Lynchburg began its 2020 academic year on Tuesday in a hybrid format, streaming live from a socially distanced Snidow Chapel. Across campus, student groups watched remotely as the University’s 11th president, Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar, welcomed new and returning Hornets in her inaugural Convocation address. Morrison-Shetlar said she hoped her remarks would “open the first of many doors” for the Class of 2024.
“The key to your success from this day forward demands that you leave your own footprint on this University,” she said. “While we hope to change your life and that you go out and then change the world, we also hope that you will change this place that will be your home for the next four years.”
The president went on to list eight “key things to do” during those four years: ask questions, think clearly and communicate well, be honest, don’t over-commit, be accountable for your actions, listen and synthesize, work hard, and lead by helping others succeed.
“Now, go out and take this key — it’s the key to your success,” Morrison-Shetlar said in closing. “What you do with it is up to you. Open those doors, step through, and meet the challenges head-on. Your faculty and staff are here to help you; the lock is surely going to stick once in a while.”
A video of the University’s Concert Choir singing “Hail, Alma Mater” via Zoom — all socially distanced in their own spaces — was followed by the traditional prayer offered by the Rev. Stephanie McLemore, Lynchburg’s chaplain, who was in the chapel.
Next, Provost Dr. Allison Jablonski stepped up to the podium to introduce longtime colleague, friend, and fellow biology professor Dr. Kari Benson, 2020 recipient of the Shirley E. Rosser Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Benson, who grew up playing in the mud and wanting to be a biologist — yet having no clue how one could get paid to do that — urged students to follow their passions. She also reminded them that it’s okay to not know what those passions might be just yet.
Her main “snippet of advice” for new students came from Amazement Square, the city’s children’s museum: “Be Safe. Be Kind. Be Thinking.”
“Being safe this year also includes keeping yourself and others safe from COVID-19,” Benson said, alluding to the usual advice one gives college freshmen.
“Please respect your surroundings by wearing a mask, trust science — it works and it can let us stay here and find a new normal. Masks, social distancing, hand-washing, and caution can help us stay here and move forward.”
Kindness, Benson said, allows us to meet people from other cultures and opens up our perspective. She also stressed kindness to oneself. “As you were reminded yesterday, Hornets have respect for themselves, others, the campus, the greater community, and their surroundings.”
As for the third snippet, Benson said, “Be thinking by broadening your perspectives on the world and seeing things from many angles. But don’t just blindly follow others. … You got here just in time. We’re in a world that needs some innovation and change. … You aren’t here to become what someone else wants you to be. You’re here to realize your own potential.”
There will be bumps along the way, she added, but that’s okay. It’s how you grow. Through it all, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude. “This COVID world is probably not exactly how you imagined college,” she said. “We’re experiencing limits. But if we embrace it all together, we can still get it done.”
After Jablonski officially inducted new students and faculty into the University, Student Government Association President Davion Washington Jr. ’21 offered a few words of advice.
College life is measured in moments, he said. At graduation, what stands out are those moments that define and make you “into the person you are destined to be.”
Given the”irregular” nature of this fall semester, Washington’s charge to the student body — acknowledging a “fear of missing out” on those defining “moments that you have always imagined” — was simple yet complicated: “[Don’t] neglect the moments that are presented to you, because all it takes is a moment. A moment to be a leader, a moment to be a follower. A moment to mold the outcome of this year.”
You can watch the full video here: