Fire flared. Flameless candles glowed. The full moon shone. On Friday night, on the lawn of the Student Union Mall, hundreds of freshmen watched the stage. Keynote speaker, UConn alumnus, teacher and MC Justis Lopez, faced them.
“We must be aware of our personal calling,” he said, pacing. “In order for you to confront your dreams, you must have courage.”
UConn’s 2018 Convocation, arranged for the largest and most accomplished freshman class UConn has admitted thus far, featured both Justis and USG president Ama Appiah as speakers, culminating in the traditional torch-lighting ceremony as Appiah encouraged attending students to “discover yourselves, share your wisdom and impact others around you.”
Justis echoed the sentiment, telling the crowd to confront their “personal legend” during their time at UConn and to practice tolerance and determination through their college career, calling upon his experiences at the university and even bringing students to the stage to share their dreams with the crowd.
“Show love… to your fellow students,” Lopez said. “You have to choose love over fear.”
This is the fifth year that UConn has run this version of Convocation, said event organizer Lauren Schaller, program coordinator for UConn Events and Conference Services.
“Convocation used to be a very traditional, formal academic event,” Schaller said. “Five years ago, we worked with President [Susan] Herbst [to change that.]”
The event, once held in Gampel, is now held outside (weather permitting.) New speakers, musical entertainment, flameless candles held aloft by students and the torch-lighting ceremony were implemented, Schaller said.
“We’re trying to create a new tradition with lighting the torch… to encourage students to bring their best light,” Schaller said.
The organizers rely on student feedback for the event, Schiller said, interacting with student orientation leaders for input.
“Students did a great job this year,” Schaller said. “[There was] a lot of coordination.”
Noticeably absent from the festivities was President Herbst, who has attended previous convocations, but could not this year due to a prior appointment, Schaller said.
The ceremony ended with the acapella group Conn-Men performing the Husky Fight Song, as well as a mish-mash of modern and classical songs while the crowd dispersed for the SUBOG Block Party.
Attending students said they appreciated the ceremony and looked forward to their first year at UConn.
“It’s been pretty great. I’ve been meeting new people,” Mark Brown, first semester ACES and computer engineering major, said. “[I loved Justis’] passion, his motivation. You could really feel it.”
First-semester business major Lena Maarouf said that her freshman experience so far has been “exciting.”
“I’m excited for what’s to come, what I’m able to accomplish,” Maarouf said. “All the people here have been really helpful. You can just start up a conversation.”
Others, like first-semester digital media and design major Shawn Finnerty, were braced for the long road ahead.
“I know it’s gonna be a lot of hard work and a lot of fun,” Finnerty said. “There’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of people to meet.”
As dusk descended, some students stayed by the stage as the Conn-Men performed, while others left to explore the campus. Though the Union and Fairfield Way soon became crowded, for some, it was welcome company.
“I come from a small town,” Finnerty said. “So it’s nice to be surrounded by people.”
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.