“College was some sort of a contest back in 1991 — it wasn’t easy,” said Gil Hunter, executive director of retention and graduation and associate professor of English, as he addressed the class of 2021 at the New Student Convocation on August 20.

Hunter told the incoming freshmen about his time in college, the difficulties he faced and what the experience meant to him.

“College is still hard, but this is your first step in what might feel like a long journey,” Hunter said. “I promise it’s a good journey — an important, life changing journey.”

Themes of change, responsibility and growth ran throughout the speeches given by staff and students at the convocation with speakers encouraging students to branch out and achieve as much as they can in the upcoming years.

While faculty and staff would be there to help students academically, speakers reminded students that academic responsibility fell on the students. President Benson encouraged students to make the best choices, and make the most of their college experiences.

“The ability to choose your own way is something nobody can ever take from you,” Benson said.

First generation college student and Student Government Association senator,Rose Pidgorodetska shared what she did during her freshmen year that helped her throughout her college career.

“Take control of your academics and be involved in the classroom,”Pidgorodetska said. “Challenge yourself to step outside of your high school comfort zone. Take a sheet of paper and write down all your goals for college, write down all the adventures, places and things you want to accomplish.”

Looking over the audience, Pidgorodetska said, “At this podium, I feel like I have the best view in the room. I’m looking at the future doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs of this country.”

In his closing remarks, Benson encouraged students to diversify, to meet and talk with students with different ideas and backgrounds than their own.

“We live in an age where some people think it’s cool to not be nice, but that’s not what it means to be a Colonel,” Benson said. “To be a Colonel means to look out for each other. I hope you seek out people that look and believe in different things from you.”

Cameron Sizemore, freshman, majoring in computer sciences, said the convocation has helped him feel more at home.

“When I first got here, I was very homesick and almost close to tears,” Sizemore said. “But this Big E Welcome, these speeches and everyone being helpful has helped me regain confidence in how successful I can be in this community.”