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Candle by candle, tiny flames appear around the quad, beginning at the open end and then quickly spreading as torchbearers fan out. A circle of candlelight — each point held aloft by a member of the Class of 2018, or by one of the hundreds of faculty and fellow students come to welcome them at the threshold of their new lives at Bucknell University — soon surrounds the quad, glowing in the warm, still and clear late summer night.
As the last candles illuminated and the students stood together, Bucknell President John Bravman asked the class to pause, and listen.
"Listen to Bucknell," Bravman said. "Listen to your own hearts. Imagine where you want to be four years from now, and how, between now and then, you will build the best, most authentic version of yourselves."
The Convocation and Candlelighting Ceremony held Tuesday, Aug. 26, the eve of the first day of classes, officially welcomed the 940 students of the Class of 2018 to Bucknell, capping a five-day New Student Orientation Program designed to ease the transition to the University community. The extensive activities included academic, traditional and community building events such as Matriculation, Color Games and Welcome to the Neighborhood in downtown Lewisburg.
Introducing himself to the Class of 2018, Bravman encouraged the students to listen to their hearts, and to "embrace authenticity" in their time at Bucknell and throughout their lives. Doing so, he said, will provide some of the deepest experiences higher education can offer.
"By allowing yourself to be seen for who you really are, and by seeing others for who they really are, you will forge the deep connections that unite the Bucknell community in special ways generation after generation," Bravman said.
Bucknell faculty arrayed in academic garb, along with fellow students, added their own advice to the class for making the most of Bucknell and finding their place here. Kimberly Daubman, professor of psychology and chair of the faculty, said students can find "the person you are meant to be" by developing talents, creating good habits and, most importantly, cultivating an innate curiosity.
"At Bucknell [...] you will encounter diverse subjects of study and interesting people with a diversity of perspectives," Daubman said. "Personal growth is only possible by remaining open to new experiences, new ideas and different perspectives. Allow yourself to be adventurously curious. Allow yourself to fall in love with your studies."
Brett Walter '15, coordinator of the New Student Orientation Program, encouraged the newest students to nurture their curiosity outside the classroom as well, and to "take advantage of as many opportunities as you can. "Embrace the intellectual challenges you are about to encounter, explore all avenues outside of the classroom, and most of all, enjoy being a Bucknellian," Walter said.
Provost Mick Smyer, a professor of psychology, phrased the call to action differently, providing the class with a set of questions to help them discover their most authentic selves:
- What gives me deep satisfaction?
- What am I good at?
- What is the social structure that will support me in answering those questions?
"Fortunately, you're at a great university designed to help you answer each of these questions, to help you develop academically and existentially over the next four years," Smyer said. "As a faculty member put it, this is a student-centered place. The whole place is keyed to educate undergraduates at the most holistic level."
As the candles went dark, the circle reopened and the students set off for a first week of classes and a four-year journey of self-discovery. Some said they were happy to already feel a connection with their class.
"It was very inspiring to see everyone all together," said Jamie Cavrack, a first-year chemical engineering major.
"It made it feel like home," added Daniel Van Deerlin '18.
The newest Bucknellians were selected from 7,864 applicants representing 31 states and the District of Columbia and 31 countries, and includes 30 transfer students, 18 of whom are Bucknell Community College Scholars.
Classes for all students began Wednesday, Aug. 27.