St. Olaf ushers in a new academic year with Opening Convocation
St. Olaf College celebrated the beginning of a new academic year on September 7 with its annual Opening Convocation in Boe Memorial Chapel.
Faculty processed in academic regalia as music provided by the St. Olaf Band, conducted by Henry Dorn, filled the chapel. President Susan Rundell Singer welcomed students, faculty, and staff to the gathering held each year on the first day of classes, noting that it reflects the power of the St. Olaf community.
“I love the fresh start, the promise of the new academic year,” she said. “May this be your very best year yet.”
Student Government Association President Sophia Pletcher ’24 also provided welcome remarks, both to her fellow returning Oles and particularly to the newest members of the St. Olaf community: the Class of 2027. She encouraged students to take time to explore — and enjoy — the campus and community, and to get involved.
“I think one of the best things I’ve learned here is to always work with intention and enjoy my time,” she said.
Professor of Biology Steve Freedberg then delivered an Opening Convocation address titled “Do We Belong?” He shared that while the beginning of the academic year is an exciting time, it’s also one that comes with uncertainty. He noted that the feelings many students experience each September — being a little scared, a little unsure of what they’re doing, and a little uncertain about whether they belong — are the same feelings that he remembers having as a new faculty member when he arrived at St. Olaf in 2006. Yet he says he quickly realized that St. Olaf is a place where “we’re all learning and growing together, and we all belong regardless of what stage of the journey we’re in.”
As an evolutionary biologist, Freedberg noted that many animals will make some level of sacrifices to support the group — and those altruists often thrive. “Teamwork has been artfully written into our genes by Mother Nature,” he said. That sense of teamwork is something that students, faculty, and staff at St. Olaf embody.
“You’re surrounded by a community of people who are all uneasy about something, and we’ll work together to conquer our challenges,” he said. “Not only do you belong here, but you are needed — we simply cannot succeed without you.”