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Currents: convocation 2009

Large, Enthusiastic Class of 2013 Begins College Years

Sept. 4, 2009 was a beautiful autumn Friday, and under a cloudless blue sky, Colby-Sawyer welcomed 440 new students to its picture-perfect campus for Convocation.

Half the class, excited to get established in their residence halls, had already checked in by 8:30 a.m., an unusually early benchmark that may forecast the force and enthusiasm with which this group will take to college life.

The largest class on record, the class of 2013 numbers 450 and comes from 17 states – including every New England state, going as far west as California, as far south as Texas, and as far north as Idaho and Washington State – as well as Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bermuda, China, England, Malaysia, Nepal, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Romania, Singapore, Sweden and Vietnam. There are also 18 new members of the Progressive Scholars Program, an initiative begun last year that seeks to bring more geographic, racial and ethnic diversity to the college.

Missing from the welcome ceremony were the 18 first-year students studying in Florence for the fall semester through Colby-Sawyer's new Global Beginnings program. Since their departure from campus on Sept. 1, those students have been busy getting to know their new city, sampling the gelato offerings, and honing their Italian skills before starting classes.

While parents waited in the enormous tent set up on the front lawn along Main Street and listened to the New England Brass Quintet, faculty in academic regalia lined up in Colgate Hall in order of seniority, and the incoming students formed into a serpentine that stretched from Colgate, across the quad and down the roadway to Best Hall.

At 2:30 p.m., bagpiper Lezlie Webster led the group toward the tent, followed by the new Marshal for the College, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Education Janet Bliss, who called the ceremony to order. When the hundreds had been seated, Assistant Director of Residential Education Karin Berthiaume sang the National Anthem.

President of the College and Professor of Humanities Tom Galligan welcomed the entering class, saying, “We come together today to celebrate your arrival, to officially begin our academic year, and to honor the significance of the work we will accomplish together in the year ahead … I hope you are as excited and energized as we all are by the many possibilities, opportunities and challenges that this year, and the next four, will bring for you and for us.”

After asking faculty and staff to stand for recognition, President Galligan introduced the stage party, which included senior staff members and members of the college's Board of Trustees.

Vice President for Enrollment Management Gregory Matthews then presented the class to the college community, saying, "Whatever your reason for coming is, or was, it is the right one, because it is your reason."

Pondering what is next for the new students, and what will make their college experience a success, Vice President Matthews concluded it is the people within the Colby-Sawyer community.

"Some of them will be our faculty and staff who will open up opportunities for you to grow and to succeed. And some of them will be the friends you will learn with and will live with over the next four years. Many of them will be lifelong friends, and you don't even know some of them yet."

Alumna and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Anne Winton Black '73, '75 said she was “very proud to know that the college's legacy is being renewed once again in each of you,” and predicted that the new students will “come to love the college and give of yourselves … in such a way that Colby-Sawyer will reflect those myriad talents and be better for them … you will succeed and you will find great joy in your scholastic and personal maturation.”

Kyla Pillsbury '11, president of the Student Government Association, welcomed the Class of 2013 on behalf of her fellow students, and encouraged the recent arrivals to get involved with the life of their college.

“If you are coming from high school, you may be used to the little cliques … or perhaps some of you are coming in from the workforce where there are different levels of people,” Pillsbury said, before reminding the class in front of her that in that moment they were on equal footing. “Talk to each other, help each other, get to know each other. I challenge you to learn something interesting about the people sitting next to you before you walk out of this tent!

“I also encourage you to get to know the faculty and staff here at Colby-Sawyer. They can be a resource for you not only in classes, clubs and sports, but most of them at some point or another have been through college, so they too have been in the shoes that you are about to put on! They are amazing people who are all here to help you, and to help make your college experience even better.”

In his formal opening of the academic year, President Galligan revisited the day his son Patrick left for college six years ago, and sympathized with the parents sitting before him.

“It isn't easy to see you, our children or grandchildren, go off to school,” he told the Class of 2013. “We miss you; we worry about you; we hope for you. Sure, we are incredibly proud and excited, but we are also a bit apprehensive. I mean, you are our babies and we want everything to be perfect for you.”

With Patrick's permission, the president shared the letter he wrote his son six years ago that held a father's hopes, encouragement and humor as his son ventured away from home.

Get up in the morning, the president urged, to parental laughter from the audience, and go to bed at night. Be receptive to what you like and to the views and backgrounds of other people. Fall in love with ideas, books, knowledge, a cause, and if you can manage it and are fortunate enough, fall in love with another person.

“Figure out what makes you happy and never settle for less,” President Galligan concluded. “I think the trick really is to live a long life where the thrill of people, the thrill of ideas, the thrill of service and the thrill of being compassionate never goes away.”

Recessing to the strains of “Canzona Bergamasca,” families reconvened on the front lawn to enjoy punch and cookies. After hours of driving, unpacking, organizing, fretting and anticipating, the long day was coming to an end for the parents on campus. With lots of hugs and their cameras' disks filled with images of the memorable day, they prepared to climb back into the fleet of vehicles that had covered campus since early morning and drive home. Now officially college students, the Class of 2013 broke into groups with their Orientation leaders. Classes would start Tuesday, and all they had to do was get up in the morning to boldly begin their college careers and, hopefully, probably, fall in love with their new life at Colby-Sawyer.

Read President Galligan's entire welcome address here. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the file.

Please send feedback to this or any Currents story to Kate Dunlop Seamans