Hamel — Japheth E. Rawls Professorship for Undergraduate Research in Science
  • Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Andrew Monteith — Distinguished Emerging Scholar in Religious Studies
  • Professor of Strategic Communications — A.J. Fletcher Professorship in Communications