As they embark on their academic journey at Franklin & Marshall College, members of the Class of 2018 face both a significant challenge and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity the next four years -- finding, developing and cultivating their voices.
The 617 students who gathered Tuesday morning for a Convocation ceremony in F&M's Alumni Sports & Fitness Center bring to campus a diverse collection of evolving voices and life experiences.
F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, in his remarks to the black-robed students, discussed the importance of voice, punctuating his message with excerpts from the admission essays of a handful of first-year students in attendance, including Yanlin Yang of Shanghai, and Brooks College House. From her essay, Porterfield read: "The violin has accompanied me since I was five years old. Playing was a source of happiness. Not only did I attain a sense of achievement but [I] understood the power of music. However, the stress of study pushed me to consider giving [it] up. My uncle had a heart-to-heart talk with me. 'The violin is your sincerest friend. We kin are unable to accompany you forever, but she can. No matter when and where, she can back you up. If you feel frustrated or cheerful, she can be the audience who shares your emotion.'"
"Your voices are emerging," Porterfield told the Class of 2018. "This time is for cultivating them. Yanlin's voice is already so rich. Each of you is like Yanlin -- and we can't wait to see how you cultivate your voices here."
Another prominent feature of the ceremony was the students' investiture in their College Houses, during which they donned their identifying House chords and pledged to uphold the standards of their College Houses and accept the responsibilities of being respectful members of the community.
The class is one of the most ethnically and socio-economically diverse in the history of the College. One in 10 are Hispanic American, 6 percent are African American, and 5 percent are Asian American. The domestic students come from 31 states across the country, from California to Maine, Florida to Washington. Daniel Lugo, vice president and dean of admission and financial aid, said 13.3 percent of the class' students are international, hailing from 21 nations and speaking languages ranging from Urdu to Mandarin, and from Ukrainian to French. Eighteen percent are the first in their families to go to college.
Two student speakers, twin sisters Emilie (who transferred to F&M in fall 2013) and Gabrielle Woods, both juniors, talked about discovering and honing their voices at F&M. Gabrielle, studying abroad in Chile, spoke via video message.
"Developing your voice as a college student will mean stretching yourself more than you ever have in the past," Emilie said. "You must take risks. Gabrielle has taught me and so many students here that finding a voice at college will not happen passively."
In her taped message, Garbrielle told students, "A vital part of developing your voice in college is being able to actively listen to it, knowing when something's not right for you, recognizing when something is, and being able to adjust accordingly."
In his faculty remarks, the John W. Wetzel Professor of Classics and Professor of Government Dean Hammer said students should expect to find their intellectual voice tested in the classroom and their social voice tested in their interactions with others.
"Voice is a critical awareness of what matters to you, of what expresses who you are, of what you value. It is not something you are born with," said Hammer, don of New College House. "It is cultivated in your interactions with the world around you: as you listen to others, as you encounter new experiences, and as you respond to other voices, hearing your own voice takes shape."