University of Vermont

Ceremonial Events - Convocation

Convocation

2007 Convocation of the University of Vermont

Sunday, August 26, 2007
Photo Gallery | Convocation Video

Class of 2011 Fills Patrick Gym for Convocation
Release Date: 08-27-2007, Author: Thomas James Weaver

Several of the speakers at UVM’s Convocation 2007, the event marking the ceremonial opening to the new academic year, urged students to get involved, participate, avoid sitting around in their dorm rooms. Gauging from an impressive turnout by the Class of 2011, it appears this is one lesson UVM’s new students have already mastered. More than 4,000 members of the campus community — including, it seemed, the entire 2,440 students in the Class of 2011 — filled the bleachers and floor of Patrick Gym on Sunday, Aug. 26 to celebrate the new academic year and hear an address by Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.”

The leadership of UVM’s Student Government Association selected Beah’s harrowing personal story of his life as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone as the foundation for UVM’s summer reading program. The program is designed to provide a shared intellectual experience for new students and opportunities for discussion on various levels across campus during the first semester.

In addition to reading two passages from his book aloud, Beah shared his thoughts on the purpose and fundamental goals of education. He encouraged students to avoid going through the motions of college simply because it is what is expected of them or purely as training for a career.

“I want to change your minds,” Beah said. “For me, education is a way to discover yourself and your place in the world.” He urged students to question their own values and morals, respect perspectives that differ from their own, and develop the ability to compromise. He also spoke to the importance of learning about other countries and cultures. “You don’t need to wait for a crisis to know that other people exist,” Beah said.

The young author described his own personal educational journey during his years at Oberlin College, recalling his uncertainty at his freshman convocation ceremony, wondering if he would last even a semester. And he shared memories of sitting in a composition class, doubtful if his writing was up to college standards. The first assignment: “Write about how you played as a child.”

Beah paused, then said, “I thought, well, that would be interesting.”

Beah entered Oberlin with thoughts that he should be a doctor or an accountant, but he followed his interests to a major in political science and discovered his gifts as a writer. “Whatever you learn, also learn how to apply it to your life, to changing your community, to changing yourself, to finding what it means to be part of a greater humanity,” he said at the close of his comments.

Following convocation, first-year students gathered under banners with the initials of their residence hall and walked through campus and down Main Street to the green for the candlelight induction ceremony. Burlington’s Taiko drummers, standing on flatbed trucks at the front and rear of the procession, pounded out a beat for the procession.

After the twilight induction, the full evening continued at the new Dudley H. Davis Center with a book signing by Ishmael Beah and a “green carpet” premiere giving students a first look at the new building that will be at the core of campus life during their years at UVM.

Last modified June 15 2008 07:44 PM

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