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By Andy Hirsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Tears filled Hannah Buendia's eyes as she stood on the Academic Quad Tuesday night, holding her lit candle, surrounded by more than 930 other first-year and transfer students.
Bucknell's traditional Candlelighting Ceremony was the moment she truly felt like a member of the Bucknell community.
"It was so beautiful, and pretty emotional," Buendia said. "Watching everyone pass along the flame to light each other's candles, I thought it really symbolized how we're all together as a class, and how we'll grow so close over the next four years."
For Dylan Davies, the moment was one he had dreamed about for some time. He grew up hearing stories from his father, Peter Davies '85, P'17, about all that Bucknell has to offer.
"My dad is an alumnus, so I've been visiting Bucknell my whole life," Davis explained. "And tonight was absolutely amazing. I've had a lot of friends who have come here over the past few years too, and they've told me about this night and some of the other traditions here at Bucknell. It's really special to finally be going through this myself."
But the journey that lies ahead for the Class of 2017 was not lost in the emotions of the moment. "I know that our faculty are going to challenge you," President John Bravman told the students during Convocation. "They are also going to do everything they can to help you become the most authentic, greatest version of yourself.
"But you have to choose. You have to choose to give your energies in the classroom, to put in the effort. You have to want to learn. You have to decide to get out of Bucknell all that you can. You can choose to become who you want to be ... or the world will choose for you."
"Faculty talk a lot about our desire for students to be engaged fully in the life of the mind," Psychology Professor and Faculty Chair Kim Daubman added. "We faculty are here to help you, but the great challenge is yours. Your challenge is to figure out how to pick from the smorgasbord [of opportunities at Bucknell] so that you are acquiring an education, and creating a life that is worthy of your highest aspirations."
On the eve of their first day of classes, the true beginning of their academic experience at Bucknell, the message resonated with many of the students.
"Listening to President Bravman and the other speakers, it really hit me," said Hannah Beir. "They emphasized that we can really become whoever we want over these next four years, and we should really take advantage of all of the opportunities here."
"I'm already learning to be more curious about things," Neil Harkins said. "That's one of the main messages I took away tonight: Have a desire to learn about everything."
After the candles had been blown out and the Quad began to empty, Phoebe Cush gathered with some of her fellow first-year students to reflect on the evening and imagine what lies ahead. "I'll look back at tonight in four years as something really special. It's something I'll never forget," said Cush. "I realize the next four years are so valuable. Being here is a gift, and a great experience."