New students officially welcomed in convocation ceremony

Students heard from President Ryan and College alumna Donna Byrd during Sunday’s ceremonies

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At convocation, new students are traditionally gifted a nickel and copy of The Honor Men Poem, written by James Hay Jr. in 1903.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

First-year students of the Class of 2023 and transfer students gathered on the Lawn Sunday evening for their convocation ceremony, which was followed by an additional ceremony inducting new students into the University’s longstanding tradition of the Honor system. New students heard from student leaders as well as University President Jim Ryan and Donna Byrd, an entrepreneur and College alumna. There are 3,920 students in the Class of 2023 and 623 transfer students of the Class of 2021 and 2022.

The convocation portion of the events began with remarks from Dean of Students Allen Groves and Ryan, who were followed by Ellie Brasacchio, a fourth-year College student and president of Student Council, and Shannon Cason, a fourth-year College student and chair of the University Judiciary Committee.

As convocation speaker, Ryan told students to step outside their comfort zones in order to grow as students and individuals — alluding to an anecdote from his own childhood in which he was faced with fear of Disney World’s Space Mountain roller coaster. Ryan encouraged students not to be afraid “to cross that bridge, or to build one, if it's not already there, and get on the ride.”

“The lesson I drew from this, the one that stayed with me, is that if you really want to do something, don't let your fear of the unknown prevent you from trying,” Ryan said. “For some of you college itself may be your own personal Space Mountain, which is why I'm so thrilled to see all of you here, and I want to congratulate you on making it this far.”

First-year College student John Ellard said he was particularly encouraged by Ryan’s speech because it reassured him that he and his peers were sharing the same uncertainty as they enter the year.

“He kind of talked about how even if everyone kind of seems cool, they may not be,” Ellard said. “Everyone's nervous and in the same boat. So that kind of made me feel better.”

Byrd was the keynote speaker for the second half of the ceremony devoted to Honor induction and advocated the importance of the community of trust to life on and beyond Grounds. Byrd was the founding publisher of The Root, an online publication aimed at the black community, and the founder of BlueButterfly, a digital startup that aids families throughout the funeral planning process. As a student at the University, Byrd received her bachelor’s degree in American government and was chair of the Honor Committee.

Byrd told students that the moral qualities central to upholding the community of trust are essential to leadership in society outside of the University.

“With honor and trust present, people are able to learn from one another, reach across the aisle, build coalitions and solve difficult problems,” Byrd said. “When honor is absent and trust breaks down, universities, corporations, communities and nations cease to function … Without trust, we don't have common facts, we don't have a common reality, and we are unable to create solutions to the problems that plague our society.”

Alex Spratley, fourth-year College student and the Honor Committee’s vice chair for hearings, introduced Byrd and likewise emphasized the significance of Honor to the student experience on Grounds. Spratley said the Honor system and individual students’ role as members of a community of trust contribute to their sense of ownership of the University.

“Leave tonight certain that it is yours and begin your college careers confident in the knowledge that you and your peers, united in your common sense of goodness and responsibility, will rise to the challenges ahead, both temporary and lasting, together,” Spratley said.

Similarly, Cason spoke to students’ ability to be empowered members of the University community when discussing UJC and the tenets of student self-governance. Cason explained the role of UJC and the First Year Judiciary Committee in upholding the University’s 12 Standards of Conduct, noting that a student who is accused of a violation will be adjudicated by an entirely student-run governing body.

“This is because we all know it's in our own best interest, or at the very least, are willing to reflect upon ourselves and the situation at hand to the greatest possible good,” Cason said.

Brasacchio’s message to students also touched on this sense of community and active contribution to the University by ensuring the new students of their right to feel a sense of belonging and ownership on Grounds. Brasacchio related this to her own experience of coming to terms with her identity as a first-generation college student, and how this experience at first made her feel unwelcome at the University.

As she came to realize how being a first-generation student so significantly affected her time at the University, Brasacchio said she a mission to advocate for low-income and first-generation students, and she began to create a conversation and cultivate a community around the issue. Brasacchio ran on a platform of accessibility in her campaign for Student Council president and proposed the creation of a new financial accessibility committee to address the marginalization of low-income students at the University.

“So to all of you, I want to be clear, you belong here,” Brasacchio said. “And you deserve to be here. Even if sometimes it feels like this Rotunda is looking down upon you and that these Grounds were not made for you, I promise you it is no mistake that you are here today.”

It is tradition for each new student to be gifted a nickel and copy of The Honor Men Poem, written by James Hay Jr. in 1903. The Seven Society made a donation of $1,777.77 to the First-Year Council that was announced after a first-year student read the letter addressed to their class. Students are also invited to sign a copy of the Honor pledge following the ceremony.

Second-year College transfer student Donovan Jones said the convocation ceremony made him excited to start the year — “definitely [to] try new things, get out of my comfort zone a little bit and try to find myself more when I'm here.”

Correction: This article previously misstated that Ellie Brasacchio is a fourth-year Batten student. Brasacchio is a fourth-year College student, and the article has been updated with the correct information.

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