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Emory Convocation marks start of new academic year

Hundreds of first-year students and their families joined faculty and university leaders Aug. 19 for Emory’s 2023 Convocation, marking the start of the new academic year. 

The tradition, attended by the Emory College Class of 2027, provides an 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.

“The coming years will test you, but they will also reveal a lot about who you are, what you are capable of, what you can contribute and where you can apply yourself,” Emory President Gregory L. Fenves told students gathered in the Woodruff PE Center Arena.

“That self-discovery will expand your horizons, it will refine your goals, it will feed your confidence, and it will prepare you for a future of unbounded possibilities. And it all starts now — today — right here.”

Steeped in symbolism, the ceremony began with a bagpipe-led procession of faculty, deans and other Emory leaders clad in academic regalia, who made their way to the stage, where banners represented all nine schools that make up the university. 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.” 

‘A magical place’ 

In recent years Convocation has been held the day before classes began on Emory’s Atlanta campus. This year, the ceremony was moved to the Saturday of Move-In Weekend so that families could also attend.

As the ceremony started, Provost Ravi V. Bellamkonda welcomed students to “a magical place of scholarship, wisdom and knowledge.” 

“As a liberal arts college within a major research university, we have the talent and resources to make research discoveries, to produce creative works, and perform acts of service that do good in the world,” Bellamkonda noted. “In fact, doing good is deep in our DNA, and we’re so excited to have you join us.”

But being surrounded by such “amazing achievements” can be daunting, he acknowledged, and could lead students to wonder what their own impact will be at Emory and in their lives to come.

Bellamkonda reassured students that besides being “smart enough” — which they all are — the other factors that will determine their success are all within their control: “intellectual curiosity, working hard, being resilient, being good to people and inspiring trust.”

He also reminded students that they are supported by faculty, university leaders, staff, other students and Emory’s many alumni, all rooting for their success and dedicated to helping them flourish, both academically and personally.

“So you are not alone,” he said. “Do study hard, but take care of your well-being. Take time to think about not just what you want to become, but who you want to become. Here, we help each other succeed — that's the Emory way.”

Being present — and asking for advice

University Chaplain Rev. Gregory W. McGonigle, dean of spiritual and religious life, offered the invocation, sharing a lesson from the WISE interfaith preorientation program’s visit to a Buddhist monastery the day before, where they joined in walking meditation focused on being present in the moment.

“As we gather in convocation today and celebrate the exciting start of this new academic year, our new faculty colleagues and the academic journeys our entering students are starting today, I invite us to hear the invitation to be 100% in the present moment,” McGonigle said. “And whether we walk, dance or roll into the new year, lifting up our highest aspirations for ourselves and our world, and as we ground down, thinking about love, care and friendship that surrounds us.”

Professor Wilbur A. Lam, W. Paul Bowers Research Chair and professor of pediatrics and biomedical engineering at Emory and Georgia Tech, delivered this year’s faculty address, titled “Some Advice on Asking for Advice.”

While offering plenty of amusing examples of how not to ask for guidance (hint: don’t email your professor in the same terse tone you might text a friend), Lam encouraged students to “be polite, be persistent, know other people’s perspectives, and define the problem as bigger than yourself.”

He also reminded those in attendance that, while their professors and university leaders are there to help them, there are others who can also provide support. Asking students to rise, he asked for the lights in the arena to illuminate the audience.

“Look around,” he said. “There is a very good possibility that your best friends for life are in this room.”

Looking forward to an amazing year

Addressing attendees after Lam’s remarks, Fenves congratulated students and their families on “reaching this milestone moment, a day of many firsts.”

“Students, through your talents, creativity and dedication, each of you has earned your place here at Emory,” he said. “Your perspectives, your ideas, your family traditions, your dreams, your unique life experiences — we want you to bring all of these things with you and to share them here. You belong at Emory, and this is your campus now.” 

Fenves noted how feeling the energy and anticipation of the Class of 2027’s first days at Emory reminded him of his own early college days back in the 1970s.

“I remember getting to my own campus as a first-year — being away from my parents for the first time, having a really ridiculous haircut, feeling a little nervous but also excited, because I knew my life was going to change for the better. And it did,” Fenves reminisced, as his old yearbook photo flashed on the arena screens, along with a snapshot of him at a science presentation.

He also recalled his own first visit to Emory, three years ago, and thinking how much he would have enjoyed being a part of this “this diverse and brilliant community” when he was a student.

“As you launch your journey, know that everyone at Emory believes in you and your extraordinary potential. Together, we’re going to do great things,” Fenves said. “So welcome to Emory — your new home! It’s going to be an amazing year and I can’t wait to see all that you achieve.”

Photos by Brandon Clifton.

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