Yesenia Gallardo ’10 knows what it’s like to start a new company, achieve recognition for it, fail — and still try again.
As guest speaker at convocation on Thursday, Gallardo told incoming students to be courageous and hold themselves accountable to their dreams. Above all, they must take risks.
Gallardo took risks herself after she graduated from Willamette. In 2015, she co-founded edible-insect company Poda Foods while she attended Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She rode an emotional rollercoaster — she won an award for most innovative startup, but the company failed so she worked in a grocery store to make ends meet and ultimately dissolved the company — but the only thing that mattered was being “resilient enough to get through it.” Today, she has founded two other food-based startups and also works for a nonprofit that helps healthcare institutions source more sustainable and local food.
With every decision, she said, erase expectations and “walk into the future one step at a time.”
These new Bearcats took their first step as official Willamette students on Wednesday morning for Move-In Day. Dance music filled the air as student athletes, American Studies Program (ASP) students and other Willamette volunteers picked up new students’ belongings curbside and moved them into the residence halls. Families and students who traveled from afar said having help moving was amazing, easy and a relief — they were more excited than emotional.
Henry Tillman ’21, a Willamette linebacker, clutched a box and climbed the stairs in Matthews Hall. “I’m a freshman and I had help this year moving in,” he said. “It feels good to give back.”
Residence hall move-in kicks off the Opening Days (OD) program. After that, first-year and transfer students are introduced to every part of the college experience — from navigating new daily routines on an unfamiliar campus and understanding academic requirements to meeting their roommates and exploring the city.
Students settled in and picked up last-minute essentials at the Panhellenic Council Rummage Sale — then later gathered with their families on the Quad to watch OD leaders rush into the audience for a high-energy, synchronized dance. Later in the week, students met with President Steve Thorsett over cookies and checked out a few new events, including joining Rabbi Gary Ellison for kiddush and challah to learn about the university’s Jewish Student Union.
First generation students and their families had the opportunity to attend “First-In-Family!”, a welcome reception that introduces students and families less familiar to the higher education environment to the Willamette community. These connections ensure students “get everything they can from the next four years,” from relationships with faculty to help with financial aid, career development and housing, said Mat Barreiro, director of the learning center.
But the centerpiece of events happened Thursday, when students gathered for a special Willamette tradition: matriculation.
Bagpipe music guided students into the Quad as dusk fell. Each student was given a candle. Chaplain Karen Wood greeted students and encouraged them to be compassionate to others and a bit of a Bearcat — not fierce like the mascot, but more like the “cute, cuddly, popcorn-smelling” binturong Bearcats are named after.
“Look at your neighbor,” she said. “At some point in the next four years, you’re going to need some help from the person next to you, and sometime you’re going to offer some help … that’s how we do it here.”
As she does every year, she taught them the university’s Latin motto, word by word: Non nobis solum nati sumus, or “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”
After welcome remarks from Wood, vice president and dean of students Edward Whipple and Associated Students of Willamette president Jack Wellman, the students grabbed their candles, shook President Thorsett’s hand and filed towards the Mill Stream. Their candles were lit by alumni and other members of the Willamette community, and they released them into the slack water amidst cheers and applause.
First-year student Heather Pincus said she placed her past in the candle and let it go. “This is a new beginning,” she said. At that, she joined other students and walked into the night.