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A unit of the University System of Georgia

Freshman Convocation August 25, 2010


Good Afternoon, students, faculty and staff of Gordon College.

I'm Shelley Nickel, interim president of the college. Students, we're glad you have chosen Gordon College as the place to begin your college education. You've made a good choice.  You are now part of the largest freshman class ever at Gordon College.  It is so large, that for the first time ever some of you are watching the proceedings from the Fine Arts Building.

Now I know that you are probably wondering why we called you all to come here today.  Exactly what is convocation?

It is a formal assembly.  You just saw us all walk in.  We are wearing academic regalia, a little odd, right?  Well, it should be a clue that things are a little different in college.

Odd and ancient as this may seem, these caps and gowns, have historical significance in higher education and date back to the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, students and teachers used the gowns and hoods -- the long sash down the back -- to keep warm during their studies in the damp and drafty halls of learning.

The long sleeves of the scholars' gowns provided storage areas for writing instruments and paper and the mortarboard -- the square, flat cap -- originally served as a writing surface.

These colors have significance too. As the codes for academic dress evolved, colors came to signify certain faculties.

White was assigned to arts, letters and humanities. Golden yellow, standing for the wealth which scientific research produced, was assigned to the sciences. For my degree, public administration, the color is called peacock blue. You may also see among the crowd the color apricot which is associated with those in the nursing field; fine arts is brown, education, light blue.

You may also notice that the gowns worn by those who have earned a bachelor's or master's degree are untrimmed.  Those who have earned PhDs wear a gown that is trimmed down the front with black velvet and three bars of velvet are on the sleeves in the color distinctive to wearer's degree.

Everyone is wearing a hood, the long sash down the back. It is black and is longer depending on the wearer's degree. It is lined with the official color of the school which conferred the degree and is trimmed in velvet, again in the color distinctive to the wearer's degree. You can see that our faculty members have degrees from many different universities across the country.

The higher the degree, the more special the regalia.  Who knows what colors and trim you will be wearing in the coming years?

At Gordon the caps and gowns are worn during very special events, like this convocation -- your first gathering as a freshman class -- and the graduation ceremony in which we hope you will participate.

Speaking of graduation...

I want you to be still and close your eyes for a moment.

It is suddenly graduation day. You have donned a cap and gown -- your regalia. Some of you are wearing a sash signifying your academic excellence. You are walking in procession, lead by the professors here today. Leading them is a professor bearing the mace and in front of him, the college president.

Can you see it? Can you picture it?

Your friends and family watch with pride as your name is called and you accept your college diploma.

You did it, you have graduated from college!

Now, open your eyes.  Back to reality.

So how do you get from this afternoon, this convocation, to graduation day?

Well, we're here to help you reach your goal of graduating. We will provide excellent, caring instructors, state-of-the-art classrooms and labs, a beautiful campus, good food, and some fun along the way.  We are not the college of years ago, when your professor would stand before you on the first day of class and tell you to look to your left and to your right, and state emphatically, that only one of you would be here on graduation day.

But you must do your part. What I ask you to do is look to your left, now look to your right and make a promise to help each other.  This is an opportunity for you to make friendships that will last a lifetime, to experience things that you would not have had you not made the decision to go to college. I am still friends with the girls I met on my hall the first week of classes.  I am sure I would not have seen the play Equus or heard Bruce Springsteen before he was a star, or read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead," had I not decided to go to college. College changed my life and it will change yours.

You must work hard. College is not going to be easy, you will be continually challenged. But, your hard work will pay off.

You must study, and complete your assignments.  Slinking into a classroom with some lame excuse about how the dog ate you paper isn't going to work here.

You must learn time management. That party you've been invited to is very tempting, but you have a reading assignment. Choose the reading assignment. There will be other parties. Besides, you're here to learn aren't you? You're here to graduate.

You must attend class. There may be a day you are ill, professors understand that. But rolling over in the morning and sinking back under that warm comforter  just because your momma isn't there to make you get up and it's cold and raining outside isn't going to work.

You must ask for help when you need it and you must learn to lean on each other for help. There are no stupid questions. If you simply aren't getting the concept presented in class, ask for help and ask early, utilize the Student Success Center, form a study group.

And finally, you must, today, at this very moment, dedicate yourself to achieving your goal of graduating, because if you don't, if you do not make that dedication right now, you will most certainly fail.

We don't want you to fail.  We want you to be successful.

But we can't, and we certainly won't, do your work for you. And we won't give you a passing grade because you are charming or cute or have a bunch of silly excuses -- so don't even attempt to go there.

The bottom line is this.  You are responsible for your actions.  You are responsible for dressing respectfully, speaking appropriately -- that means regulating your use of foul language, and smoking in the designated areas.  We have a zero tolerance for physical altercations, damage to property and drug and alcohol use.  The college is an academic setting that provides a culture of learning.  You need to do your part to sustain that culture.

This is college.  This is different.  You are an adult now.

So as you leave here today, as you settle into college life, remember that Graduation Begins Today. Each day you must work toward that goal, you must ask yourself, "What have I done today to prepare for graduation?"

Graduation day will be here before you know it.

Let's get to work Highlanders.

Thank you.