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Opening Convocation sets Class of 2026 on pathway of ‘thriving and belonging’

First-year students approach McAlister Auditorium in a procession before Opening Convocation.

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It has been a week of firsts for the nearly 700 students who comprise Furman’s Class of 2026, including their first move-in day and first Fall Orientation. Today is their first day of classes. And yesterday, Monday, Aug. 22, they experienced another first: Opening Convocation.

Wearing matching purple Furman T-shirts with “1826-2026,” commemorating the school’s founding, Furman’s bicentennial class gathered in Paladin Stadium for an 11 a.m. procession down Furman Mall to McAlister Auditorium – foreshadowing another procession many of them would make in a few years, as one speaker noted, down the Mall in the other direction into Paladin Stadium for Commencement in Spring 2026.

Once the hundreds of first-year students filed in, they settled down for the traditional ceremony of reflection and anticipation for a new academic year. Accompanied by the Furman Brass Quartet and Furman Singers, Convocation continued with the procession of the faculty, along with their departmental banners, and the platform party, which included Furman University President Elizabeth Davis and the ceremony’s speaker, Michelle Horhota, associate dean for mentoring and advising and professor of psychology.

‘Thriving and belonging’

Furman University President Elizabeth Davis welcomes the Class of 2026 during Opening Convocation.

Opening Convocation is an opportunity to “underscore the purpose and expectations of academic life at our university, and to honor those among us whose achievements inspire us,” said Davis in her welcome to the assembled students, faculty and staff.

After an invocation by Chaplain Vaughn CroweTipton, Davis returned to the podium to expand on Furman’s Values Statement and the kind of atmosphere the university strives to promote.

“We are called upon to create a thriving community in which every member feels a sense of belonging, a place where people are able to do their best work, free from barriers that cannot be overcome,” she said. “Thriving and belonging are intertwined, and we have a responsibility to both.”

Davis also spoke of plans to honor two of the university’s first Black students, Sarah Reese ’71 H’14 and Lillian Brock Flemming ’71 M’75 H’14. Furman’s Sarah Reese Lyric Theatre will be named in honor of Reese, a world-renowned opera singer. The Lillian Brock Flemming Award will be introduced this year to recognize a student, faculty member, staff member or alumnus who works to foster thriving communities. Portraits of both alumna will be prominently displayed on campus.

‘Let’s make this year amazing’

Joshua Swope ’23, president of the Student Government Association, during Opening Convocation.

“What’s poppin’, Dins?” asked the next speaker, Joshua Swope ’23. “I am the president of the Astronomy Club … oh, and also Student Body President of Furman, but that’s not as important.”

Swope elicited laughter and applause several times during his enthusiastic address, in which he offered some advice to the first-year students.

“Celebrate your victories, don’t be afraid to ask for help, invite others to hang out,” he said. “When you’re angry at the world, remember you’re stronger.”

He also encouraged the students to “get out there and get excited” and make the most of every moment.

“There are so many opportunities to have, memories to be made, handshakes to be created,” he said.

To illustrate the latter point, he called Davis back up to the podium to perform an elaborate, multi-step handshake, ending in a hug.

“I’m proud of y’all,” Swope concluded. “Let’s make this year amazing!”

Special honors for students, faculty and staff

Beth Pontari, interim vice president for academic affairs and provost and professor of psychology, during Opening Convocation.

As the ceremony continued, Beth Pontari, interim vice president for academic affairs and provost and professor of psychology, and Jeremy Cass, dean of faculty, recognized faculty, staff and students who received special honors in recent months.

The Meritorious Awards for Diversity and Inclusion were given to recognize the commitment to Furman’s value of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism on campus. The faculty award, the Cherie Maiden Invitational Award, was given to Brandon Inabinet, a professor of communication studies. The Meritorious Award for Diversity and Inclusion Staff Award went to Stephanie Hesbacher, assistant director of housing and supervisor of the Resident Assistants for Inclusion, Solidarity and Equality (RAISE) program. Nathaniel Kapoor ’23, an anthropology major, received the Rosa Mary Bodkin Award.

Five Furman Fellowships were granted to students who proposed projects they would complete in their senior year. Taylor Andrzejewski ’23, Kylie Gambrill ’23, Ian McPherson ’23, Charles Miles ’23 and Bridget Scalia ’23 received the $10,000 fellowships, and will present their projects during Furman Engaged in April 2023.

Cass announced six faculty members who have been promoted to the rank of professor: Omar Carmenates, professor of music; Jessica Hennessey, professor of economics; Brandon Inabinet, professor of communication studies; Kyle Longest, associate academic dean and professor of sociology; Ashley Morris, professor of biology; and Mark Stone, professor of philosophy.

‘On the cusp of something amazing’

Michelle Horhota, associate dean for mentoring and advising and professor of psychology, delivers the address.

Cass then invited Horhota to the podium to deliver the Convocation address.

“Today’s a big deal,” she told the first-year students. “You are starting your college journey. If it feels like you are on the cusp of something amazing, it’s because you are.”

She asked the students to consider several questions: “Where are you coming from? Where do you want to go? What and who will help you get there?”

“It’s OK if you don’t have the answers today,” Horhota said. “The next four years will be a process, and you will have plenty of time to figure it out. And there will be much support along the way.”

Horhota, who oversees the university’s Pathways program, noted that the students would be the first class to participate in the series of one-credit classes each semester. In fact, the students would be attending their first Pathways meeting later that very afternoon, she noted.

“Pathways will be a place for you to take 50 minutes each week to pause and think about things that are connected to your college journey,” she said. “You’ll be encouraged to think about all of the questions I’ve asked you today. You’ll be asked to think about what you value and what you care about, what skills you are developing and what your strengths are. You’ll think about exploring majors and how to get involved. You’ll learn about resources on campus that are available to support you through the process.”

Horhota concluded by repeating the question she asked at the beginning of her address.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. “Me? I’m excited you are here. I can’t wait to see what we as a community will learn from you over the next four years. I can’t wait to see how you will make this incredible journey – your Pathway – uniquely yours.”

For now, though, after closing remarks by Davis, the Furman Singers’ rendition of the Alma Mater and a benediction from CroweTipton, the pathway of the Class of 2026 led out of the auditorium toward Furman Mall, for lunch with new friends. The 2022-2023 academic year was officially underway.

Video: Archived Livestream

 

Gallery: Opening Convocation 2022

Article by Jerry Salley '90, Senior Writer
Last updated August 23, 2022
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