Students begin journey at Elon with New Student Convocation

Close to 1,700 members of the Class of 2025 and new transfer students gathered with their families and friends Under the Oaks on Saturday to participate in this university tradition.

Members of the Class of 2025 and new transfer students gathered under the sprawling canopy of oak trees on Elon University’s campus on Saturday morning to participate in New Student Convocation, a university tradition that marks the beginning of the academic careers of Elon’s newest students.

It was an opportunity to learn about an impressive cohort of nearly 1,700 first-year and transfer students, and for the students to learn more about the university they will call home for the next four years and that will shape them in so many ways. Joining these new students were a range of friends and family members who have helped them arrive at this point in their lives, and who later in the day wished them well and bid them goodbye.

“They are prepared. They are ready,” said President Connie Ledoux Book in her convocation remarks. “You believe in them, and so do we.”

The Aug. 21 convocation ceremony is the first bookend to the academic careers of the Class of 2025, with each student presented with an acorn at the close of the ceremony, a tradition recognizing “Elon” as the Hebrew word for “oak.” During convocation, these new students heard insights into how their Elon experience will shape them in the coming years and stay with them once they leave the university. A little less than four years from now, these first-year students 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.

In her remarks, Book focused on the word “what,” as in, “Wait … what?” “Now what?” and “What if?” The question “what?” is rooted in a curiosity that can play such an important role in a journey of lifelong learning, Book said. The challenges of the past year have elicited the response, “Wait … what?” and that has now turned to “Now what?” Book said.

“You may have thought that in college having the answers would be more important than asking the questions,” Book said. “Let me assure you — the power is always in the question.”

With uncertainty but also possibility in looking to the future, we are also in a period of “What if?” Book said. “What if you choose to live each day in wonderment, in seeking new knowledge, seeking to understand, so that you and this world might be different, might be better,” Book said.

Book explained that during the next four years, these students will be both challenged and supported by the classes they take, the experiences they have, and the peers, faculty and staff they will meet and grow close to. She challenged these students to adhere to Elon’s honor code and its pillars of honesty, integrity, responsibility and respect. She asserts that Elon is a welcoming place, rooted in kindness and concern for one another, and a place where sexual violence, racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance have no place.

SGA Executive President Jack Corby ’22

Looking ahead, Book tasked the new students will recognizing the opportunities that have been presented to them and capitalizing upon them. “Students, this enormous opportunity of an Elon education requires action on your part — a commitment to take full advantage of all we have here,” Book said. “It’s a simple truth about personal leadership that’s needed to be successful. The personal leadership that says, ‘I’m going to be focused on what I want and who I want to become. … We invite you to a powerful journey of questions and curiosity that will shine new light and new understanding.”

SGA Executive Director Jack Corby, tasked with offering insights about being part of the university community, turned to the wisdom of Peter Pan, who famously said, “To live would be an awfully big adventure.” Within that assertion are several keys to success at Elon, Corby said, such as looking at college as an opportunity to grow, and to take risks. “Find time to think about what is meaningful to you, whatever it may be,” Corby said. “When you see an opportunity in front of you that you want, run towards it.”

Corby encouraged these new students to take time to act like a kid, much like Peter Pan did, as a balance to the hard work they will be undertaking. This is also a time to learn the value of friendship and to learn to be flexible and adaptable, he said.

“Elon is a place that will push you and challenge you, both in and out of the classroom,” Corby said. “It is a place where learning from your mistakes is cherished, and your victories are celebrated. Do not be afraid of those failures — they make flying that much more special.”

Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley provided an overview of the Class of 2025, which has 1,600 students from 43 states and 26 countries, including students from the United Kingdom, China and the Dominican Republic. The class includes 85 students who are siblings of current or former Elon students and 22 who are the children or grandchildren of alumni. Within the class are 155 students who are the first in their families to attend college. The class also includes 34 students in the inaugural cohort of Elon’s new nursing program. Elon is also welcoming 74 students transferring from other colleges and universities.

Dooley explained the significance of the bell that the students passed in Alamance Building on their way to Under the Oaks for New Student Convocation, explaining that it had hung in the Main Building at Elon that was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in 1923 that nearly closed Elon. He noted that the Class of 2025 will be at Elon during the 100th anniversary of that fire, which was one of the university’s greatest setbacks.

“What your class has endured, and the history we will commemorate during your time here, mean that you occupy a special place in the history and trajectory of this university, which continues its long and steady climb from difficult days,” 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.”

Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Associate Professor of Education Randy Williams offered profiles of three members of the Class of 2025 who speak to the variety of experiences and accomplishments of this new class.

Katherine Scott from Villanova, Pennsylvania, has found joy in helping others, whether it’s working as the only female EMT volunteer in her community, sharing a meal and a song with those transitioning out of homelessness with Project Home, or working as a student leader with Speak Up, an organization that promotes healthy conversations around mental and physical wellness.

Luke Alessi from New York City has devoted his time and energy to combat the negative impact that e-cigarettes are having on youth. A change maker in his community, Alessi co-founded SAVe, (Students Against Vaping e-cigarettes). He spoke at town hall hearings and with media outlets, ultimately making his way to Washington D.C. to meet with members of the FDA. In 2019, Alessi met with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on the day he signed the legislation to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

Belle Sousa from Providence, Rhode Island, is a state gymnastics champion and varsity tennis player whose passion lies in health care. With multiple leadership positions in state and national health occupation organizations, she has led important conversations around mental health and substance abuse prevention. She joins Elon as a member of the inaugural cohort of undergraduate nursing students.

Elon also highlights the accomplishments of Elon’s extraordinary faculty during New Student Convocation. In his remarks, Provost Aswani 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, Elon faculty members have published nearly 20 books, made more than 400 presentations and participated in more than 20 artistic exhibitions and performances.

Jen Platania, associate provost for academic affairs and associate professor of economics, recognized faculty members honored earlier this year for their excellence in the classroom and their scholarship including Professor of Physical Therapy Education Janet Cope, Professor of English and Director of the Center for Engaged Learning Jessie Moore and Associate Professor of Finance Kate Upton.

After hearing a musical performance by Jahmai Bruce ’23, Paloma Dettloff ’22, Travis Foust ’22 and Daniel Conley ’22, 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.

Marley Lazo-Murphy ’25, a Business Fellow from Westchester, N.Y., said the tradition of the acorn and the sapling stuck out to her when she first toured Elon as a prospective student. She was excited to now be a part of that tradition, and appreciates the oak tree as a symbol of the university. “I really like the location of convocation, and the history,” Lazo-Murphy said.

That sense of tradition is part of what drew Cameron McGuire, a sport management major from Hendersonville, N.C., to Elon. “I enjoy the traditions,” McGuire said. “I think being a tradition-based school is a lot of why I decided to come here.”

Lazo-Murphy, McGuire and their classmates will have a busy few days as they move through New Student Orientation and prepare for the first day of classes on Tuesday, Aug. 24. “I’m just looking forward to getting to know my professors and getting to know my classmates,” McGuire said. “I’ll be able to get into my major as a freshman which I’m looking forward to, which obviously that’s not the case in every school.”