An energetic standing ovation is given to Convocation speaker Benjamin O’Keefe by UMass Lowell’s incoming class of 2021. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell)
As Chancellor Jacquie Moloney welcomed the largest incoming class in UMass Lowell history, a sea of blue that ran awash over sections 103-109 of the Tsongas Center, she stressed that the diversity of the campus was its greatest strength.
At 10:31 a.m. more than 3,200 freshmen and transfer students were officially inducted into UMass Lowell and another chapter of what Chancellor Moloney referred to as “an incredible time in the university’s history” was opened.
This year marks a conscious effort on the university’s part to reinforce students’ identities as River Hawks and to tie them closer together as a community. With the athletic department’s #RiseUp campaign to drum up interest in its fully-fledged Division I programs and the expansion of the term “River Hawk” UMass Lowell showed students on Aug. 31 that it is serious about its image.
As the university’s enrollment continues to climb to over 18,000 students, administration at Convocation showed an eagerness to promote the image of a River Hawk as not just the imaginary species of the school’s mascot, but a state of being.
“You are not just a UMass Lowell student but you’re also a River Hawk,” Associate Vice Chancellor Larry Siegel said. “We are pragmatic, hardworking, innovative… socially responsible, intelligent and altruistic.”
In recent years, UMass Lowell has made strides in both student enrollment and in construction. As Chancellor Moloney said in her welcoming speech, the university has built 13 new buildings in six years which include residence halls, athletic fields and academic buildings. These moves contribute to UMass Lowell’s ranking as the fastest-growing public doctoral institution and the fifth fastest-growing college in the country.
With the image of the university in transition, there was a much greater emphasis on grounding those lofty achievements with the promise of a tight community of likeminded students.
Commitment and identity were major topics of most of the speeches given at Convocation, and were reinforced more passively as each student was handed a free shirt upon entering the Tsongas Center.
With their identical shirts, each person in the Tsongas Center was united in blue with their fellow students. And as the speakers said time and time again throughout the ceremony, the community at UMass Lowell is what they believe is its greatest asset.
“No two people in this room have the same story,” said Student Government Association President Lisa Degou. Although she said in her speech that UMass Lowell was not her first choice college, she said that “it should’ve been.”
Those stories, keynote speaker Benjamin O’Keefe said, have a lot of power.
O’Keefe, a 23-year-old political activist who has worked with MoveOn.org and MTV, said students should come together and support each other through the highs and lows of college.
His speech, detailing his life as a gay, black poor man living in Florida who struggled with and overcame suicidal thoughts and anorexia, elicited a standing ovation from the audience.
The overarching message of the morning was successful; the audience left the ceremony more aware of what it means to be a UMass Lowell student beyond getting a degree. The participatory aspect of convocation had students vote Green Roofs to win a $1,500 grant to build more green spaces on campus, understand that they are not alone in their struggles and even cheer on a hockey game from months ago as though they were there.
A mere 59 minutes after being inducted into UMass Lowell, over 3,200 students were released from the Tsongas Center to begin their time as River Hawks and add to their own personal story.