“Welcome home. This is your place now. You are Bearcats.”
With those words at the traditional convocation ceremony on Friday, Aug. 26, President Steve Thorsett welcomed the new College of Liberal Arts, Atkinson Graduate School of Management and College of Law students to Willamette University.
Noting that the national mood was “unusually dark,” Thorsett stressed that universities like Willamette are “fundamentally optimistic endeavors” and “education is our best path to the future.”
He challenged the newest Bearcats to create a better future for themselves, their communities and their country through “civic connection, duty, love of humanity and commitment to a more just world.”
“Make a difference,” he said. “Become actively engaged. Go beyond what feels safe or familiar.”
In their first few days on campus, members of the College of Liberal Arts class of 2020 did just that. Through the Opening Days program, they met roommates, explored an unfamiliar campus and city, navigated through new daily routines and relationships, and learned about courses and academic requirements.
Along with their excited chatter, their optimism and energy infused campus. Any nerves were soon allayed by the warm welcome they received from the Willamette community.
Starting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, members of the football team and other staff and student volunteers swiftly and efficiently moved new students’ belongings into the residence halls. The positive experience prompted many parents to post messages of thanks on the Willamette University Parents Facebook page.
“Just really want to give a BIG THANKS to the move-in crews. Awesome young men and ladies had my car unloaded in three minutes flat,” wrote one parent. “Such a wonderful experience. Everyone is very friendly and helpful. This is amazing!!!!”
As Opening Days wore on, “amazing!” sounded with increasing frequency across campus. By the time of the matriculation ceremony on Friday evening, new students could barely contain their excitement. They clapped wildly when Vice President for Campus Life Ed Whipple ‘74 took selfies from the stage of himself in front of the crowds of students. They cheered when Chaplain Karen Wood led them in reciting Willamette’s motto in Latin: Non nobis solum nati sumus. And they greeted ASWU President Liz Gill ‘17 with enthusiastic shouts.
After all the speeches, the class of 2020 headed toward Jackson Plaza. With the help of alumni from the class of 1970, they lit candles in glass containers and then carefully placed them into the Mill Stream. The bobbing points of light floated downstream, symbolizing the varied paths students will take on their Willamette journey.
Within hours, the live streamed video of the candle ceremony on the university’s Facebook page reached more than 11,000 people and attracted a combined 650 reactions, comments and shares.
Over the weekend, returning students joined their new peers on campus. They moved into their rooms, caught up with friends they hadn’t seen all summer and prepared for class on Monday.
All the Bearcats had come home.