St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf celebrates a new academic year with Opening Convocation

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

St. Olaf College ushered in a new academic year on Thursday, September 8, with its annual Opening Convocation in Boe Memorial Chapel.

Faculty processed in academic regalia as music provided by the St. Olaf Band, conducted by Timothy Mahr ’78, and organists James Bobb and Catherine Rodland ’87 filled the chapel. President David R. Anderson ’74 welcomed students, faculty, and staff to a new academic year before introducing Student Government Association President Sebastian Pham ’23.

Pham, a quantitative economics major from Haiphong, Vietnam, shared a message focused on the importance of finding friendships and community at St. Olaf.

“It is special to be an Ole because we are blessed with a small kind of community that gives us space for building a second family,” Pham says. “I was fortunate enough to find my second family here in the U.S., surrounded by amazing friends, staff, and faculty.”

He encouraged fellow students to reach out to others, ask for help, and utilize the wide variety of resources available at the college — including the Student Government Association, which strives to strengthen the Ole community. 

“I was able to find a family here, and so will you,” Pham told his fellow students.

Professor of Biology Eric Cole then delivered an Opening Convocation address titled “Evidence of Magic in an Age of Science,” in which he also stressed the importance of human connection and purpose.

Cole began his address by noting that science “offers a masterclass in humility” because it requires persevering through an immense level of ambiguity, uncertainty, doubt, and even mistakes.

“That kind of humility can do immense good in this world, so I love science,” Cole told the congregation. 

Yet, he noted, science does a poor job of capturing the ways that humans are “magically and wonderfully” connected. It fails to measure the healing power of love, the power of a focused mind to realize dreams, and the intangible sense of purpose that sometimes creeps into one’s experience during the arc of one’s life.

“Science has blind spots regarding things like love, human connection, passion, and purpose. These are the mysteries, and seeking agency within these mysteries leads us into magic,” Cole said. “With all of this in mind, reach out to each other and make connections every chance you get.”