Students were challenged to come together and achieve excellence during the 2021 Convocation ceremony

On Thursday, Aug. 19, students, faculty, and staff gathered in Hayes Auditorium for the first time in over a year. The energy was high as groups of students dressed in their special occasion best found their seats and prepared to formally open the semester.  

The annual Convocation ceremony welcomes students, faculty, and staff back to campus and establishes a theme or goal for the upcoming term. During the August 2021 Convocation, the speakers urged the Lees-McRae community to focus their attention on helping one another succeed and creating the best possible experience for students.  

The ceremony began with a welcome from President Lee King, who said that Convocation is an opportunity for everyone on campus to think about what lies ahead and evaluate their priorities.  

“To the members of our student body that are here with us today, I want you to know without a doubt, without any hesitation, that you are the single most important person to walk this campus,” he said.  

Senior London England ’22 next addressed the audience. England is a member of the Order of the Tower, on the Student Government Association Executive Board, a resident assistant, and the captain of the men’s basketball team. He was also the 2020–21 junior class president.  

England opened his speech by explaining why he chose Lees-McRae. He came to the college for several basketball camps, he said, and found himself thinking that the view out his window was one he could look at for the next four years of his life. Even as he and his family considered other institutions, Lees-McRae remained a top option and eventually his final choice. Now, in his last year of college, he had some advice for students beginning their time at Lees-McRae.  

“My challenge to you is to take advantage of the opportunities here,” he said. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Fortunately enough, when there are situations where you’re uncomfortable, you have staff and a family here at Lees-McRae that you can lean on.”  

England pointed to the unexpected situation of meals being served in the dining tent on Tate Lawn while renovations on the dining hall continue as an example of how the staff and administration support students, even during uncomfortable situations. He advised his fellow students to use their four years of college to prepare for life after graduation by developing skills, building relationships, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.  

“My hope for you is that you’re in the mountains, of the mountains, and for the mountains,” he said. “This is an amazing place. Take advantage of it and enjoy the moments.”  

Following England’s speech, Provost Alyson Gill shared some remarks. She explained that the word “convocation” comes from the Latin word “convocare,” meaning to convene or come together.  

“Convocation is about community,” she said. “Look around. This is your community. These are your people. You all walked in here as individuals and you will leave as one.”  

Gill then introduced the deans of Arts, Humanities, and Education; Business and Management; Natural and Behavioral Sciences; Nursing and Health Sciences; and Persistence and Completion Experience, who each addressed the audience and recognized their faculty.  

The keynote speaker for Convocation was Josh Yoder, the director of Theatre Arts. He started his speech by describing a recurring dream he referred to as the “actor’s nightmare,” a dream many actors experience. In the nightmare, Yoder finds himself standing center stage on opening night of a play with no knowledge of his lines or memory of preparing. Even though this has never happened to him in real life, the feelings of shame, guilt, and anxiety of feeling completely unprepared and not measuring up are familiar.  

“Even if you aren’t an actor, I’m going to bet you can understand and appreciate that feeling,” he said. “I think there’s a sense that all of us in this room have been living the ‘actor’s nightmare’ for the past 18 months. In March 2020, we all found ourselves standing on a stage without a clue of what to say next. 

“So what did we do?” he continued. “We improvised. We ad-libbed. We did the best that we could. And we kept things going because the show must go on.”  

Yoder acknowledged that the community is still in that space of figuring out the next steps as the pandemic continues to affect campus operations. While meeting together in person was a hopeful sign, the college will still need to improvise and work together towards a shared purpose.  

One person who did that well, Yoder said, was college founder Edgar Tufts. Tufts came to a new region as a Presbyterian minister and immediately got to work addressing the needs of his neighbors by building churches, establishing schools for girls, opening an orphanage, expanding health care access, and bringing electricity to the town.  

“Tufts was a beacon of kindness and positivity, and he was an absolute dynamo of community building,” Yoder said.  

Yoder quoted he final monologue from Janet Barton Speer’s musical “From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story,” in which Tufts encourages the audience to “not be weary in well-doing,” but to “roll up your sleeves and get to work.” The Lees-McRae community, Yoder said, carries on that legacy well.  

“This is already a community that cares,” he said. “A community that sees a need and does something about it. A community of folks that are used to rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. I think Edgar Tufts would be proud.”  

He challenged the students, faculty, and staff to continue serving each other and lending a hand. Following his speech, the musical group The Highlanders performed “Of the Mountains,” the final number of “From the Mountaintop: The Edgar Tufts Story.” 

Gill offered the closing remarks. She issued a challenge as well, inviting students to lean into the opportunities available at the college and to take some chances in the upcoming year. She ended her remarks with the poem “Ithaka” by C.P. Cavafy.  

Bagpiper Gordon Warburton accompanied the students as they recessed. Immediately after Convocation ended, the entire Class of 2025 met in front of the North Carolina Building for a class photo, officially signaling the start of their Lees-McRae adventure. 

By Emily WebbAugust 23, 2021