Convocation, a tradition to mark the beginning of the new academic year, is an event that has welcomed faculty, staff and students to Drexel for the past 120 years.
This year’s ceremony, held Oct. 22 in the auditorium in the Main Building, began with a formal procession of faculty members in their academic regalia. The regalia signifies their degree, area of study, and university that they attended. The processional was led by the mace bearer, who holds the mace that signifies the official beginning and end of the ceremony. This tradition stems from the ancient Roman tradition of magistrates carrying a fasces, which is similar to a ceremonial ax.
“It’s like a big academic party,” Provost Mark Greenberg said. “And, like at any good party, there’s food.”
Before the ceremony, there was a celebratory breakfast for faculty and staff. Following the ceremony, there was a reception, which was open to all.
The event included a series of greetings for both returning and new faculty and students. The University Chorus and color guard both took part in the ceremony. The chorus sang the national anthem, “Alleluia” by Randell Thompson, and the first verse of the Drexel Ode. The color guard led the processional and recessional with the school colors.
“We remind ourselves that this is a new beginning,” the Rev. Sarah Colwill, director of the Asbury Ministry at Drexel, said during the invocation. “So we take this time to honor the new year.”
Each year, the provost and the president choose a speaker who is well-versed in an issue that is relevant to students and faculty. In the past, topics have included environmental concerns and discussing the importance of research. This year’s topic focused on campus diversity.
“Diversity doesn’t happen when we say we want to be more diverse. It happens when we come up with and offer ideas,” President John A. Fry said during his introduction of keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Hrabowski focuses on teaching math and science to underrepresented minority students. Time magazine named Hrabowski one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009 and one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. He was also chosen by President Barack Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
“We were fortunate enough to invite him, and he was gracious enough to accept,” Greenberg said.
Hrabowski spoke about growing up in the South in the ‘60s and his role in the Birmingham Children’s March that was led by Martin Luther King Jr. Because of the march, Hrabowski ended up in prison at the age of 12. He described the event as the beginning of his transformation.
“Perhaps my future didn’t have to be the same as my present,” he said, referring to his 12-year-old self. “What made the difference was this vision that my colleagues had to do things better than we ever thought possible.”
Hrabowski challenged faculty and students to accept and encourage diversity. He explained that both students and faculty are key to success in changing the world in which we live.
“You are a part of the American experiment,” Hrabowski said, his speech at that point directed toward students. To the faculty, he said, “You are a leader in producing leaders.”
One of Hrabowski’s key ideas was that higher education is a privilege that not everyone receives, and it is a privilege that opens many doors and opportunities.
“Where would we be if we had not had the privilege to be educated?” he asked the audience.
Diversity is an important issue because when diversity on a college campus is increased, it means that more people are getting the opportunity to experience education, he said.
To close, Hrabowski ended with a quote from Aristotle: “Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”