Dr. Tim Downs, Niagara University’s vice president for academic affairs, stepped to the podium at 1:46 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31, and said, “Today, we welcome you to the Niagara University community. An important tradition in higher education is this convocation, the day you begin an academic career at a university, followed by graduation exercises a few short years from now. Believe me, it goes fast.”
With that, a new class of Purple Eagles took flight.
Freshman theatre major Marina Laurendi followed Dr. Downs’ welcome with soaring renditions of the American and Canadian national anthems, before giving way to a thoughtful invocation by the Rev. Kevin G. Creagh, C.M., Ed.D., vice president of campus ministry.
The New Student Convocation, now in its 10th year, is the university’s ceremonial welcome to the newest members of its community. Designed as a precursor to commencement, it is an opportunity for new students to develop a true connection to the university and provides a chance for parents to share in an important transition in the lives of their sons or daughters.
Among the faculty members addressing the freshmen was Dr. Jamie Carr, an assistant professor of English and the 2012 recipient of NU’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
“A world is opening up before you,” Dr. Carr began. “You are about to learn from creative, intellectual, compassionate scholars who have made a life of learning as much as of teaching. We believe in Niagara University’s vision for of learning, which is rooted in a long liberal arts tradition with an aim to develop the whole person.”
Dr. Carr’s five-minute oration also referenced the advice given by novelist Virginia Woolf to the generation of writers to follow her.
“That perhaps is your task – to find the relation between things that seem incompatible yet have a mysterious affinity, to absorb every experience that comes your way fearlessly and saturate it completely.”
This year’s alumni welcome was presented by Keith Sanger, D.D.S., a 1985 NU graduate whose daughter, Rachel, is an incoming freshman in Niagara’s nursing program. He spoke of the career and life preparation that NU offered, as well as the unique connection between its alumni.
“This university allowed me to fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a dentist,” Dr. Sanger said. “I had a belief in myself but I needed Niagara to teach me the knowledge, discipline and study habits to make it into a reality. Now, anytime I see an NU sticker on a car, I try to see if I know (the people driving it). If I see you out four years from now, I know we’ll have a special bond.”
Dr. Sanger’s emotional speech also told of admiring a girl from afar while both were Niagara students. And while he never garnered the courage to ask her out during their time on Monteagle Ridge, he bumped into her in Buffalo a few years after graduation, sparking a conversation by asking her if she attended NU. Dr. Sanger and that “Niagara girl,” Claudia (nee Tripi), were married for 21 years before she passed away in April.
“She will still be here guiding Rachel and us in our hearts and thoughts. Cherish what an NU education will bring you – a successful career, a spirit of giving, friendships, compassion toward others, confidence and maybe even a spouse. I hope it brings you what it’s brought me – lifelong happiness.”
The freshmen recited the NU Student Creed under the direction of senior Skylar Fairchild and were then presented with pins by Dr. Downs, who invited them to wear them often, especially four years from now when they receive their diplomas in the same location.
“Wear it with pride. We are proud that you are now an NU Purple Eagle. Welcome to Niagara University.”
Added the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., university president, “Let’s move forward taking our first steps into a new year. What a blessed thing it is, something very new. We don’t know exactly what the new year will bring. Let’s make it the best year of our lives. It will be a new year for you, a new life at Niagara University – God bless you all.”
Fall Orientation continues through Monday, with classes starting Tuesday, Sept. 4.