Dr. Michael Barnwell has a penchant for connecting with students. It’s a major reason why he was selected as the 2013 recipient of Niagara University’s Excellence in Teaching Award.
So it shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise when the Yale-trained philosophy professor related his remarks during Friday’s New Student Convocation to dating.
“If I’m going to make a speech, I’m going to make sure that it’s short and that it’s relevant to your lives,” Dr. Barnwell said during NU’s 12th annual ceremonial welcome to the newest members of its community.
“I was in your shoes once, I was a new student at school listening to the speeches, and the thing I was thinking about most at that moment was, ‘I wonder if that girl I saw at check-in would ever go on a date with me.’ And since I imagine some of you are thinking the way I was, I’m going to give you some dating advice,” he offered.
The purpose of Dr. Barnwell’s animated, counterintuitive, 14-minute message was to help students understand how studying at a liberal arts-based institution like Niagara will make them “interesting.” The liberal arts, according to Dr. Barnwell, will make students both interesting and critical thinkers, two important aspects in terms of both dating and job prospects.
After all, “Who wants to date dull people? Who wants to hire a dull person?” he asked. “They’re dull.”
Dr. Stefanie Wichhart, associate professor of history and coordinator of NU Beginnings, echoed those sentiments.
“We don’t just prepare you for a job; we prepare you for life, a career and a calling.”
The New Student Convocation, a Niagara tradition, is designed as a bookend to commencement, and an opportunity for new students to develop a true connection to the university. It also provides a chance for parents to share in an important transition in the lives of their sons or daughters.
Kalene Faricellie, ’15, president of the Niagara University Student Government Association, implored freshmen to get involved on campus.
“As you begin the next chapter of your lives, I assure you it will be filled with the most amazing experience and some of the proudest moments of your life,” she said. “I encourage you to take advantage of the academic offices available on campus. These departments will help you find your passion, guide you in the right direction and give you the tools to help reach goals that you never thought were possible.”
Faricellie concluded her remarks by shepherding attendees through recitation of the New Student Creed, a mainstay of the annual ceremony. For the first time ever, the freshmen read the words of the creed electronically, via the university’s mobile app.
The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., was presiding over his second New Student Convocation Friday afternoon. He used his time at the podium to recount a chance encounter he had with a student recently. The student was carrying a book that she called her “Gratitude Journal,” an instrument she used to record the things for which she is grateful.
When Father Maher asked her why she did this, she responded by saying, “Gratitude is the secret to happiness in life.”
Therefore Father Maher’s message to the freshman class was simple: “Write it down. Write it down every day, the things that you’re grateful for. Write it down in a book. Write it down by telling people. Write it down by serving others. Write it down and be grateful for the opportunities that have been placed before you.”
Those opportunities, as the Class of 2018 learned Friday, will help them to be successful – and, of course, interesting.
Per Dr. Barnwell, “We’ll get you your piece of paper. You’ll come out of here with a job, or job-ready. But we want you to get more out of your education than just a piece of paper. We want you to be interesting. Why limit yourself to just a piece of paper? You’re here anyway. Make yourself interesting.”