University of Vermont

Convocation 2012: New President Welcomes New Students

Students process from convocation to the University Green for the twilight induction of the first-year class. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Over the summer, the UVM Class of 2016 shared the experience of reading This I Believe, the collection of essays spun-off from the popular National Public Radio series. Sunday evening, they gathered in Patrick Gymnasium for their first shared experience in person, Convocation 2012, the traditional academic year kick-off/welcome ceremony.

As the new students filled the bleachers, a sea of color with all dressed in their residence hall “team” t-shirts, slides with members of the UVM community sharing their beliefs flashed on the screen behind the stage. To quote a few of these beliefs: “co-existence,” “my brothers,” “fun times,” “Jesus,” “rock and roll,” “long-distance relationships,” “taking a chance,” “good karma,” and “pretty much everything.”

As dance music suddenly blasted on the loudspeakers resident advisers kicked into a choreographed routine (a flash mob of sorts). It was clear this year’s convocation would go light on the pomp. Connor Daley, president of the Student Government Association, kept that spirit rolling with a casual speech, delivered from the middle of the crowd on the floor with a single spotlight on him in a darkened gym. Daley’s approach, something between a stand-up comic and an older brother sharing advice, made for a very personal welcome. “We don’t come to UVM just to get a degree,” he said. “We come to love to learn, to have passion and the desire to make the world a better place."

The main speaker for the event was new UVM President Tom Sullivan, who noted the “first-year” experience that he shared with the Class of 2016. Sullivan’s comments were full of UVM history and points of pride — from being the first university in the United States founded on principles of religious tolerance to the legacy of alumnus John Dewey to the work of Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, Class of ’72. Williams, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her leadership of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, is among the essayists in This I Believe.

Citing the university’s history as an institution that respects the beliefs of others in an atmosphere of inclusion, President Sullivan noted that such values are of particular importance in an era of American civic life when “not listening to others” is increasingly the norm. “Seek out those speakers on campus who have a different opinion, those you find provocative,” Sullivan said. “Push yourselves beyond your comfort zone. Open your mind.”

Following convocation in the gym, the evening continued with the march down Main Street, Taiko Drummers pounding out a rhythm, and the candle light induction on the Green.