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Gast advises Class of 2010: “Find out what you love to do and do it”

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast addresses the Class of 2010 Sunday night.

On the eve of the first day of classes for the 2006-07 academic year, Lehigh President Alice P. Gast exhorted the 1,215 members of the Class of 2010 Sunday night to “make these the greatest of times.”

In her first University Convocation address as Lehigh’s 13th president, Gast told the incoming students in the solemn Packer Church ceremony: “Lehigh chose you because we believe in you as students, as scholars, and as individuals. You, Class of 2010, are going to be great.”

For the full text of President Alice P. Gast's convocation address, click here.

Gast, who assumed the office of president on Aug. 1, noted that “being new to Lehigh, I feel a special bond with the Class of 2010.”

And she pledged that the university’s faculty, staff, and administrators “are all equally and whole-heartedly committed to undergraduate excellence.

“You are here today because you made a choice, and a very wise one, to pursue your education at this great institution. I’m sure there are many things about Lehigh that attracted you here. One of the things that drew me to Lehigh was the university’s clear and unwavering focus on its students … We are here because of you and for you.”

The key to success

Students packed Packer Church for the convocation.

Gast, who joined with more than 200 other Lehigh faculty, staff, and administrators in helping students move in to their residence halls on Thursday, focused her remarks on three main themes: making the transition to college life, and the new freedom and responsibility that brings; finding your passion and pushing yourself to pursue it; and building relationships that last a lifetime.

“While you are here, you will be treated with respect, honesty, integrity, and civility—key values of the Lehigh community,” said Gast, who wore the orange-and-black robe signifying her doctorate degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University. “In return, we ask that you exhibit the same virtues in your academic life, your social life, and in your actions on and off campus. To live up to Lehigh’s expectations, you have to hold yourselves in the same high regard.”

The freedom that most college students eagerly anticipate comes with responsibility, Gast told the students. “Making good decisions is the key to success in school and in life.”

She challenged students to “use this time to explore, examine and experience Lehigh to the fullest.” And her advice on choosing a major and a career was simple and straightforward: “Find out what you love to do and do it.

“Follow your heart and your interests and your talents and seek the courses, teachers and scholarly activities that excite you. When you do, you will find success in life.”

Gast acknowledged that modern technology—from cell phones to instant messaging to e-mail—have made it easier than ever before to stay connected with family and friends, regardless of where they live. But living on campus offers the opportunity to meet “lots of bright, interesting people” and “hang with great new friends. The thing is, you can put away the electronics and spend time in person!”

She encouraged students to “get to know people who are different from you.

“Although your classmates share the gift of exceptional academic talent, they come from a variety of backgrounds,” she said. “Have the courage to step out of your comfort zone and discover the perspectives and insights of those whose life story is different from your own.”

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan processes alongside Gast at the opening of the convocation.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan marched with Gast in the opening procession, and greeted the Class of 2010 “not only as Lehigh University students, but as new residents to our city.”

Callahan encouraged the students to explore both of the city’s vibrant downtown areas, and closed with the wish: “I hope you end up loving the city of Bethlehem as much as I do.”

Shaking the “Snake Pit”

In his introductory remarks, John Smeaton, vice provost for student affairs, told the students: “As some of you already know, and all of you will learn and appreciate, Lehigh is more than just a four-year experience. You have begun a lifelong relationship.”

That point was brought vividly to life at Saturday night’s First-Year Student/Alumni Rally at Grace Hall, as flag-bearing representatives of every graduating class from 1940 to the present joined in a parade to welcome the new students.

Although it was unseasonably cool outside, the venerable “Snake Pit” of Grace Hall was as deafeningly loud and sweltering as during the most heated wrestling rivalry. As the Class of 1960 formally “adopted” the Class of 2010, it marked the 60th time that a class from 50 years ago adopted an incoming class, renewing one of Lehigh’s most moving traditions.

Starting a new tradition, almost every student attending the rally wore a brown “Hawk’s Nest” T-shirt, with a “2010” banner on the sleeve. On the back, to underscore the point, was the motto: “Let the Tradition Begin.”

Members of the Association of Student Alumni (ASA) and upperclass students who were part of the orientation team joined the Marching 97, cheerleaders and the dance team in welcoming the newcomers, showering them with “Lehigh spirit stuff” including beads, T-shirts, plastic megaphones, and wristbands.

Alumni Director Chris Marshall ’88 whipped the crowd into a frenzy with a rousing pep talk using his “coach’s voice” (he was formerly the swimming coach at Lehigh for 12 years). He had students who came to Lehigh from Hawaii, Maine, California, Texas, Florida, and outside the United States stand, as well as the large contingents from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

As Marshall discussed the tradition of having the class from 50 years ago adopt each incoming class, a murmur arose through the students as he told them: “Someday, you’ll adopt the Class of 2060.”

Getting it right

In introducing Gast at the rally, Marshall noted that she received her undergraduate degree from USC, her doctorate from Princeton, and had previously worked at Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“After all these years going from coast to coast and school to school, she finally got it right,” Marshall joked, to appreciative applause and loud cheers.

Gast introduced her husband, Bradley Askins, daughter Rebecca, 12, and son David, 10, and told the students: “We want to welcome you to the Lehigh family. And since we’re your close neighbors, we really feel like family.”

Gast playfully poked fun at Lehigh’s longtime rival, Lafayette, and its leopard mascot, drawing full-throated cheers from the crowd as she vowed: “I still can’t quite figure out what kind of mascot they have—a little cat or something? We’re going to show them that a Mountain Hawk can take out a little spotted kitty in no time!”

She closed her remarks by telling the Class of 2010: “I am proud of you and proud of Lehigh for admitting such a fantastic class. Go Brown and White!”

Robert Bevan ’60, whose family ties to Lehigh University go back 120 years, talked to the students about spirit, tradition, and opportunity, and led them in an ear-splitting cheer of L-E-H-I-G-H.

And although the students may have been new to Lehigh, they quickly caught on to the whole rivalry concept. Bevan concluded his remarks by saying, “Go Lehigh and beat …”

Without skipping a beat, the Class of 2010 roared back:” Lafayette!”

--Jack Croft

Photos by Theo Anderson

Posted on Tuesday, August 29, 2006

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