‘Nobody comes to this college because they just want to fit in’: Columbia kicks off new year at Convocation

By Kamy Smelser, News Editor

Bubbles, laughter and upbeat music filled the air at Columbia’s annual New Student Convocation ceremony that brought together students for a new school year and showcased the many student organizations available for new students to get involved in.

Alongside the student performers, student leaders and faculty who took the stage at the welcoming ceremony on the south side of Grant Park, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim gave the new students advice as they took their first steps at Columbia.

“Nobody comes to this college because they just want to fit in,” Kim said. “Nobody comes to [Columbia] because they want someone else to tell them who they are or how they should be.”

During an interview with the Chronicle, Kim said he is excited to enter into a new school year with more face-to-face interaction and acknowledged the trials this new group of students has encountered to get to Columbia.

“A part of it is [the new students] experience of COVID, right?” Kim said. “They’ve come through a particularly turbulent time, and I think that makes them even more hungry for the kinds of opportunities Columbia provides [such as] community building [and] hands-on learning.”

Sam Dedrick, a first-year acting major, was one of the many students who joined in on the welcoming festivities with a group of their newly made friends.

“All of the people are so cool and gay,” Dedrick said. “I’ve loved almost every person I’ve met, and we’ve made such great friends.”

For 19-year-old Dedrick, visiting Columbia for the first time almost a year ago introduced them to a community that was different from the one they were used to in their hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.

“I just saw so many people who looked like me, so very clearly queer and gender nonconforming, which is not at all in my daily life at home,” Dedrick said. “It felt nice to not be a spectacle for the first time in my life.”

Yazmine Reyes, a junior American Sign Language major, transferred from Wilbur Wright College, a community college in Chicago, and said since coming to Columbia, she has felt at home.

“From the first time I came here, I felt like this is a place I could be comfortable,” Reyes said.

Sending students off into the new school year, Kim brought the new group of students to a cheer as he encouraged them to not bring in the hatred he said is seen in our own country.

“We are not a perfect school,” Kim said. “That’s my ask of all of you, is when you see things that don’t make sense, that aren’t right, please speak up, so we can do something about it and make our college better. That’s the commitment of this institution, so we’re here for you.”