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Currents: convocation 2007

Colby-Sawyer Welcomes Large, Diverse New Class

The tent set up on the front lawn of Colby-Sawyer for the college's 170th Convocation was bigger than the year before, but so was the incoming class. On Friday, Sept. 7, 382 new students came to campus.

As the college bell tolled under a hazy blue sky, orientation leaders lined up their charges to follow the traditional bagpiper to the tent. With their brand-new college ID cards dangling from Colby-Sawyer lanyards, and accompanied by the New England Brass Quintet, the class gathered in front of hundreds of family members, faculty and staff for the college's official welcome.

Flanked by sunflowers in the 95-degree heat, Vice President for Enrollment Management Greg Matthews greeted the new students and introduced them to the Colby-Sawyer community, and each other.

“Most of you already know each other through Facebook,” he said, “but isn't it great to finally meet the old-fashioned way?”

Matthews pointed out that this entering class, with its 25 transfer students in addition to the freshmen, is from 18 states and five countries. It is, he said, the largest class ever received by Colby-Sawyer.

“You are a special group of people with a diverse set of experiences. One of you has come from 7,700 miles away, and one lives within four miles of here,” Matthews said. “Several of you have served this country in our armed forces, and we thank you.”

As a “two-time graduate of this fine college,” alumna and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Ann 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.” Warning that the college experience would unfold more quickly than one might imagine, she urged the new students to savor every experience and make the most of their new identities as college students.

“Each of you 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.”

Quoting Marcel Proust and John Lennon, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Business Administration Elizabeth C. Crockford welcomed the new students on behalf of the faculty. Urging them to live by the orientation theme of New Beginnings … Endless Opportunities, Crockford emphasized that learning is a lifelong journey.

“The person sitting by your side has a totally different perspective on all she or he sees,” Crockford said. “Share your perspectives and learn from one another … One of the greatest obstacles to learning is to assume you 'already' know.”

David A. Sauerwein, vice president for student development and dean of students, informed the students and their families of improvements made on campus in anticipation of their arrival. He assured them that their resident assistants and orientations leaders were ready for them, and enthusiastically reminded them that college is a fun time as well as a challenge.

“I welcome you to the wonderful world of doing laundry, cleaning your room and waking yourself up,” Sauerwein said. “You will need to determine your own needs, prepare and do the work to succeed. You also have some relationships that take some work with the people you live with in your hall and room, your advisor and your faculty.”

Hinting at the growth and changes that come with life at college, Sauerwein offered the assurance that “the things that you find challenging now are eventually going to be the things you find fun.”

Those changes, academic and otherwise, can happen fast, he said, even within just one semester.

Zachary T. Irish '08, president of the Student Government Association, welcomed the Class of 2011 to a new chapter in their lives. Reflecting on his own experience, Irish said, “I would have never believed that [college] would go so fast. It only happens once; live the opportunity to the fullest … This is your chance to start over, so don't be afraid to be yourself!”

President of the College and Professor of Humanities Tom Galligan was the final speaker and took to the lectern to welcome his second incoming class.

Sharing lessons drawn from a frustrating experience on a traffic-clogged highway, President Galligan drew hearty applause in a display of regional pride when he revealed that his moment of enlightenment arrived on the way home from watching the Red Sox triumph during his first trip to Fenway Park this summer.

He knew what he was in for when he saw the Road Work Ahead sign – the dreaded merge, when two lanes of traffic collapse into one.

“The next 1 ½ miles took me about 30 minutes to travel,” the president recounted. “We stopped; we inched; we pulled in; people went by on the left to try and get as far ahead as they could before pulling in. People in the right stayed on the tail of the car in front of them so those cars in the left, when they finally decided to move over, could not get in. That just caused the people in the left to decide to try and fly ahead even further.”

And then the thought struck that college is a bit like learning to merge.

“Think about those cars going from two lanes to one,” President Galligan said. “The most sensible way for us to behave would have been to start merging as soon as we saw the sign that a lane was closing ahead … so we could move forward effectively together rather than to race until the end and then push or be pushed out.

“Now, think about what you will do here at college. You will be learning new things, new ways of thinking and learning, new information and skills. Certainly you will change and grow, but you will also remain the same person you are today. And you will be most successful in your college career if you find ways to merge those new ideas, skills and experiences into the person you already are and with your individual dreams and aspirations.

“In the coming years, you must learn to merge many different academic disciplines and what they have to offer you… we must all learn to look at problems from multiple perspectives… we must learn to merge those different views. To appreciate how things do and might fit together, how they merge, is critical.”

Galligan concluded the afternoon ceremony by telling the students, “We want you to merge a love of learning with who you are at the very core. Part of learning to merge is always being able to think for yourself and merging your current identity with the person you will become.”

To the music of “Canzona Bergamasca,” the new students of Colby-Sawyer recessed out of the tent. Passing between rows of faculty dressed in academic regalia, their families still mingling in the tent behind them, 382 “children” merging with adulthood walked back up the lawn to their new lives as college students, ready to take on the world of higher education. And so begins the 2007-2008 academic year at Colby-Sawyer College.

-Kate Dunlop Seamans