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Stanford Report, September 24, 2003

New challenges, new opportunities for Class of ’07


President John Hennessy ushered in a new academic year at Stanford Thursday with a convocation speech that challenged 1,644 freshmen and 81 transfer students to walk in the footsteps of one of the country's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

Imploring the Class of 2007 to "experiment and take intellectual risks," Hennessy told the assembled students that they were chosen to attend Stanford because they displayed the same level of intellectual curiosity and a passion for learning that Franklin showed as a young man.

"Now that you have arrived at Stanford, our request is simple: We ask that you become an enthusiastic member of this academic community," Hennessy said. "We ask you to take advantage of this opportunity -- an opportunity that Benjamin Franklin never had."

A buzz of excitement returned to last week's convocation ceremony after the previous two years' events were overshadowed by the Sept. 11 attacks and their anniversary. The Main Quad was quickly filled with new students and their parents despite blazing heat and little shade.

A brass quintet and a flag-led procession of university trustees and senior administrators opened Stanford's 113th Opening Day Convocation, which also included remarks from John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education, and Robin Mamlet, dean of admission and financial aid.

Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Robin Mamlet helped freshman Becky Hall find her new residence. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Mamlet told the students that they were part of an elite group of applicants who were admitted to the university after one of the most competitive years ever. Only one of eight applicants were admitted, Mamlet said, and the students represent 1,069 different high schools, 49 states (none from Vermont), 51 countries and six of seven continents.

Hennessy highlighted the popular Freshman and Sophomore Seminars as a way for new students to delve into subjects they are unfamiliar with, and he recommended that students get to know faculty, both inside and outside the classroom. He also encouraged students to challenge themselves by taking advantage of courses and seminars focusing on ongoing research and science.

"Challenge yourself with courses in disciplines that are new to you," Hennessy said. "And should you occasionally not succeed, do not become disillusioned -- just be sure to learn from your mistakes."

Convocation was the cornerstone of a hectic day for eager students and parents, the long summer layover only enhancing their excitement and anticipation.

Cars and trucks loaded with luggage began filling up the parking lots outside of dorm rooms just after dawn on Thursday, and there was already a throng of eager resident assistants and staff to greet the new arrivals.

New Student Orientation events kicked off early Thursday morning with an enthusiastic welcome from resident assistants at Branner Hall. Photo: L.A. Cicero

More than 600 resident assistants spent about two weeks preparing for new student orientation, coming up with distinct welcome routines, such as the "Price is Right" game show that gave students their room assignments at Otero dorm.

"It's a total adrenaline rush," said Deedee Perez-Granados, a resident fellow at Casa Zapata. "There's been a lot of preparation going on for their arrival."

The annual tradition of resident assistants screaming out the names of arriving freshmen as they checked into their dorm rooms continued, startling more than a few students who wondered how they were recognized.

"I remember on my first day here that people knew who I was and that made me feel at ease," said senior Sagar Chandaria, a resident assistant at Branner Hall. "I hope that when [the new freshmen] come here, they feel like Stanford is their second home."

Volunteer Meghan Kirby, above, led roommates Jenna Coalson, left and Julia McKinney, right, to their new home in FroSoCo. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Freshman track athlete Lindsey Gannaway from Edmond, Okla., said most of her friends had already left for college by the time it was her turn to go. Once the big day arrived, she said she felt "weird" and nervous.

"I've been waiting a long time for this day," Gannaway said. "I've never been by myself. It's a new place and I really don't know anyone yet."

Hennessy was well into his customary welcome tour of most of the campus' freshman dorms Thursday morning when he arrived at Ujamaa House to a cheerful welcome from a dozen or so resident assistants. The highly caffeinated students insisted that Hennessy participate in their official welcome ritual for the freshmen -- the Soul Train slide.

President John Hennessy began his morning with a customary tour of freshman residences and found himself in the middle of a Soul Train welcome greeting as he visited the Ujamaa house. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Not one to back down from a challenge, Hennessy grooved past the line of resident assistants as they sang a welcome chant and then received a boisterous round of applause for his efforts when he finished.

"This really goes back to my early days," Hennessy said afterward.

Junior Maria Harsha, a head peer academic coordinator at Ujamaa, was duly impressed by Hennessy's dance abilities.

"We knew he had Soul Train potential, but he really worked it out here," Harsha said.

A good portion of opening day also focused on new Stanford parents.

The Stanford Parents Club set up a booth outside the bookstore and also sponsored a well-attended "letting go" workshop to help ease parents through the goodbye process.

"It's a traumatic day for parents, but I think that when they see the good hands their children are in, their minds will be at ease," said volunteer Christine McBrady, a past president of the parents club whose son graduated in 2001. "We hope that when they leave, they feel comfortable with leaving their kids here."

Parents Stan and Rima North of New Jersey said they were at first a bit apprehensive when their daughter, Jen, chose to attend Stanford because of the distance, but they felt better after going through a complete day of orientation, including an emotional dinner for parents.

"I think this is a fabulous opportunity for her," said Rima North. "The only hesitation was that it is so far from home. Not for her but for us."

Sophomore Erica Douglas and junior Kim Strand worked as orientation volunteers last Thursday, welcoming freshmen and their parents as they drove by their perch on the corner of Mayfield Avenue and Campus Drive. Photo: L.A. Cicero

President Hennessy welcomes class of 2007

New students receive words of advice at 2003 Convocation