Hushed whispers filled the tent on the Quad as people took their seats.
Staff answered questions about the day's itinerary, parents swapped impressions of campus, and students buzzed about class schedules and new roommates.
But when the singing started, all conversations stopped.
Convocation, an annual tradition at Willamette University, celebrates and welcomes the newest class of undergraduates. This year’s event, on Friday, Aug. 21, kicked off with a performance by members of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, who sang songs passed down from their elders.
Then President Steve Thorsett commiserated with parents about the excitement and anxiety of watching children grow up and leave home, and the university chaplain, Karen Wood, greeted the Class of 2019 with advice and well wishes.
“May we seek the experiences that help us make meaning; may we gain the skills we need to fulfill our purpose. May we embrace both risk and resilience, conflict and compassion, exploration and ease, anxiety and awe,” Wood said.
“May our passion be tempered with grace. May our convictions be seasoned with patience. And in all things, may we find in one another good companions, faithful friends, trusted mentors and a community that supports one and all.”
This year’s guest speaker was Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor, best-selling author of “Born to Be Good,” and director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory. For half an hour, he regaled the packed crowd with insights into his research and offered practical tips on how to become happier.
“Happiness matters enormously,” he explained. “Finding happiness adds seven to ten years to your life expectancy.”
Yet, in today’s stressful, high-pressure world, the pursuit of happiness can seem harder than ever. “This incoming class works harder, knows more and is more perfectionistic than any generation before,” he said. “There are costs to that.”
To offset the negative aspects of such qualities, Keltner recommended students try to develop compassion, gratitude, awe and mindfulness – a state of non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of what’s happening in our minds and lives.
As Willamette’s newest students began an exciting new chapter, Keltner encouraged them to share their personal stories by writing poetry, keeping a journal or confiding in a friend.
“We have a narrative instinct to tell stories,” he said. “Your story has characters, settings, conflicts, returning motifs and constant failures. It also has opportunities for redemption. Those stories become the meaning of life.”