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Class of 2018 Joins the Syracuse University Family
Stephen Barton ’12 came back to campus Friday to tell incoming students about their new family.
“Today, you officially enter into this amazing, inspiring Orange family that stretches all across this city, the country and even the world,” Barton told the Class of 2018 and their families during the Convocation for New Students.
“Look around you, at your fellow classmates, your new brothers and sisters. Like most siblings, you might not always get along, but you will always be there for one another in times of need,” he said.
Barton, who studied international relations, economics and Russian language, literature and culture, has felt the warmth of his close and distant Syracuse family members in his own time of need.
After speaking at his Commencement two years ago, Barton and his friend, Ethan, set off on a cross-country bike trip to see America. Outside Denver, in July 2012, they were invited by an acquaintance to stay with her and went to a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Barton was one of dozens of people who suffered injuries in a shooting that night in the theater. Twelve people died. His friend was not hit and their acquaintance, who was shot in the head, survived without serious damage to her brain.
After recuperating in the hospital, Barton returned home to Connecticut to find a package waiting for him. It was a T-shirt and a letter written by the wife of a Syracuse alumnus of the Class of 1955 who had died several months before.
“‘I wanted to give you Roger’s SU t-shirt because you both share SU as alumni. May you have good health, peace, love and be safe on your bicycle,’” Barton read as part of her letter.
Barton, who was a Coronat Scholar, Remembrance Scholar, University Scholar and Class Marshal, proudly showed off the t-shirt under his academic gown at Friday’s Convocation.
“This was just one of countless packages, letters, messages and texts I received from people connected to Syracuse in the weeks and months following the shooting,” said Barton, who has since worked in Russia on a Fulbright Scholarship and has worked to curb gun violence nationally. “Their support inspired me during the lowest parts of my recovery … and the people at Syracuse continue to inspire me.”
A warm welcome
Barton, who received a standing ovation, was one of several speakers at Friday’s Convocation for New Students at the Dome, welcoming new students to Syracuse University—more than 3,800–and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.
As the academic procession made its way to the stage, students filled the lower level of the Dome in front of the stage, as their family and friends sat above.
Chancellor Kent Syverud shared messages for both students and their families.
“Education is not something bestowed on you but something you earn through hard work and through discipline,” Chancellor Syverud said.
He asked students to reflect on the traditions—such as the Goon Squad, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and the many student organizations on campus—and the foundation of the University that was imagined and built by those who came before them.
“I ask you to build something here, to make something here, to leave behind something here, that you alone can uniquely contribute,” Chancellor Syverud said. “We all want to help you do that. And that’s because we believe this is your university and you need to make it your own.”
Some advice for parents
To the parents, Chancellor Syverud talked about having to bring his own children to college—and the challenge in leaving them there.
“The happy news I can share with you is that, after a few weeks or months, my kids did start calling me again, and I could still be there for them,” Chancellor Syverud said.
Chancellor Syverud thanked parents and families for all they have done to prepare their students. “Because of your work, these students are our most sacred trust,” he said.
Student Association President Boris Gresely ’15 also asked students to think about how they might make an impact. “What ideas are you going to bring to the table? What legacy do you want to leave behind?”
Gresely encouraged students to talk to peer advisors and other students. “Find someone who you can ask questions and learn from,” Gresely said.
Connecting with a faculty member
Faculty speaker Professor Kristi Andersen, Chapple Family Professor of Citizenship and Democracy, challenged students to get to know at least one faculty member reasonably well in their first three months and more in the coming years—a connection that research shows is the most important predictor of a positive college experience.
Ask and answer questions. Visit during office hours. Seek them out when you are struggling, she said.
“They are adults who are vitally interested in your life and your ideas,” Andersen said. “You will be far better off, and will have a far richer experience, if you follow this one piece of advice.”
To officially receive the new students, Chancellor Syverud gave a charge to students developed and adapted from an address by Erastus Haven, Chancellor of Syracuse University, delivered in 1871. He asked students to embrace their part at the University, a place of imagination and enlightenment.
“I charge you to thrive here, to learn here, to teach here, to make lifelong friends here and to seek knowledge without end,” Chancellor Syverud said.
First-year student Jamaya Powell and transfer student Steven Guilbalt accepted the charge and asked the thousands of students to join with them. From a printed card at their seats, students responded, “We hereby accept your charge to work hard, thrive and seek knowledge without end.”