Back together again: Convocation kicks off a new academic year

Publication Date

Union formally opened its 227th academic year Sunday afternoon with its traditional Convocation ceremony, which helped welcome the Class of 2025, recognized student and faculty achievements, and offered a glimpse of what lies ahead for the coming year.

President David R. Harris speaks at Union's Convocation Sunday afternoon on Hull (Library Plaza)

President David R. Harris speaks at Union's Convocation Sunday afternoon on Hull (Library Plaza)

“This is the place that knows long histories do not guarantee long futures,” President David R. Harris told a crowd assembled on Hull (Library) Plaza. “It is the place that understands innovation is required as challenges and opportunities arise and transform.”

A year after the global pandemic forced the ceremony to be virtual, Convocation returned as an in-person event. As a precaution, it was moved outdoors from Memorial Chapel.

In his address, Harris told the audience he was grateful for the ways in which the campus community responded to the challenges presented by the pandemic and how he looked forward to the coming year.

“I am grateful that we have this time together to reflect on what is special about a Union experience,” he said, “and to pursue our core mission this year with even greater intensity, greater innovation, greater accountability to ourselves and one another, and greater joy.”

The president reiterated the College’s vision statement to “develop every student to lead with wisdom, empathy and courage, in ways large and small, now and across multiple tomorrows” and offered examples to support that vision.

He cautioned about the ways in which the College could fail to achieve its vision. However, he remains confident that the community will work together to meet the goals.

“This is the place that has delivered on our vision for 226 years,” Harris said.

He also touched on some goals for the coming year:

  • Make substantial progress on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). He added a fourth letter, B, for belonging. He pointed to the recent removal of the Idol.
  • Unveil U Journey, “in which we become more intentional than ever in providing students with the opportunity to develop the competencies and life skills that, along with academic growth and development, are keys to whatever you want to do later in life.”
  • Realize the potential of the $51 million gift from Class of 1980 graduates Rich and Mary Templeton. The gift, the largest ever for the College, will transform engineering and the liberal arts with the creation of the Templeton Institute for Engineering and Computer Science.
  • Increase the ability to bring lower-income students to Union. He teased an upcoming announcement in which the College and four other leading liberal arts schools have been selected by a foundation to receive 1:1 matches for new endowment gifts that support Pell Grant students. The foundation will commit at least $20 million to each school that achieves its goals.

“Let this be the first year of Union’s next chapter,” Harris said. “Let us define Union’s future path with wisdom, empathy and the courage required to deviate from what is easy and familiar.”

In the wake of COVID, Harris also announced the relaunch of the Union College Challenge, in which he challenged the campus community to learn to become more comfortable being uncomfortable. He asked what they could pursue in their studies, work or personal life that would push them in a healthy and responsible way.

Harris also welcomed the 566 students that make up the Class of 2025. The students come from 29 states and the District of Columbia. They represent 20 countries, including China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

Also at Convocation, Michele Angrist, interim dean of faculty and vice president for Academic Affairs, announced the winners of the College’s top teaching awards. Nicole Theodosiou, associate professor of biology, is the recipient of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Teaching.

Mary K. Carroll, the Dwane W. Crichton Professor of Chemistry, and Ann M. Anderson, the Agnes S. MacDonald Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are winners of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Research. This is the second time Carroll has received a Stillman Prize. In 1996, she was the first winner of the Stillman Prize for Faculty Excellence in Teaching.

The prizes were created by David I. Stillman ’72, Abbott Stillman ’69 and Allan Stillman in honor of their father and grandfather, Abraham Stillman.

Chloe Metcalfe ’23 and Adam Ginsberg ’22 received the Hollander Prize in Music, established by the late Lawrence J. Hollander, dean of engineering emeritus.

The pair performed “A Whole New World” from the movie “Aladdin.” Max Caplan ’16 accompanied them on piano.

Angrist also recognized the students who made the Dean’s List last year. Their names are on a plaque that will be displayed in Reamer Campus Center.

The convocation opened with remarks from the College marshal, Kathleen LoGiudice, professor of biology; Robert Bertagna ‘85, chair of the Board of Trustees; Stephen Schmidt, Kenneth B. Sharpe Professor of Economics and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Hayley Balogh ‘22, Student Forum president.

Fall term classes begin Monday, Sept. 13.