Rutgers welcomed its new first-year and transfer students on Friday at the annual convocation event held in the Rutgers Athletics Center on Livingston campus.
At the event, students viewed performances from various groups and video clips highlighting Rutgers history and traditions, as well as listened to several speakers including University President Jonathan Holloway, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Salvador B. Mena, Chancellor-Provost Francine Conway and Rutgers University Student Assembly President Gavin Mayes, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Mena was the first speaker, welcoming faculty and staff to the event as well as introducing the administrators and student leaders in attendance. He said convocation is especially significant this year as it represents the Rutgers community’s return to campus.
“This year, new student convocation has a special meaning for us all, as it reflects our shared commitment and hope and vision for being back in person, in community with each other,” he said. “Please take in the significance of this moment … we are back.”
Holloway spoke next, stating that since he joined the University in July of 2020 he has been waiting for this moment to finally see everyone face-to-face.
“Now that you are here I am on the verge of being overwhelmed,” he said. “As first-year students you have been anticipating this moment, too, curious to learn what it means to be at a place where so many choices lay in front of you that are yours alone to make. It is a lot to take in.”
Holloway said that as new students, they have already had to make a great deal of choices to get to Rutgers, but this is just their starting point and they will continue to have to make these choices every day at the University.
He went on to discuss the idea of privilege and how it’s necessary for students to keep in mind as they make these choices and live their lives at Rutgers, further explaining its significance with an essay from feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh who compares having unearned privilege to carrying an “invisible knapsack” of advantages.
“By being part of this academic community and able to spend the next phase of your life on the banks of the old Raritan, you are — every single one you — quite privileged,” Holloway said. “Consider just one statistic: When you leave Rutgers with your diplomas in hand — and this is something I expect each of you to do — you will have done something that fewer than one-third of the U.S. population has accomplished.”
In addition to the idea of privilege and the importance of recognizing it, he also discussed the importance of humility, using a metaphor of a lunchbox his mother gave him in his childhood to explain its significance.
“If you want to participate in the work of making this place ever better, if you want to take advantage of the abundance that surrounds you, if you want to make a positive difference that will improve your community, yes … bring all of that energy,” he said. “But also bring an awareness of your limitations, understand that your views are never sacrosanct, appreciate that today's brilliance might be viewed as tomorrow's error, recognize that everyone has the right to be here and to be respected and know that your privilege should always be tempered with an equal dose of humility.”
In Conway’s address, she also discussed humility and tied it into the importance of academic integrity at Rutgers. She said academic integrity is at the core of the University’s values and grounds students in all aspects including coursework, research and other activities.
Additionally, she said it is important for students to commit to honesty and transparency in all that they do at the University as it allows them to fully showcase their individual efforts as well as protects the value of the Rutgers degree. She was then joined on stage by a first-year student to recite the academic integrity pledge together aloud.
“The importance of thinking about others, not at the expense of yourself, but based on your own confidence in your own greatness and potential, is deeply connected to another important topic for convocation: academic integrity,” Conway said.
Mayes was the last to speak, discussing the significance of the in-person return to campus and how it demonstrates the resilience of the Rutgers student body. He said even though not everyone may realize it now, he believes Rutgers is the special place that it is because of each and every one of its students.
He went on to tie in his own experiences as a student at Rutgers, stating that he felt it was not the place for him in the beginning. Though, after getting more involved, he was able to make meaningful connections and turn his experience around for the better, and he encouraged everyone else to do the same.
“All around us are future roommates, future classmates, a future best friend, mentors, maybe even a soulmate,” Mayes said. “But now it's up to you to make these connections, meet these people and you will see Rutgers become your home.
Mena finished the ceremony by reminding students to embrace this opportunity to attend school at Rutgers and encouraged them to become engaged members of the community.
"Today, you have been provided with more important guidance on your privilege. Think about what you want your legacy to be, set goals, pursue your dreams and remember to ask for help and pass the common good," he said. "Become a lifelong learner, an independent thinker and a responsible citizen … Embrace what it means to be a member of a diverse community, help everyone feel welcomed, supported and valued."