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Currents: convocation

For the Class of 2014, Learning Starts on Day One

With temperatures near 80 and Hurricane Earl casting a humid pall over New England, Colby-Sawyer College welcomed 420 new students to campus on Sept. 3, for Convocation, the opening ceremony of the 2010-2011 academic year.

The second-largest class on record, the Class of 2014 includes students from 14 states and 11 other countries, including China, France, Nepal, Palestine, Romania, Sweden, Tajikistan, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

The ceremony also celebrated the class's arrival and honored the significance of the achievements students will accomplish working with faculty and each other in the year ahead. Absent were the 26 first-year students who left Sept. 1 to study in Florence, Italy, and Strasbourg, France, for the fall semester as part of the Global Beginnings program.

Colby-Sawyer 101 Answers Questions

While certainly a big day for students moving into a new life, it was a big day for their families, too. Prior to Convocation, while students learned about academic expectations, their advisors and resources at the college in a “Colby-Sawyer 101” session, parents and families attended a similar session in the tent that oriented them to the support networks available to students.

Shannon Farr, parent and family relations coordinator, led the session and encouraged parents to stay supportive as their students learn to live with new academic rigor, food and living arrangements. “Everything is new. Encourage them to embrace the changes and opportunities,” she said. “What we know is that engagement equals success. There are lots of activities coming up, including an activities fair where students can learn about every club and organization on campus. Encourage your student to get involved.”

Dave Sauerwein, vice president for student development and dean of students, said that students will continue to depend on parents for encouragement, praise and support – and that care packages and letters matter – but also encouraged parents to help their student know it is time they learn how to solve problems on their own. Open communication and a commitment to the Colby-Sawyer community will make all the difference in their adjustment to college life and engaged learning, he said.

“Help your student commit to staying on campus instead of coming home for the weekend,” said Vice President Sauerwein, pointing out that 88 percent of domestic students live within 150 miles of campus. Not only does going home on weekends prolong the transition to college and weaken a new student's immersion in Colby-Sawyer life, the practice flies in the face of the college's commitment to campus sustainability.

“If every first-year student goes home just four times per year for major holidays and breaks, it still puts 57 tons of carbon dioxide into the air and requires approximately $9,000 in gasoline,” he said, also urging parents to consider the brands of detergent and other supplies they purchase for their students.

Caren Baldwin-DiMeo, director of academic development, warned parents not to underestimate the intellectual challenges their students will encounter as they learn from professors who ask them to think differently and make connections between subject areas. “First-year students need to read differently, they need to manage time differently, they need to take notes,” said Baldwin-DiMeo, before explaining the wide range of writing, mentoring and tutoring services, and disability resources available free of charge to all students.

With change the theme, Pam Spear, director of Baird Health and Counseling Center, advised families that students may take advantage of counseling services during this or any transitional period to deal with homesickness, anxiety, loss and other issues. “Asking for help is a sign of growth,” she said.

Pete Berthiaume, director of campus safety, a “proud papa of a Colby-Sawyer alumna,” welcomed the parents to the family, described the work he and his eight officers do to ensure a safe place to live and learn, and answered questions about safety escorts.

As the New England Brass Quintet warmed up, the session concluded with a Q&A session and the reminder that sometimes experience is the only teacher, and to call anytime with further questions or concerns.

The Serious Stuff Starts Now

As faculty and the new students took their seats in the tent,the Marshal for the College, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences and Education Janet Bliss, called the ceremony to order and 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, “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.”

Vice President for Enrollment Management Gregory Matthews presented the class to the college community, highlighting its members' varied interests and accomplishments: one was very active with her high school's rifle team; another has completed 600 hours of hospital volunteer hours; one has worked in a Chinese orphanage; others have traveled to Belize and Morocco on humanitarian missions or competed on championship-winning teams. “Make these the four greatest years of your life,” urged Vice President Matthews.

Alumna and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Anne Winton Black '73, '75 and Kyla Pillsbury '11, president of the Student Government Association, welcomed the Class of 2014 before President Galligan returned to the lectern to deliver his first formal address of the academic year.

“The faculty and staff at Colby-Sawyer will be your guides on your educational journey. Up to now family, friends, and teachers have guided you; today, you may add us to the list,” said President Galligan. “It is our jobs as your guides to contribute to what you know, to add to your body of knowledge … to try and get you to intellectual places that you have never visited before … (and) try things and learn things and expand your horizons. It is our job to get you to be engaged in your learning … to make you responsible for your education. We can guide you and push you and challenge you, but ultimately you have to do it yourself.

“This education we will provide is not passive; it is active and engaging and we expect you to do your part … And, let me tell you something – we expect you to do it for yourself, too, from day one. If you are thinking the serious stuff starts in a week or a month or at midterms, you are wrong. The serious stuff starts this afternoon. So, be ready and go get it,” he said.

Recessing to the strains of “Canzona Bergamasca,” families' conversations moved to the drive home and finding their student to say farewell. With their status as college students official, the Class of 2014 broke into groups with their Orientation leaders, their guides for the first few days on campus before classes started on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

As President Galligan said, these first-year students will listen, and they will learn, and soon they will see things for themselves, maybe even disagree with their guides as their own perspectives evolve. Next year, some of them may become orientation leaders themselves, guiding new students and helping them to live and learn at Colby-Sawyer with confidence.

They'll go get “It,” whether “It” is figuring out their major, deciding where to study abroad, or how to start a club on campus. They'll get “It,” and they'll also get closer to fulfilling their dreams for themselves, with a little help from their guides.

-Kate Dunlop Seamans