On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on Washington, D.C., members of Franklin & Marshall College's Class of 2017 were urged to immerse themselves in their college experiences and make a difference in the world from their first day on campus.
In addressing the 609-member class during Convocation on Aug. 27 in F&M's Alumni Sports & Fitness Center, President Daniel R. Porterfield cited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s inspirational "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial, the culmination of the Aug. 28, 1963, march (watch video).
"If you consistently do your best in everything you try, you will grow, you will change, you will become," Porterfield said in his remarks, charging students to become agents of change. "And because Franklin & Marshall College educates students to live life, not just make livings, we hope and expect that 50 years from tomorrow, on the 100th anniversary of Dr. King's ringing dream, you will still be growing, developing, learning human beings."
Convocation marked the culmination of New Student Orientation, a four-day series of events introducing first-year students to the academic and extracurricular sides of the College. Some students arrived on campus a week early to participate in programs such as Putting it Together in the Community, a service initiative organized by the College's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
Last year's incoming class had been the most diverse in the College's history, but this year's academically strong first-year class took that title. The class, divided evenly between men and women, includes 20 percent students of color. Fourteen percent are from states outside the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, up from an average of 12 percent over the past three years. Seventeen percent are international students. Its members come to F&M from 32 states, Washington, D.C., and 27 countries.
Daniel Lugo, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at F&M, encouraged the class to make an immediate impact on the world while noting that 80 percent of them have already served as leaders in community service and a quarter were leaders in their high school student governments.
Noting the 609 students were selected from a pool of 5,345 applicants, Lugo said, "Each one of you was individually chosen because of the potential that we see in you to accomplish things great and valuable. … Each one of you was chosen because you can make a difference here at F&M, in our community and in the world."
Excerpts from King's 1963 speech, urging the end of segregation and racism, were played for the class and audience members.
"We have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. … Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice."
Looking across the diverse first-year class, clad in their black academic robes, Porterfield said, "I wish Dr. King could be here to see your generation."
While King never would see desegregation or racial equality before his assassination in 1968, F&M Emeriti Trustee Henry Wiggins Jr., M.D., '55, P'91 did, and was the only African-American to graduate in his class. In 1965, Wiggins, who delivered the alumni remarks during Tuesday's ceremony, joined King and tens of thousands of marchers in the last of three civil rights marches that year, from Selma, Ala., to the state's capital, Montgomery.
Wiggins wrote about the experience in an April 1965 article for his hometown newspaper in Clearfield, Pa.: "As we walked by Negroes who waved and shouted, "freedom," it made you throw out your chest and be proud you were an American . . . Negro or white."
Impressed by the diversity of the class before him, Wiggins recalled when he was a student at F&M. In the 1950s the school was all male and predominantly white. He praised the College for its dedication to academic excellence.
"If you apply yourself, you will get an excellent education that will take you far into the future, and you will be part of the solution instead of part of the problem," Wiggins said, imploring students to get involved. "Do what makes you happy, but you can't enjoy the future unless you share in the responsibility of building it."
Giving the faculty remarks, Sociology Professor Carol Auster, who received the 2011-2012 Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, urged the first-year students to remember the four Ps: embracing the possibilities the College makes available to students, pursuing those opportunities with passion and persistence, and forming a posse of friends for a network of support.
Keeping in that spirit, Rebecca Green '14, a Newman Civic Fellow, member of F&M's Human Rights Initiative, and frequent volunteer through the Ware Institute, urged the class to get involved early in the life of the College and the community.
"I challenge you, … to experience the feeling of impacting your community through service," Green said. "My biggest word of advice is don't wait to live a life of meaning; do something to get to know Lancaster and the community today."
Brooklyn, N.Y., native Olamide Adams '17, the first person in her family to attend college, was impressed by Convocation's pomp and ceremony. "I really didn't expect something like that," she said "I'm not used to a school having so much tradition."
As he left the ceremony, John Barrett '17 of Shanghai, China, said Convocation's messages were empowering and made him feel like a part of the F&M community.
"I think involvement is critical in education, and that is one reason I came to F&M," Barrett said. "I think everyone should be involved."