The University Record, September 7, 1999

Convocation ’99 offers advice, encouragement

By Jane R. Elgass

MSA President Bram Elias (left); Royster Harper, interim vice president for student affairs (center); and Provost Nancy Cantor, get ready to lead members of the Class of 2003 to the Museum of Art and the Michigan Union following convocation exercises in Hill Auditorium. Harper encouraged members of the enthusiastic Hill Auditorium audience to enrich themselves by becoming servants. ‘Be of service [in a way] that’s worthy of a Michigan degree.’ Photo by Paul Jaronski, Photo Services
At the start of one of the most important transitions in their lives—from childhood to adulthood—members of the Class of 2003 were encouraged last week not only to find a place for themselves, but also to explore beyond their comfort zones, “to grab the opportunity to become someone new” during their years at the U-M.

Finding a place while simultaneously exploring is very hard, “and if you are nervous tonight, you are right to be,” Provost Nancy Cantor told her audience at New Student Convocation Sept. 1.

Among the intellectual avenues Cantor suggested the students explore were taking a course “about which you have no idea, find an approachable TA you could imagine being like, take a faculty member to lunch, get to be an expert in your discipline and then push yourself outside your school or college.”

She also encouraged the capacity audience at Hill Auditorium to do the same thing socially and in their extracurricular lives. “Take advantage of the diversity of life experiences” the U-M has to offer, she said. “Get close to people and learn as much from each other as you do from us [faculty].”

Others who addressed the new students also provided advice and shared tips for success. They included President Lee C. Bollinger; Sherrie A. Kossoudji, chair of the University Senate and professor of social work and of economics, representing the faculty; Bram Elias, LS&A student and president of the Michigan Student Assembly; and E. Royster Harper, interim vice president for student affairs.
School of Music student Steven Ball entertained those attending convocation ceremonies in Hill Auditorium with selected organ compositions and transcriptions, and an improvisation for the formal processional. Audience members were treated to the rare delight of hearing ‘The Victors’ and selections from ‘Star Wars’ on Hill’s massive organ. Musical presentations also were made by the Spectrum brass quintet, which provided the fanfare; a cappella groups Amaizin’ Blue, which did a take-off on 60’s and 70’s music; and performers, 58 Greene, which performed a song produced by one of its members; and Brenda Wimberly, who sang the national anthem. Photo by Bob Kalmbach.

Envision the future

As they begin their U-M careers, the students were reminded by Kossoudji that they are on both a personal and historical threshold, as they will greet a new century and new millennium this year.

While here, Kossoudji told the students, they will prepare for a future that few can envision today.

“This year, you will leave your childhood behind you and embark on a journey of unforeseeable intellectual and personal development. Where will you be in 25 years? Who will you be in 25 years? How will you change the world in 25 years?

“While you cannot predict, you can prepare. Your task at the University of Michigan is to envision the future and work to create it. In this we [the faculty] are your partners.

“Along with the faculty,” Kossoudji said, “you will have the opportunity to meet thousands of other students at this institution. The friendships you form here will be driven by the stimulation of intellectual need, common interests, attraction and serendipity. Perhaps more than the formal institution, you will find that these friendships will create your world in 25 years.”

Take time to . . .

Bollinger reminded students of familial links, citing, from experience, “the unspeakable pride and pleasure your parents feel in you,” a feeling that is impossible to express verbally, but expressed in other ways, such as hanging a favorite poster in students’ new lodging. “It is important for your parents and your family to have you here.”

The president noted that with the departure from home, most students will experience a “degree of freedom, of liberty that is going to be quite astonishing to you. In general, that’s terrific, but one must develop a second voice.” Uncontrolled freedom can be harmful, he said, and while the sense of liberation may be heady, safety also should be considered.

Bollinger advised the students that to have the best possible educational experience while here they must give themselves time:

  • To “experience the joys of defamiliarity, to consider what you might believe,” instead of just what you do believe. “This takes all your tacit assumptions and demands that you question them,” he noted.

  • To experiment and encounter different fields. “Don’t be trapped by your disciplines. Always be ready to move on.”

  • To allow their talents to emerge.

  • To experience everything the University has to offer, things that are not part of a course, such as paintings at the Museum of Art, performances at the School of Music.

  • To experience creativity, by “just allowing your mind to work.”