By From the Lowell Sun
By Jennifer Myers
LOWELL -- Will I make friends? Will the classes be too hard? Will I get lost?
Those are just a few of the questions swirling through the minds of the newest members of the UMass Lowell community, 1,533 freshmen and 925 transfer students, as they embark this week on what Dean of Students Larry Siegel called "the beginning of an important and powerful journey."
For some there is the trepidation of facing the first time they have been away from their homes, parents and the familiar faces of classmates they have known since kindergarten. Others relish the excitement of their first taste of freedom, the opportunity to strike out on their own.
The theme of the university's fourth annual New Student Convocation, held yesterday morning at the Campus Recreation Center: Be here. Be engaged. Make an impact.
In the fall of 1974, young Marty Meehan was a freshman at the University of Lowell, his hometown college. Now chancellor of his alma mater, Meehan said he remembers what it was like to be a freshman. The son of parents, neither of whom had graduated from college, he said he can relate to the challenges faced by many of the incoming students.
"When you come through the doors of this university, you literally are going to transform your own lives," Meehan said. "We recognize the difficulties that you may have to encounter, but we are here to support you. Our success will be measured by your success."
Provost Ahmed Abdelal encouraged the students to take full advantage of the school's academic offerings by not limiting their studies to one concentration; taking advantage of internships, work opportunities and the university's international partnerships; or considering enrolling in the university's dual bachelor's/master's program.
Additionally, Abdelal advised the newest members of the community to immerse themselves in the university and city's diverse cultural offerings.
"Being globally prepared enhances whatever career you choose," he said. "It will make you a better citizen of the country and a better citizen of the world."
Last weekend, the university opened the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center at the site of the former Doubletree Hotel, which the university purchased for $15 million earlier this summer, bringing 400 students into the city's downtown.
Meehan said the students are fortunate to be embarking on their journey during "one of the most exciting and dynamic points" in the university's history.
"Enrollment is growing and we are expanding our presence into downtown Lowell, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution," Meehan said. "We intend to engage that history. We intend to engage in that downtown."
Jamie Washington, a social justice speaker and activist and the president and founder of the Washington Consulting Group, said he was energized by the theme and told the students that they could successfully complete the theme's mission by keeping their focus.
"Be conscious of who you are and what makes you who you are," he said. "Be willing to face challenges, and within those challenges be willing to change."
Yesterday morning a new community was born on campus. A group of nearly 2,500, the majority of whom are strangers to each other.
To help begin building that sense of community and give each individual the sense that they are not alone in their backgrounds, abilities, disabilities and challenges, Washington asked a series of statements, asking those who felt comfortable in standing in response to the statements to do so.
Both students and faculty rose to a variety of personal questions ranging from their sexuality to religion and whether they had ever attempted suicide.
Washington left the crowd with one simple nugget of advice: Just be real.
"Nothing is possible unless you are willing to be real," he said. "Be honest with yourself. Be honest with one another. Use your resources to make the campus better and the planet better.
"I know that you can," Washington concluded. "I hope that you will."