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Convocation launches a school year of dedication, discovery and determination

Ready to “underscore the purpose and expectations of academic life at our university, and to honor those among us whose achievements inspire us,” Furman President Elizabeth Davis launched the 2021-2022 academic year with the Opening Convocation ceremony Monday morning.

Between the excitement of move-in day and orientation last week and the anticipation of classes beginning on Tuesday, the ceremony in McAlister Auditorium was a moment of reflection and celebration for incoming first-year students – as well as sophomores who missed Convocation in 2020 due to the pandemic.

“To our faculty, staff and returning students joining us today, welcome back,” Davis told the crowd of nearly 1,000. “To our incoming students, welcome to your new home. We are glad you are here.”

The president’s welcome followed processional music from the Furman Brass Quartet and Furman Singers, while the center aisles of the auditorium became a sea of light gray and purple as students in their Class of 2025 T-shirts filled the seats. Faculty and staff in academic regalia were seated onstage in rows behind Davis as she addressed the students in the orchestra seats.

The ceremony was also a chance to reaffirm the school’s values and priorities, the president said, including the drive to “create a thriving community in which every member feels a sense of belonging.” That process includes a reckoning with the university’s history and a desire to honor “the whole Furman family,” said Davis, pointing to the creation of Joseph Vaughn Plaza and the renaming of two campus landmarks.

“Don’t be afraid to seek or acknowledge the truth, even if it is sometimes painful or disappointing,” she advised the students. “You are on a journey at a place like no other, with people who are dedicated to your success.”

‘Make it better than you found it’

Members of the Class of 2025 proceed down the Mall toward McAlister Auditorium for the Fall 2021 Opening Convocation.

Members of the Class of 2025 proceed down the Mall toward McAlister Auditorium for the Fall 2021 Opening Convocation.

Furman’s recent students may “forever be known as the COVID classes,” said Student Government Association President Asha Marie Larson-Baldwin ’22. “But I’m proud to acknowledge and celebrate our courage, resilience and determination to move forward.”

She also frankly acknowledged some of the personal challenges she has faced along the way.

“There have been times that I wondered if Furman was really where I was meant to call home,” she told the audience. “But my struggles here have been met with incredible opportunities for growth – meaningful mentorship from professors and staff members, internships, study abroad experiences, research opportunities, leadership positions and so much more.”

Her advice to her peers: Dive into what your college has to offer.

“This community is just as much yours as it is mine and every other student’s,” she said. “So shape it. Change it. Make it better than how you found it. Build community, stand for inclusion and justice, and cultivate a sense of belonging in all the spaces you find yourself in.”

‘Celebrating the entire Furman family’

The dedication to inclusion was reflected in the (literal) dedication and renaming of two campus landmarks, shown in a video presentation during the Convocation ceremony.

The first dedication was for a building that houses classrooms and offices at the heart of campus, originally known as James C. Furman Hall. Furman, the school’s first president, helped build and save the university in the aftermath of the Civil War. He was also – as a new dedication plaque on the site acknowledges – a proponent of slavery and secession. The removal of “James C.” makes the building’s name simply Furman Hall, which “now celebrates the diverse community of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who study, work and gather here,” the new plaque proclaims.

Additionally, the lakeside housing complex was renamed in honor of Clark Murphy, a groundskeeper, janitor and handyman at the Greenville Woman’s College during the late 1880s. That college merged with Furman University during the 1930s, with both campuses eventually united in the school’s current location. The renaming “honors the unsung men and women who have labored throughout the long history of this institution,” reads the site’s new dedication plaque.

‘A time of renewal and reinvention’

Marian E. Strobel, the William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History, delivers the address at the Fall 2021 Opening Convocation ceremony.

Marian E. Strobel, the William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History, delivers the address at the Fall 2021 Opening Convocation ceremony.

After special recognitions and awards for faculty and students – including the announcement of the promotion of nine faculty members to full professorships – Marian E. Strobel, the William Montgomery Burnett Professor of History, began her Convocation address by celebrating the long-anticipated in-person return to campus.

“Often, both faculty and students greet the advent of the fall semester with a certain degree of dread,” she said. “In the past, the summer just seemed too short. But not this year.”

Although the 2020-2021 school year was challenging, Strobel said, “you – and the faculty – survived, and that is a fact to be celebrated.”

Be adventurous, Strobel advised the students. “That means partake in The Furman Advantage. Do independent research, sign up for an exciting internship or embark on an exotic MayX Study Away program.”

Also, “get to know your professors,” she said. “The faculty are nice. We are not all that intimidating. We like you and want to help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom and maturity.”

The beginning of this school year is “a time of renewal and reinvention,” noted Strobel – not only for the university, but also for each first-year student.

“Forget the baggage you accumulated in high school and begin anew,” she said. “Become a new person with an open mind to once-foreign concepts and peoples.”

Davis picked up on that theme in her closing remarks.

“Remember why you’re here: to discover and to learn and to grow,” she said. “Challenge and support each other to think differently, to hear and appreciate other points of view, and to constantly seek the truth, regardless of where that search may lead.”

After a performance of the Alma Mater led by Randall Umstead, chair of the music department, followed by a benediction and a postlude, the campus community was invited to lunch on the Mall. Another school year at Furman was officially underway.

Gallery: Fall 2021 Opening Convocation

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Last updated August 23, 2021
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director