Convocation greets first-year students, helps them connect to U

Convocation occurred regularly between the 1920s and 1950s and did not return until 1997.

MBy Tom Conlon Marching bands, a presidential address and a free dinner await incoming first-year students who attend this year’s campus convocation.

The ceremony will take place Sept. 2 at Northrop Auditorium.

“On the first day of classes, students are keyed-up and stressed at the same time,” said Assistant Vice Provost Linda Ellinger, one of convocation’s planners. “This celebration is a great way for freshmen to have fun, learn about University life and traditions and to connect to their home for the next four years.”

Convocation’s purpose is to introduce first-year students, in a ceremonial setting, to the academic and community life of the University and enhance their undergraduate and first-year experience, said Lee Ann Melin, director of Orientation & First-Year Programs.

“The convocation experience helps students form their class identity, and student feedback has been largely favorable,” Melin said.

Convocation was a regular event between the 1920s and 1950s, but it gradually disappeared and students viewed it as passe for the changing times and different types of student bodies, Ellinger said.

The tradition was revived in 1997 by former University President Mark Yudof, who touted improving the undergraduate experience and restoring lost traditions as major initiatives.

University President Bob Bruininks has continued the tradition, providing $40,000 for the event from the office of the president’s budget.

For Gulzar Babaeva, a second- year law student at the University, this convocation will be the one she never had. She began classes as a post-secondary student in 1998 while at Hopkins High School, earning sophomore status by the time she graduated. The University chose her to share advice and a motivational message with students at this year’s convocation.

“Since I was never technically a freshman, I missed out,” she said. “This will be special to me – I think I’ll learn something new as well.”

Babaeva said she will encourage students to get involved with campus organizations, community service and to try new things they did not think they would be interested in.

“Freshmen are on the brink of a new and incredible journey at the University,” she said. “I think convocation is a great way to celebrate it.”

Vincent Pham, an incoming computer science first year who will participate in convocation as his class’s representative, said he sees it as essential to helping first-year students connect to a large university system.

“It’s the only time the whole class will be together during our time here,” he said. “Bonding early is important. We then go on to our areas of study and graduate from our separate colleges. I would feel cheated if I missed the freshman experience.”

But even if people do not get to meet or become that involved on campus, convocation is at least a welcoming event, Pham said.

“I don’t yet know the words to the University fight song, but I want to learn them,” he said. “Convocation will instill school spirit in us all. Then it’s on to the hard work of a freshman. But I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”

Tom Conlon is a freelance writer.

The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]