Stilt walkers, jugglers and unicyclists entertained an estimated 3,200 freshman and 500 upperclassmen on Sept. 2 at Grant Park during this year’s New Student Convocation, an annual celebration that welcomes new students to the college.
But this year’s event came with changes, allowing incoming students to become a part of the event.
Buttons were distributed to new students and they were encouraged to wear them for the first few weeks of the semester as a way of helping continuing students, faculty and staff recognize them and help transition them into the Columbia community.
“I like the idea of the buttons,” said Brendan Riley, assistant professor of English. “I think it’s a little silly, but if everyone goes along with it, it will be a good way to see people on the streets, and say, ‘Hey Columbia!’”
Freshmen theater students entertained the crowd with impromptu performances, and the big tent that once housed student organizations, academic departments and campus services was swapped out for smaller themed tents instead. These smaller tents were designed to help new students discover their primary interest, according to Aldo Guzman, director of Student Engagement.
“Last year it was very, very crowded. You could barely get through the tents, and now it’s very spread out,” said Cassie Schollmann, sophomore photography major. “However, I don’t know if I like the stage being so far away from everyone because people aren’t going to come through the tents as much. All the organizations want to get as many people as possible, and having the tents so spread out, how can people go up to the tents?”
Convocation kicked off on the main stage with speakers from faculty, staff and student organizations. Later, students filled seven small tents that focused on interests such as writing, community, visual arts, culture, screens, communication and performing arts.
Students also had the chance to visit psychic readers in the “Foresee” tent, get henna and airbrush tattoos in the “Inked” tent, partake in carnival-style games for Manifest T-shirt prizes and make creative works of art in the “Do” tent.
“So far I really like [convocation],” said freshman photography major Shantanese Snow. “When other [tents] bore out, I can go to another tent. This is beyond my expectations … I didn’t know it would be like this. I heard I was going to get a lot of free cups, and I like free stuff.”
On the main stage, freshmen theater majors performed a skit in which they called themselves APPLES (Artistic People Protesting Long Extended Speeches) and kidnapped the college’s fake “co-vice president of Student Affairs,” who in real life is James Sherman, adjunct faculty member of the Theater Department. They followed with a dance routine to a melody of songs, such as “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and “Thriller.”
“It feels like I’ve been here for a while because we immediately jumped into [performing],” said freshman theater major LaVisa Williams. “I feel like we’re already learning and we haven’t even started classes yet. It makes me excited about starting classes.”
Stephanie Shaw, senior lecturer in the Theater Department, along with her husband Brian Shaw, a Theater Department professor, worked with the freshmen theater majors. She said the students pulled off the performance with only two days
“Instructors get nervous the weeks before classes too,” Stephanie Shaw said. “So I’m not nervous, now I feel warmed up. I feel like working with the freshmen reminds me of how great it is. How you should jump in with both feet and start creating off the bat. You should just immerse yourself and all the questions just go away.”
The innovations made to convocation seemed to work out well for students seeking new friends and to network. This was called its main goal by the office of Student Engagement, which helped coordinate
“My friends that go to Loyola University, their convocation is nothing like this,” said freshman Samantha Garcia. “They were all inside, sitting down [listening] to a speaker, but this is nothing like [I’ve] ever seen before.”