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Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis addresses the Class of 2020 during the President's Convocation for First-Year Students.

Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis addresses the Class of 2020 during the President's Convocation for First-Year Students.

Photographer: Daniel Owen

Members of the Marching 110 lead Ohio University's Class of 2020 in a procession up Richland Avenue.

Members of the Marching 110 lead Ohio University's Class of 2020 in a procession up Richland Avenue.

Photographer: Daniel Owen

Students sign up for 4 Paws for Ability during Ohio University's Campus Involvement Fair.

Students sign up for 4 Paws for Ability during Ohio University's Campus Involvement Fair.

Photographer: Daniel Owen

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Class of 2020 inducted into Bobcat family at President McDavis’ final first-year convocation


August 21 marked a day of firsts on Ohio University’s Athens Campus as members of the Class of 2020 took the first steps on their academic journey at OHIO – and a day of lasts as President Roderick J. McDavis presided over his 13th and final President’s Convocation for First-Year Students.

“For more than 212 years, Ohio University has helped students achieve their dreams and goals,” President McDavis told the newest members of the Bobcat family who gathered in the Convocation Center to be inducted into the OHIO community. “It did it for me, and, I promise you, it will for you.”

Only the second alumnus to lead Ohio University, President McDavis reflected on his journey as an OHIO student and president – a journey that will come to a close next June when he steps down as president of the University.

“It seems like just yesterday I was sitting where you are sitting today,” President McDavis said. “I can vividly remember my parents pulling away from Lincoln Hall on move-in day before the first day of classes and wondering what my future at Ohio University would hold. … I could have never imagined the opportunities that would unfold – the lifelong friendships that would take root, the faculty mentors who would inspire my course in life, or the ways in which an Ohio University education would expand my understanding of the world around me.”

President McDavis called on the students to embrace the change that will occur within themselves over the course of their OHIO experience, but also to never forget the moment it all started. He encouraged the students to participate in the search process for OHIO’s next president; to have an open mind and explore others’ viewpoints, especially as the country prepares to elect its next president; and to be mindful of the University’s core values of excellence, civility, integrity, diversity and stewardship.

“Always remember, you are a representative of Ohio University and a resident of Athens,” President McDavis said. “You need to take care of yourself, take care of one another and take care of the place where you live and call home.”

Joining President McDavis in welcoming the Class of 2020 were students, faculty and staff, all of whom issued their own words of wisdom to these young scholars, challenging them to make the most of their time both within and outside OHIO’s classrooms.

Participating in his first President’s Convocation for First-Year Students, Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina, who joined the OHIO community this past June, convened the ceremony. Pina shared with the students the many things they have in common as he and they settle into their new environment.

“Like you, many of my questions have yet to be answered,” Pina said. “But what I do know is this: College marks a special, pivotal time in your life, and I can think of nowhere better than Ohio University to make the most of this journey.”

Pina then introduced the first of several speakers who shared with the Class of 2020 what it means to be a Bobcat. 

Delivering the official student welcome was Marcus Cole, a senior majoring in psychology. Cole earned the opportunity to address the Class of 2020 with his winning entry in the Division of Student Affairs’ #LoveOHIO competition, which challenged the University’s upperclassmen to write about, photograph or record why they love Ohio University. Cole submitted a video poem, available here, that touted his “hOUme” – Ohio University and Athens.

Cole encouraged the incoming Bobcats to discover their own reasons to love OHIO and Athens before dishing out some advice, which included:

  • Attack each day like it’s your last, especially academically. “OU is a fun place, but it means nothing if you do not excel in the classroom.”
  • Play is important. “Athens is anything but dull, so make sure you enjoy yourself. Try new things, meet new people, and enjoy your college years to the fullest.”
  • It’s OK to make mistakes. “That’s usually the best way to learn.”
  • Get out and explore. “I promise, you get what you give, so if you give your all to OU, it will return the favor.”

Cole closed his remarks by calling on the students to reflect on who they are as individuals right now and challenged them to “leave OU a better person than you are now.”

Faculty Senate Chair Joe McLaughlin welcomed the Class of 2020 into the OHIO community on behalf of all OHIO faculty, noting that these students join “a community with a long and rich history.”

An associate professor of English, McLaughlin referenced literary figures from both “Harry Potter” and “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” as he sought to prepare the students for the world of academia. 

“In this world, people will not hesitate to ask you to consider life’s most profound questions, such as the one the caterpillar asks Alice: ‘Who are you?’” McLaughlin said. “If you don’t ponder that question frequently over the next several years, we’re not doing our job.”

He added, “Education is not merely a series of tasks, a set of boxes that need to be ticked off, but an experience in which you cultivate habits of mind that make you problem-posers – not just problem-solvers; someone who asks good questions – and not just someone who is good at finding answers; and someone whose motto echoes the words mouthed by Alice: ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ In four years, when you gather here for Commencement, I hope your curiosity will be wider and deeper than it is today.”

In delivering her welcoming remarks, Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit spoke of the lessons she’s learned during her past seven years at OHIO, combined with some recent lessons she picked up collecting Pokéballs, Potions and the occasional Oddish, playing Pokémon Go on the Athens Campus.

“The game has gotten me to look more closely at surroundings I thought I knew really well, to see them in a different way, to find surprises and history and gems with the help of a new lens through which to look at my familiar world,” Benoit said. “For most of you, Athens is pretty new territory. … But regardless of how familiar you are, or think you are, with campus, I encourage you to approach it with fresh eyes.”

Benoit urged the students to embrace that sense of exploration and adventure – inside OHIO’s classrooms, in selecting their courses and engaging with faculty, in taking part in co-curricular activities and attending events, in their social interactions, and in their self-exploration.

“Keep evolving,” she told the Class of 2020. “Use the time on this campus to explore. Because when you approach your next four years with that perspective, you’ll truly find it to be a transformative experience.”

Benoit’s comments were echoed by President McDavis as he officially inducted the Class of 2020 into the OHIO family.

“Personal connections are at the heart of the Ohio University experience, and it is up to you to seize those opportunities – to engage with your professors, to connect deeply with your peers, to immerse yourself not only in your studies, but also in the community,” President McDavis said. “In doing so, you will be transformed. That’s the promise of Ohio University.”

The remarks offered by all the event’s speakers resonated with members of the Class of 2020, setting the tone for their academic journey at OHIO.

“I’m taking away from today’s event a sense of the true emotion of this campus,” said Jaclynn Szales, a first-year student from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who is majoring in psychology. “They take everything very seriously here, especially President McDavis. Seeing the emotion he displayed as he tried to make sure we all understood that this is college and, you know, you can have a good time, but, at the end of the day, you are here for a reason.” 

Alex Turner, a first-year student from Upper Arlington and an undecided business major, was already enjoying his time at Ohio University, spending his move-in weekend socializing with his fellow Bobcats and exploring the residence halls and the Athens Campus. He echoed Szales’ comments, saying the President’s Convocation for First-Year Students reiterated for him why he and his peers are at OHIO. 

“Everyone’s here for a reason,” Turner said. “You’re here to do something, not just to be here.”

For Lillie Hooper, a first-year music major in the Honors Tutorial College from nearby Morgan County, the convocation ceremony showed her just how accessible and friendly Ohio University is.

“This campus is very big,” Hooper said, “but it’s not so huge that you can’t find what you need and people, including the deans, to help.”

Quinn Rawson, a first-year biological science major from the Cleveland area, was wrapping up her move-in weekend feeling happy about her decision to attend OHIO.

“Athens is a great place to go to college,” Rawson said. “Everyone is so friendly and helpful, and the school spirit is amazing – just look at how motivating and inspiring President McDavis’ speech was.”

Following the ceremony, President McDavis, First Lady Deborah A. McDavis, and members of OHIO’s academic and executive leadership teams joined the Marching 110 and the Class of 2020 in a Bobcat rite of passage – the procession up Richland Avenue and through the College Gate, symbolizing the class’ entry into the Bobcat family. From there, students were encouraged to take part in the Campus Involvement Fair held on College Green and to explore more than 300 of the University’s campus organizations.