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Emory Convocation celebrates start of new academic year

Steeped in ceremony and tradition, Emory Convocation took place Tuesday, Aug. 23, marking the official start of the new academic year.

The tradition, attended by the Emory College Class of 2026, provides the opportunity for students to receive words of welcome and inspiration from the university’s president, provost, chaplain and a distinguished faculty member, as well as benedictions from student faith leaders. 

As bagpipes played, Convocation began with a procession of faculty, deans and other university leaders clad in academic regalia. It concluded with the singing of the alma mater, led by the student a cappella group No Strings Attached and accompanied by the wow factor of the “Chemistry of Gold and Blue.”

In a special welcome to first-year undergraduate students, Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda offered reassurance that they are all “smart enough” to achieve great things, but also that it’s okay to feel uncertain — few of the faculty and other leaders in the room would have predicted their future path at the start of their college careers, he said.

“Welcome to Emory, Class of 2026. This is a magical place and while we don’t have sorting hats ­… I do know that you will find yourself and your community here,” Bellamkonda said, with a nod toward the Harry Potter series. “We look forward to helping you flourish both academically and personally.”

University Chaplain Rev. Gregory W. McGonigle, dean of religious life, offered the invocation, observing that “we have gathered here in this place from all corners of the earth to engage in a common endeavor of learning and service, to improve ourselves and improve the world in which we live. …

“May this new academic year ahead and the academic journeys of the Class of 2026 lead us into a future that is marked by more justice and peace, more love and compassion, more beauty and understanding than we have known.”

Gary M. Laderman, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Religious History and Cultures, gave this year’s faculty address, titled “Professing My Religiousness.”

Laderman told students about a “life-transforming religious conversion” he experienced during his junior year of college: “I became possessed by a primary sacred commitment that is with me to this very day: learning. Education became a religious pursuit for me.”

Religion is based on ritual and community, Laderman said, noting the many community rituals students participate in during their first days at Emory, including Convocation.

“I will end by saying what I believe to be true about my own religiousness,” Laderman concluded. “Despite all the academic trappings and the professorial vibe, I am now and will always remain a student, and I hope that is a lifelong and meaningful role for you as well. … I cannot wait to learn from you all.”

Emory President Gregory L. Fenves then addressed Convocation, offering his own reassurance and advice to first-year students — including that he also changed his planned major. Although he started college with a major already in mind, his interests would eventually lead him in an entirely different direction, which was a better fit.

This is your time to explore, question and figure out your own path, he explained.

If Fenves could share any advice, he said, it would be this: “Be open-minded to the people, the perspectives and the experiences that you will encounter at Emory. All of it, even the unexpected things, will end up being a part of your education here. …

“Wherever you’re coming from, whatever you’ve accomplished in the past, know that you belong at Emory,” he said. “This is your university now and I can’t wait to see what you will accomplish here.”

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