With the Wilbur Cross building lit up in blue behind him, University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas welcomed the class of 2024 to UConn virtually with the annual convocation ceremony Friday night.
Katsouleas began the ceremony by explaining to viewers how their college journey is beginning much differently than most, and how they will look back on it.
“[When you are older] you won’t remember much of anything I said, except maybe I was wearing a blue mask, and I said ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Katsouleas said. “Two things that define our moment in history.”
Katsouleas spoke about the values the UConn community has, and applauded the freshman class for choosing a top public research university.
“You’re part of a community dedicated to the pursuit of truth and knowledge, excellence, respect and equity,” Katsouleas said. “A community willing to speak out for its values, but just as importantly, a community willing to listen to perspectives that are very different from their own, as long as they are respectively expressed.”
Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty addressed the class of 2024 as well, describing the class as the best, the brightest and the bravest, as they enter their college careers during COVID-19.
“Our normal for this fall is not forever, but it is now,” Daugherty said. “Our now for now is laden with compromise and new behaviors that are essential for us to maintain our health on campus.”
Daugherty reminded students of the UConn Promise, and the guidelines that are in place, including wearing masks in public, maintaining physical distancing and monitoring health.
William Schad, president of the Undergraduate Student Government, spoke of the opportunities ahead of the class of 2024, and addressed uncertainties they may have leading into the year.
“The current social and political climate of UConn and the United States is unheard of,” Schad said. “But, we have a unique chance right now to change the future of our community, and of our country.”
Like the other speakers, Schad emphasized the unknowns of the upcoming school year.
“I wish I could tell you what this year is going to be like, but I can’t,” Schad said. “Nobody can. I do know that none of you are going to be the same person you are right now. Embrace that growth and change your first year of college will bring you.”
When speaking about his hopes of soon cheering on the UConn sports teams, Katsouleas echoed an unknown timeline.
“I look forward to the time when we can finally cheer on our teams from the courts, fields, water and ice,” Katsouleas said. “Perhaps at first in family pods and virtually, but eventually in person and together. I don’t know when that time will come. I do know it won’t be too soon, but neither will it be too long.”
USG Chief of Staff Damani Douglas described UConn as more than just a school, and the Huskies as more than just a team.
“Huskies are a group of people so brilliant, that this university gives out grants just for having ideas,” Douglas said. “UConn is a community where social distancing cannot keep us apart, and the wellbeing of our community brings us together.”
Douglas spoke of the climate on campus as well, and the sense of community he feels on campus.
“Huskies rally behind their friends of color, as we come to a point where it becomes clearer than ever that the deck is stacked against us,” Douglas said. “At a time when so much of this nation is in turmoil, for many, UConn is a place of stability.”
Katsouleas also used the opportunity to invite students to sign up for a one-credit university course, which will bring scholarly perspectives to anti-black racism.
Schad offered support to the freshman class, as they adjust to life on campus, and may struggle with both academic and personal challenges. He related the experience to when he transferred to UConn midway through his freshman year, and struggled finding his place on campus.
“To the students who are feeling isolated or alone during these times, I have been where you are,” Schad said. “What you may be feeling right now is normal, and you aren’t alone. There is a place for you here, somewhere. Sometimes you just have to keep looking.”
Katsouleas also spoke directly to the residential students on campus, thanking them for quarantining for the two weeks leading up to classes, and for making sacrifices to keep the campus safe. He also addressed students who will be learning completely remotely.
“Welcome and thank you,” Katsouleas said. “Your online enrollment is helping us to de-densify our campuses and make our entire community safer. You may be physically distant, but you are very much present in our hearts and minds.”