More than 1,700 members of the Class of 2026 and 100 transfer students gathered with their families and friends Under the Oaks on Saturday to participate in this university tradition.
Shaded under the iconic oaks of Elon’s campus, the Class of 2026 and their loved ones were formally welcomed into the Elon community during the New Student Convocation ceremony on Saturday morning.
“Class of 2026, today commences your educational journey,” President Connie Ledoux Book said during the 2022 New Student Convocation.
“We are very protective of our community at Elon and it’s not something that we take for granted. We are deliberate and outspoken about the community values that allow everyone here to feel our welcome, a sense of belonging and safety. We know it is fundamental to creating an environment where you can learn and find a sense of purpose.”
The convocation began with a procession of the incoming students through the Alamance Building. Students passed the bell that hung in Old Main when the building along with others on Elon’s campus were destroyed by fire in 1923. In the nearly 100 years since the fire, the university has risen from the ashes to see tremendous growth and become one of the nation’s premier higher education institutions. The bell, which sits in the rotunda of Alamance, serves as an example of resilience.
“So, when you encounter a challenge at Elon, which you most certainly will, I hope you will come by the Alamance Building and touch that bell to recall the bright future we celebrate here today, and as a reminder to you of what it means to rise again, like a phoenix,” Vice President for Student Life Jon Dooley said.
Nadine Jose ’23, executive president of the Student Government Association, welcomed the Class of 2026 by saying that Elon would be a “liminal space” in their lives. “Liminal” derives from the Latin word “threshold.” Jose said Elon will be a liminal space in each student’s life, a time between “what was” and “what will be.”
But Jose had no reservations about the bright futures ahead of every student in the audience.
“Standing here today, I see a group capable of achievements beyond my wildest imagination. Whose collective abilities and experiences are diverse and rich, whose potential is palpable,” Jose said. “In this space, you are on the verge of something new. You found something here that ignited a fire within you, that felt right, that felt like home. That feeling inside of you is true, Elon is special.”
The overwhelming nature of Move-in Day, paired with the plethora of events and activities, had Ryan Campbell ’26 feeling slightly uneasy about the college experience. But the welcoming words and faces he encountered at New Student Convocation and advice that it’s OK not to be involved in everything helped to ease his worries.
“When I did the tour and they showed everything, it was kind of overwhelming and I felt like I have to do every single thing here,” Campbell said. “But now, I feel more like I can do something I feel passionate about and will excel at. It’s a bit more relieving.”
Randy Williams, vice president and associate provost for inclusive excellence, provided an overview of the Class of 2026 that includes 1,712 first-year students and Elon’s new 100 transfer students who as a group come from 45 states and 24 countries. Eighty-five students in the incoming cohort are siblings of current or former Elon students, 35 are the children or grandchildren of alumni, and 168 are first-generation college students.
Although impossible to fully depict the diverse and talented pool of students in the Class of 2026, Williams highlighted four students who are shining examples.
Nailah Ware ’26 from Crofton, Maryland, was the first applicant for the fall entering class. As a member of the Equity Leadership Council in high school and founding her own production company, Ware plans to combine those experiences as a music production and recording arts major to advance equity in the music industry.
Soriah Rodriguez Smith ’26 of Winter Park, Florida, balanced multiple commitments in high school. She was enrolled in an international baccalaureate program, was a member of a highly competitive varsity water polo team and worked two jobs. Smith is pursuing a psychology major with a future goal of becoming a physician assistant.
Erik Mason ’26 of Ardsley, New York, is pursuing an entrepreneurship degree at Elon and launched his own business as a high school freshman. Through his company, Divine Sneakers, Mason invests in and sells rare collectible sneakers, using the proceeds from his business to support youth organizations in White Plains. Mason was also a three-sport varsity athlete and coach for youth basketball.
Grace Muschett ’26 from Fairfield, Connecticut, played varsity lacrosse in high school and served as youth basketball coach. She developed a passion for teaching and learning as a volunteer with Scholars & Athletes Serving Others and will be turning that into a career, pursuing a degree in early childhood education as a Teaching Fellow at Elon.
“Nailah, Soriah, Erik and Grace, we welcome you to Elon and cannot wait to see what you and your classmates achieve,” Williams said. “While these four students are remarkable, each one of the new students seated before us today arrives with significant accomplishments and abilities.”
Drawing inspiration from the university’s Common Reading, “Factfulness,” President Book spoke about the hope she has in the Class of 2026. Conducting a human bar graph, Book illustrated the overwhelming positivity in the world that often goes overlooked. Hans Rosling, the author of “Factfulness,” argues that our instincts tend to be negative when things are more positive than they seem. Rosling doesn’t encourage us to ignore the negative things in life but to also focus on the improvements that have been made, Book said.
“This mindset … recognizes that each of us has the ability to advance and change the world. Things can get better, things are getting better,” Book said. “I like that view. It gives me hope and reminds me of our mission and the power of an Elon education.”
Faculty excellence was highlighted during the convocation ceremony noting Elon’s ranking as No. 1 in the country for undergraduate teaching. Faculty recognized this spring for excellence as mentors, scholars and community leaders were also highlighted, including Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies LD Russell, Associate Chair of the Department of Strategic Communications Vanessa Bravo, Associate Professor of Public Health Studies Stephanie Baker and Associate Professor of Anthropology Mussa Idris.
“I am proud of our Elon faculty and I know you will find them to be exceptional teachers and mentors during your time at Elon,” said Raghu Tadepalli, interim provost and dean of the Love School of Business.
Deandra Little, associate provost for faculty development, told students, “Over the next four years, you will get to know many of the faculty seated around you today. As you join the university, it’s important to get a sense of how you will work with them.”
This guidance stuck with Kate Becksvoort ’26, who was first uneasy about the relationship she would have with her professors. But after hearing about how helpful each faculty member is with all Elon students, regardless of discipline, Becksvoort was reassured that the faculty will be a huge resource for her to rely on during her four years at Elon.
“Everyone emphasized that there’s going to be a huge support system here and everyone cares about your well-being, where you go and how you’ll succeed,” she said.
The ceremony included a special musical performance from Travis Foust ’23 and Cecily Weinstein ’23 as well as the singing of Elon’s alma mater led by Polly Cornelius, senior lecturer in music. Students then processed through lines of faculty and staff members and received an acorn.
A treasured tradition of Elon for more than two decades, the receiving of an acorn at the New Student Convocation symbolizes intellectual and personal growth over the next four years. The next time the Class of 2026 will gather as a group Under the Oaks will be at their Senior Baccalaureate ceremony four years from now to receive an oak sapling – driving home the transformation they underwent at Elon.
“I feel so passionately that the world needs Elon graduates,” Book said. “We say that a lot around here, Class of 2026. Because the world and our country need the values an Elon education nurtures – respect for the richness our differences bring, the value of living a life of contribution and hard work, and making a difference in the lives of others – the values that will unfold for you during the next several years of engaged learning. You are our hope, our hope for a smarter, stronger and kinder world.”