It was the central lesson Maj. Richard Winters '41 learned as a student at Franklin & Marshall College, one he would apply often as a military leader during World War II. And at Franklin & Marshall College's Convocation on Aug. 28, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield presented the lesson as a challenge to the 602 new members of the Class of 2016:
Always do your best in everything you try.
"If you do that here and now—always do the best in everything you try—you will create an education of lifelong value and meaning," said Porterfield, addressing the incoming class in the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center. He was flanked by banners honoring Winters, whose example of leadership on D-Day was a focus of the annual event that celebrates the beginning of students' academic careers.
"Maj. Winters triumphed with honor not simply because he was brave and strong, but also because he was smart and mentally prepared. His liberal arts education at F&M played a defining role," Porterfield said.
F&M's all-College Convocation ceremony also was an occasion to kick off a yearlong celebration of F&M's 225th anniversary. With the College commemorating 225 years since the first class of students gathered at Franklin College in 1787, Porterfield told the new students to remember that they are stewards of the College's enduring values—integrity, honesty, academic excellence, academic freedom, inquiry, dialogue, discovery, community, civility, hard work, holistic learning, and respect for the one and for the many. "We ask you today, in this ceremony, wearing your academic robes and the cords of your College Houses, to recommit to uphold these core values in all that you say and do," Porterfield said.
Hundreds of members of the faculty and professional staff joined Porterfield in welcoming the most diverse first-year class in the College's history. Hailing from 31 countries and 29 states, members of the class formally entered the F&M community as they donned robes and received a wide-ranging introduction to the academic life and history of F&M from Porterfield, Associate Professor of German Curt Bentzel and student speakers Akbar Hossain '13 and Melissa Sandoval '13.
Hossain, the College's first recipient of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, and Sandoval, winner of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship, recounted how they nervously sat with their first-year class at Convocation in 2009. Both are first-generation college students, and this year's incoming class learned that 15 percent of them are first-generation college students.
"At some point in your time at F&M, you will find the opportunity to try something out of the ordinary, something daunting or even something unreachable," said Hossain, a government major. "And I strongly urge you to pursue that challenge. Whether it be studying abroad in a foreign country, trying a new sport or even making your way onto this stage, now is the time to find out who you are and what you want to be."
Sandoval gave credit for her success at F&M to a strong support system she developed at the College, and she encouraged first-year students to create their own support networks.
"Reach out to your academic advisers, dons, prefects and professors," said Sandoval, a public health major. "Take a moment to sit in the common rooms in your Houses and get to know your peers. Chat with your roommates or workers in the dining hall. These are the types of relationships that will help build a strong foundation for your four years at F&M and will also create lasting and wonderful memories."
Bentzel, a previous winner of F&M's Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, urged members of the Class of 2016 to engage professors early in their college careers. He encouraged students to ask the "big" questions, even as they are confronted with conflicting answers to those questions.
"You should engage us, your professors, from your first days here to facilitate your intellectual growth as you pursue a liberal education at Franklin & Marshall College," Bentzel said. "We can help cultivate in you four important characteristics of a liberally educated person: the mastery of strategies to make convincing arguments, the ability to identify and appreciate enduring memes, the recognition that big questions can have contradictory yet equally correct answers, and that these questions also have wrong answers."
First-year students like Sophie Blum '16 said they enjoyed hearing from the students and faculty members at Convocation.
"I liked hearing the students explain how they felt being in our shoes as first-year students, because I feel the same way," said Blum, who is following in the footsteps of her mother, Elisa Shipon-Blum '86, and uncle, Marc Shipon '88, as an F&M student.
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 even earlier to participate in programs such as Putting it Together in the Community (PIT), a service initiative organized by F&M's Ware Institute for Civic Engagement.
"I got here early for PIT, and I'm exhausted," said Jason Mitchell-Boyask '16. "But I enjoyed hearing about Maj. Winters today."
Convocation also saw the premiere of a musical piece written specifically for the College's 225th anniversary. The Convocation wind ensemble performed "CCXXV," composed by F&M's Richard S. and Ann B. Barshinger Professor of Music John Carbon.