Thousands of fresh faces filled Northrop Auditorium on Wednesday for an assembly of new students, who later meandered onto the Northrop Mall to join a jamboree of free food, merchandise and music.
Meant to strengthen connections among the Class of 2002, “Convocation — First Class” was the first such campus-wide gathering since 1969.
“The event was probably more about strengthening community than anything else,” said University President Mark Yudof.
Interest in such public celebration events waned across the nation during the era of the Vietnam War, explained Craig Swan, co-chair of the convocation’s planning committee.
Wednesday’s event was meant to be a public welcoming and collective celebration of the new year, Swan explained.
“It’s been a very successful way of making the University a smaller place,” said McKinley Boston, vice president of student development and athletics.
The day’s festivities began with a slide show, as 2,800 first-year students filtered into Northrop Auditorium. Meanwhile, a procession of faculty and administrators marched from the Washington Avenue bridge along the Mall, filing with solemnity into the auditorium.
University representatives from the Minnesota Student Association, Board of Regents and Alumni Association gave a series of pep talks interspersed with campus information and academic motivation.
The marching band stepped in after the lectures had ended, stomping down auditorium aisles, furiously twirling flags and drumming. Heralding an explosion of pomp and pride, band leader Jerry Luckhardt led students through a raucous rendition of the Minnesota rouser. The 288-member band then roused people out of the building and onto the Mall for phase two of the jamboree.
“I’ve never seen so many people all together in one place,” said Melissa Ritchie, a freshman from Wisconsin.
Radio K picked up where the marching minstrels left off, spinning tunes as students strolled sidewalks, socialized in packs, and formed an extensive lunch line in the middle of the Mall.
Chain-sawed ice sculptures of M’s and the year 2002 greeted people who entered the giant food tent for enough free hot dogs, hamburgers and soda to feed 5,000 people.
University employee Zachary Smith liked the event enough to stand in the free lunch line twice.
“It’s fun,” he said of the event, then recanted. “Actually, it’s kind of crowded and haywire.”
Other campus groups dished out thousands of promotional trinkets, from T-shirts and handbags to mouse pads and pencils, all emblazoned with University logos.
Students scooped up brochures and free gear by the handful at the numerous activity tables lining sidewalks on the Mall. A lucky few even garnered such goodies as a new iMAC computer or lunch with a regent during door-prize drawings sponsored by numerous University groups.
University international graduate students Paulina Cuevas and Justo Arenillas tapped into the spirit of the event as well.
“I think it’s a cool idea, I really like it — cool for socializing, and you get all these U-logo things,” Arenillas said from one of the activity tables.
“It’s like you can identify with your college,” Cuevas said.