Nearly every seat in the H. Ric Luhrs Preforming Arts Center was filled for Convocation last Friday.
The Class of 2025 and other new students filed into the theater for the annual ceremony.
As per university policy, all atendees wore masks.
Residence Life staff handed out blue “Raider Life” T-shirts and led students to their seats. Two dozen chairs sat side-by-side on the stage for faculty and staff. Pictures taken barely 24 hours ago, faded on and off a big screen, showing the same students who viewed them moving in the previous day.
Faculty and staff, including the president and provost of the university, and student leaders led a procession down the main aisles onto the stage at the start of the ceremony.
“I’m so glad to be here. I’m glad you’re here. And I’m so glad we’re here,” said SU Provost Tom Ormond.
“It’s been a tough time getting to this particular place. And that walk down today was such a meaningful walk to me seeing so many people here,” Ormond said.
Last year, convocation was held over Zoom like many other important milestones for college students.
Convocation is one of two times students will be with their entire class in the same room, the university welcome week website says.
It marks the beginning of new students’ college journey and their official induction into the Shippensburg University family.
The ceremony is also held to instill the student pledge in new Raiders. An administration, faculty or student leader spoke on each pillar of the pledge: Uphold the highest level of citizenship, Contribute to the SU learning community, Learn from faculty and staff, Participate in academic endeavors, Help foster the climate of SU and Maintain a healthy mind and body.
Charles Patterson, the interim university president, had a surprise for students during his speech — he gave out what he said was his personal cell phone number. “I believe in family. My family is here with us today. But each of you are also part of my extended family,” Patterson said. “And today I want to share with you my personal cell phone number, just put Pres. Patterson in your phone.”
The keynote speaker was Allison Watts, an associate professor of management, marketing and entrepreneurship. She spoke to the students about two aspects of the pledge: How to contribute to the learning community and how to maintain a healthy body and mind.
Watts in addition to being a professor, trains future seeing eye dogs from when they are puppies until they are ready to work as full-fledged service dogs. This year, she is training a black lab named Raider, who accompanied her on stage.
As a puppy trainer, Watts introduces Raider to new stimuli in a variety of settings she said.
These new opportunities of learning will prepare him for his life as a guide dog.
Like Raider, students have an opportunity to take-in new experiences and meet new people which will add to their education, Watts said.
Learning doesn’t just take place inside of the classroom but outside of it as well, Watts said. “We often think of going to university to get an education. But while you’re here you can also participate; you can be involved, and you can be present.” Watts said.
Students can learn anywhere, residence halls, the sports field or even the dining hall. For this they need an open mind that will take in new information from a variety of sources, she said.
One way her own students contributed to the academic and SU community was organizing a fundraiser to raise money for the chance to name a future service dog. The dog’s name is Raider. Her students learned how to strategize and organize and about policies on campus, she said.
Switching gears in her speech, Watts said, having a healthy mind and body is important to doing well in academics. A healthy foundation will be helpful to students thought their college journey she said.
Watts encouraged students to seek mental health help like they would if they were physically sick or injured. A major difference from high school is that students spend much less time with faculty, so professors may not realize they are struggling, she said.
Faculty can help students, but students first need to reach out and ask for help so they can be pointed in the right direction, Watts said.
Raider’s journey to becoming a seeing eye dog also assists with some student’s mental health. Often when students stop by to pet Raider on campus, they tell Watts “that made my day,” she said.
“While not a substitute for professional help,” even small things like taking a moment out of their day to pet Raider or to stop and smell the flowers can bring joy to their lives, Watts said.
Convocation concluded with faculty singing the SU alma mater and Seth Edwards, student trustee, leading the new student pledge.