GV welcomes freshmen with first in-person Convocation in three years


GVL / Meghan Tripp (Landgren)

Jacob Welch, Staff Writer

For the students and faculty at Grand Valley State University, 2022 can be seen as a new beginning.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and other obstacles now receding, the coming school year is one of optimism and renewal.

Piling into the Fieldhouse Arena on Aug. 24, the inaugurated freshman class of 2026 had the opportunity to experience this firsthand at the university’s annual Convocation ceremony.

“Convocation is a tradition, a ceremony that kicks off the academic year,” said Laker Events and Communications Manager Megan Wierenga. “This year, it’s a little different. Just kind of returning to pre-pandemic, the program itself has the traditional elements remaining but with new added energies and traditions.”

Brass fanfare played as the black, white and blue banner of GVSU was brought into the arena.

Following the flag came the procession of black-robed student senators, faculty and university administration that included provosts, deans and President Philomena Mantella.

Following Professor and University Academic Senate Chair Felix Ngassa’s opening of the ceremony, Provost Fatma Mili addressed the crowd.

“Like you, this is my first semester at Grand Valley,” Mili said. “Many of you do not know what a provost is or does. For your first learning experience, the provost is one who oversees the academic priorities of the university and ensures you have an exceptional education experience. A university exists to serve you.”

Mili introduced the university’s commitments, starting with the ‘G’ of GVSU. For students, Mili said, ‘G’ signified empowerment.

“We center you, our students, in everything we do,” Mili said. “Each and every member of our community is a learner, and we’re at different stages in our academic journey. Our faculty are experts in their discipline, and they will commit to helping you discover their passion and will guide and support you along the way.”

‘V,’ the next commitment, introduced by Student Senate President Faith Kidd, was about educational equity.

“We see the need for educational equity all around us,” Kidd said. “As individuals and as a collective Laker community, we must do the hard work to achieve a more just and sustainable work. We will work together to eliminate the obstacles to student success.”

The speakers emphasized that Convocation wasn’t just about what the university could do for students, but what students could get done at university.

“There are endless opportunities at GVSU,” Kidd said. “There are spaces for all people, for all interests. I was told my whole life that academics would be a challenge for me and that I wouldn’t excel in my school. But here I am, standing in front of you as student body president of one of the largest universities in our state.”

Like many others, GVSU, Kidd said, proved instrumental in her journey.

“It is because Grand Valley helped me grow into myself, and find my interests,” Kidd said. “Just get involved, meet new people and try new things.”

For upperclassmen like Kidd, previous convocation ceremonies were a tale of quarantine and isolation. With restrictions eased and options opened, 2022’s Convocation struck a much different tone with those present.

“This Convocation felt more like a normal community,” said junior Chelsea Johnson. “I felt like a freshman. This was my first real in-person convocation.”

The ceremony continued with the next university commitment, ‘S’, introduced by Board of Trustees member Victor Cardenas. ‘S,’ Cardenas said, was about a lifetime of learning.

“We design and leverage learning opportunities regardless of their stage in their life or their career,” said Cardenas. “We meet the needs of where you are now and continue to learn for a lifetime.”

Mantella, who has served as the university’s president since 2019, later outlined a vision of improvement to the freshman following a satirical video in which she interviewed starstruck first-years about the university.

“The journey ahead will likely have laughter, it’ll have joy, it’ll have ups, and it may even have downs,” Mantella said. “It’s been absolutely wonderful engaging with so many of you has you experienced your first week here. As the video showed, we’ve already had laughs and serious moments with each other.”

As part of her address, Mantella alluded to the university’s strategic plan, Reach Higher 2025.

“(This is) a place to call home, a place to discover your purpose and your passions, a place where our shared commitments combine us and where we’re bold enough to reach higher and achieve more than we thought possible and create an impact beyond what we ever expected.”

Mantella then introduced the final commitment, ‘U,’ representing the students themselves.

“Our university is not complete without you,” Mantella said. “You are now a part of the Laker community. You are who unites our community. You are the reason why we are here, why I am here.”

The GVSU Laker Marching Band drummed loudly at the conclusion of the ceremony as the team of faculty and student senators recessed through the aisles, giving high-fives and fist bumps as they passed.

“I’m excited for the community,” freshman Abigail Crawford said. “(Convocation) was fancier than I expected.”