Freshman Convocation Ignites Sense Of Community And Intellectual Cultivation

Seniors often say they remember it like it was yesterday: hundreds of freshmen anxiously scattered across Upper and Newton campuses, dressed in their formal attire. Boys in blazers, girls in swapped high school homecoming dresses. Everyone is lining up for pictures with their new hallmates—the people they’ll someday remember as their “first friends in college.”

It’s freshman convocation day—a chance for Boston College’s newest Eagles to officially assume their places at the University and to take a step back as they prepare to “set the world aflame.” In the ceremony ahead, they will come to understand what it means to be a student at BC, and what unique themes, rituals, and ideas will incite the ambitions of the freshman class. Each year, Freshman Convocation kicks off the next four years for these eager first-year students, welcoming and preparing them for the journey that is their time at Boston College.

Many Heights articles offer insight into the development of the convocation ceremony as it exists today. Since the fall semester of 2004, Freshman Convocation has been a culminating moment for “Conversations in the First Year,” a series of discussions organized around a common text. The book is given to the incoming students through the mail or during Freshman Orientation. Each student reads the text over the course of the summer in preparation for the convocation speaker, the author of the text, who addresses a common theme, inspiring ideas and igniting the “eaglet” minds. This year’s Freshman Convocation, on Thursday, Sept. 11, featured Dave Eggers, author of The Circle. The ceremony addressed the theme of “The Challenge of Vulnerability,” struggling with “Relationships in the Digital Age: the Desire for Connectivity, Community, and Companionship.”

Each year, these carefully selected themes and authors are pertinent to that particular moment in history. When the Conversations first began in 2004, the chosen text was Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Paul Farmer and Tracey Kidder. Through an inspiring inaugural First Year Convocation, Kidder explained why he held up Farmer as an exemplar, outlining the medical work the doctor had been doing in Haiti since the 1980s. A September 21, 2004 issue of The Heights titled, “Frosh Welcomed in a Grand Fashion,” recounts Kidder “encouraged students to take part in a moral adventure of their own.” Kidder also encouraged freshmen to question conventional ideas during their time at BC. “The root of all that is wrong with the world is the belief that some people’s lives matter more than other people’s,” he said. Kidder was careful to emphasize that although it sounded overly idealistic, he believed that “one small group of people can in fact change the world.”

In the years following this inaugural convocation, the chosen themes and keynote speakers upheld the standard of inspiration set by Farmer and Kidder. In 2005, then-Senator Barack Obama spoke about the “promise of America,” highlighting the question of empathy. That is, “how far an individual’s obligations extend to the wider community” as well as the “forging of one’s own identity.” A Sept. 19 issue of The Heights titled, “Obama fills Conte Forum” highlights the increasing population of this recently instituted ceremony. “In addition to the 2,400-person freshman class, Conte Forum was overflowing with upperclassmen and other members of the Boston College community excited to see the rising political star. Because only half of the 8,600 seat stadium was set up to see the senator, people were sitting in stairways and standing in the wings of the stadium.”

The 2006 convocation ceremony continued with the political figure trend, bringing in Senator John McCain to speak about “transcending self interest” through lives and careers, citing our own nation as the prime example of an entity that “cannot sacrifice our values in the War on Terrorism.”

These relevant themes continued with Author Jeanette Walls in 2007, J.R. Moehringer in 2008, Ann Patchet in 2009, Daniel Wolf in 2010, Colum McCann in 2011, Dan Barry in 2012, and Bill Strickland in 2013. All drawing from themes of inspiration, personal intellectual cultivation, and community expressed within the chosen texts, the Freshman Convocation keynote speakers of the past eight years have established a tradition of innovation and incentive, “igniting” the hearts and minds of the freshman class as they prepare to go forth and “set the world aflame” in their four years at BC and the rest of their lives.

Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor