BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Illinois Wesleyan University first-year and transfer students
packed, standing-room only, into Westbrook Auditorium to be welcomed to the University
on Tuesday during the annual “Turning Titan: New Student Orientation.”
The 595-student class of 2012 is one of the largest in University history, said President
Richard F. Wilson. “This is a very talented group, and you come to us from all over
the nation and the world,” he said. “You and your fellow students hail from 22 states
– from Massachusetts and California to Texas and Michigan – and from 13 different
countries around the world, including Romania, India, China and Nigeria to name a
Keynote speaker Brian Hatcher, the McFee Professor of Religion, challenged students
to make their college journey one that will do more than help them gather facts and
figures they might need for their careers. “It’s not just about gaining knowledge.
You’ve got to be led astray from yourself,” said Hatcher, whose speech was titled
“You’re Here to Change.” Listen to Hatcher's remarks.
Encouraging students to step outside their comfort zone, Hatcher pressed them to follow
the advice of American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. “He said we must always
do the thing we fear the most,” said Hatcher, “and that means looking hard at yourself
in an honest fashion – being honest about areas of belief or conviction or anxiety
to which you hold so tightly you cannot imagine putting it to the test.”
Far from asking students to abandon all beliefs, Hatcher challenged them to explore
new ideas, whether it was through taking a class outside their major, or taking a
study abroad to Cameroon. “Unless you test those beliefs and values, they do not really
hold any meaning for you. It takes courage to put those truisms to the test. That
is how your life becomes your life, and not merely one that you accepted on loan from
somebody else,” he said.
In four years, when students walk across the Commencement stage, Hatcher assured students
their friends and family would still recognize them. “They are going to know who you
are, but I also guarantee you they will be amazed at how much you have changed – the
quality of your writing, the sophistication of your political discussion, the range
of your reading tastes. You will change.” It was a statement reflected by other speakers
at the Convocation, including Justine Robinson, a 2006 Illinois Wesleyan graduate
and chair of the Young Alumni Committee, who informed students the University would
open new doors for them. “It will give you the ability to look at things from a different
perspective, question the predetermined and skillfully fight for your beliefs,” she
Robinson offered advice to newcomers, as did Student Senate President Andrea Ambrosia.
“Use every resource at your disposal. Literally everything here is created just for
you,” said Ambrosia.
Hatcher assured students that faculty, staff and fellow students will be there to
allay their fears. “Over the next four years this whole experience can be at times
disorienting. You are being asked to be led astray, and that sounds a lot like getting
lost, and getting lost can be frustrating. But, believe me, there is a whole campus
full of people to help you participate in your wanderings,” said Hatcher.