As the sun set Friday at the University of Connecticut, thousands of new students illuminated the Student Union Mall with artificial candles to kick off the 2016-17 academic year.
On a stage in the middle of the mall, Student Body President Daniel Byrd, lit a beacon’s fire and praised UConn’s accomplishments worldwide.
“People and businesses from all over the world look to UConn for the light that we bring,” Byrd said.
University President Susan Herbst served as master of ceremonies, introducing student leaders and other speakers. The Conn-Men, an a cappella group, opened and closed the ceremonies with lively performances of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” and other classic songs.
Football coach, Bob Diaco, energized the crowd, asking all of them to stand and to take pride in UConn athletics.
“In a couple of minutes this space, without light, would be pitch black, but darkness is not a thing. It only exists in the absence of light, and our football team is working hard to be a beacon for all of you,” Diaco said.
Many of the speeches praised the incoming freshman class, which features more valedictorians and salutatorians, as well as greater diversity than any previous freshman class at UConn.
“You are the most intellectually gifted, creative and competitive class this university has ever seen… Just your being here has made UConn better,” Orientation Leader Wumbay Gathru said.
Speakers offered advice to the incoming class on how to make the most of their next few years at UConn.
“Freshman year is all about finding your way,” Student Body Vice President, Irma Valverde, said. “If you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll be able to find yourself.”
Valverde said that in her time at UConn she has matured from a nervous freshman to a confident and independent young leader.
“This year, the classes you take, clubs you join and people you meet in a few years, you will remember as the people who made your freshman year,” Valverde said.
USG President Byrd urged the new students to challenge themselves personally and academically.
“Learning is more than just taking notes and going to class,” Byrd said. “It’s about listening to your friends to hear their perspective and ideas and finding the courage to share your own ideas.”
Byrd also urged them to get involved, speak up and pursue their interests.
“When we’re able to establish ourselves as individuals while finding what we have in common, we’re able to build a diverse university community,” Byrd said.
The Conn-Men gave another performance, and as the event concluded, Herbst invited attendees to free ice cream and cake on Fairfield Way.
“I loved the symbolism. I loved the candles. I loved the talk that led up to it. I loved the giant fire at the end,” freshman business management major, Matt Mocarsky, said after the event.
Mocarsky said he came to UConn for the school’s reputation and added that it’s location between New York and Boston was great for job opportunities.
“It was little weird because everyone was standing up, lighting candles and chanting things. So it was like a family but kind of a creepy family,” freshman english major Lance Castle said.
Castle was motivated to come to UConn to follow in the footsteps of older siblings.
“Also the ice cream is good,” Castle said.
The candles themselves were plastic with bulbs and a switch. Authentic candles are against UConn’s housing policy.
“I can’t wait to see what the next four years have in store,” freshman marketing major Greg Capozzi said. “And I hope the basketball team wins.’
Chris McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.