New Students Told to Let Themselves Be Led Astray

Brian Hatcher
Brian Hatcher tells incoming students: "You're Here to Change."

August 20, 2008

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 few.”

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.”

First Year Convocation
The class of 2012 sings the alma mater for the first time as a group at the end of the convocation.

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 said. 

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.

Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960