2019 Convocation respects the old, rings in the new


President Philomena Mantella gave her first Convocation address Aug. 23. The event featured a plethora of speakers and a new tradition to welcome students. GVL | AMY MCNEEL

Amy McNeel, Associate Editor

While Convocation has been a Grand Valley State University tradition since the school’s beginning, the 2019 ceremony presented a new class, a new president and a new Laker tradition.

On Aug. 23, thousands of freshmen and their Transitions leaders funneled into the Fieldhouse Arena for the 2019 Convocation ceremony. Placing the ceremony at the end of move-in week and right before classes start allows faculty and staff to welcome freshmen to the GVSU community. This year, speakers included Maria Cimitile, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, University Academic Senate Chair Felix Ngassa, alumni representative Kyra Bolden, Student Body President Eric-John Szczepaniak and President Philomena Mantella. 

Keeping with tradition, the ceremony started with faculty, staff, administration and Board of Trustees members filing into the arena in full academic regalia. Following their warm welcome, Cimitile greeted attendees and set the tone for the rest of Convocation. During her introduction, she explained the uniqueness of GVSU and the benefits of a liberal education. 

“The foundational principle of liberal education is freedom – to be unshackled from prejudicial and situational constraints, to think and write critically, creatively and ethically,” Cimitile said. “Please remember: an education is not something given, but something earned. You must grab every bit of it and demand even more.”

Following speeches from Cimitile and Ngassa, GVSU alumna and State Represntative Kyra Bolden took the stage. Bolden is a 2010 graduate currently serving her first term as State Representative for Michigan’s 35th House District. Attending as the keynote speaker, Bolden represented the endless possibilities available to GVSU students. 

“The memories and relationships I made during my time here shaped me into the woman and the public servant I am today,” Bolden said. “Whether you’re at the beginning of your journey here as a freshman or nearing the end, preparing to graduate, or you are faculty, I challenge you to never take your time here or the people you meet along the way for granted.” 

President Mantella closed the ceremony, which was her first Convocation, with a message for the class of 2023. As a new member of the GVSU community, Mantella shares a special connection with this year’s freshmen. 

“You, my friends, class of 2023, you are in the driver’s seat,” Mantella said. “You are steering the ship. You are empowered to create your own impact and your own success. How much you learn, how much you grow, is in fact in your hands.” 

Mantella also introduced a new tradition, in which four members of the GVSU community took turns lighting each of the letters in “GVSU.” To introduce the tradition, Mantella quoted Socrates: “Education is a kindling flame.” 

“Throughout the ceremony, leaders of the university community have symbolically marked our commitment to your success and connection with one another,” Mantella said. “We’ve been creating the light of the Laker effect.”

Once the last letter was lit up, Mantella invited the audience to stand and turn on their phone flashlights. A sea of glittering light was the result. 

“This illuminated network will symbolize purpose in your journey and commitment to each other’s journey as one community,” Mantella said. “Together, let’s reflect as we experience the Laker effect on what we want our accomplishments to be individually and collectively.”