Behind the door marked “today” lies your future. Be bold. Push it open.
President Jeff Weiss, speaking at his first Lesley University Undergraduate Convocation, urged the Class of 2020, as well as transfer students, to challenge themselves to embrace difference, seek out people and ideas that seem foreign to them, and use their years at Lesley to advance toward the rest of their lives.
“Push open doors and explore what’s behind them,” he said, offering advice to the newest members of the Lesley community. “Expect to be surprised.”
The first surprise of the celebration was a sunny and temperate September day, as hundreds of students, their families and loved ones were rewarded for a grueling though trouble-free move-in day with a meteorological temporary injunction against the predicted rain and gusts of Tropical Storm Hermine, lumbering up the eastern seaboard like a freshman toting possessions to the top floor of White Hall.
But the balance of Undergraduate Student Convocation was the familiar and comforting coaching from faculty, administrators and fellow students, alike. While the day was spent displaying the collaborative spirit of the Lesley community — dozens of student Orientation Leaders and university staffers pitching in with the grunt work of setting up housekeeping in residence halls, furnishing directions and other information, and consoling anxious parents — the Convocation ceremony provided a roadmap to success.
The first step toward an auspicious experience, of course, was to bake cookies for Dean of Students Nathaniel Mays and his charges, the affable dean joked. But others conveyed less caloric and longer-lasting counsel.
“To be a member of our community, engage,” College of Art and Design Dean Richard Zauft said, “Ask questions. Share ideas. Show up and join in.”
Zauft told students and their families that they should avail themselves of the various schools’ coterie of advisers, student mentors and faculty mentors. “We’re here to help you succeed.”
One of those student mentors, Orientation Leader Stephanie Despins, agreed.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” was her advice to new students, when interviewed before the ceremony got under way. A junior psychology major from St. Johnsbury, Vt., Despins remembers her own misgivings when embarking on her Lesley career just two years ago. Largely because of the encouragement of Convocation, she found her way at the university, joined the dance team and, this year, became an Orientation Leader.
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Shapiro spoke directly to parents, sharing his own trepidation of dropping his daughter off at college this year. On the way home, he thought about the practical pieces of advice he had forgotten to give his daughter, but then realized she would figure things out for herself.
To students, he said that, as adults and newly minted collegians, they are in charge of figuring things out for themselves. That process starts, he said, with curiosity.
“Get to know your surroundings,” he said. “Get engaged and get involved soon.”
Associate Professor of Social Sciences Josh Baldwin urged students never to be afraid to utter three magic words: “I screwed up.” In addition to acknowledgement of mistakes being the foundation for lifelong learning, Baldwin said, those words “will buy you a second chance with almost anyone.”
Baldwin also pointed to the faculty members assembled to the side of the speakers’ platform and said, “Come talk to us. That’s what we’re here for.”
And, perhaps more important, “Take care of yourselves,” whether by working out at the gym, surrounding themselves with supportive friends or identifying and fearlessly pursuing a passion.
Provost Selase Williams, who earlier recognized that parents “entrust the lives of their loved ones to our care,” led the new arrivals in his signature New Student Pledge. He reminded them to make wise decisions, refrain from drug and alcohol abuse and (in the loudest applause line of the night) keep in touch with their parents, “And not only when you need money.”
With that, the students said goodbye to their loved ones, queued up for a convivial barbecue, and began to make themselves at home.