Jason Pina

Jason Pina, vice president for student affairs and interim chief diversity officer, convenes the President's Convocation for First-Year Students.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Joseph McLaughlin

Associate Professor Joseph McLaughlin, chair of faculty senate, encourages students to ask themselves: "Who are you?"

Photographer: Ben Wirtz Siegel

Chais Michael

After sharing her winning video, Chais Michael, junior child and family studies major, advised students to take advantage of the many opportunities at OHIO.

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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President Nellis joins first-year students in new beginning at his first Convocation

On Sunday, Aug. 27, at the President’s Convocation for First-Year Students, Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis officially inducted the Class of 2021 into the Bobcat family – the first of many for OHIO’s 21st president, who told the freshmen gathered in the Convocation Center on the Athens Campus of a summer spent falling in love. 

“Don’t worry – my wife, Ruthie, already knows all about this,” President Nellis joked to laughs from the first-year students. “In fact, she fell in love this summer, too. We both fell in love with Ohio University. Let me tell you how it happened.”  

President Nellis shared how he has embarked upon discovering what it means to be a part of the Bobcat family since joining the University in June by touring its campuses, eating in its dining halls, sitting in its classrooms and, most importantly, engaging with its people. 

“Take it from someone who’s had a head start at being new around here,” he said. “You’re going to love Ohio University. It’s truly a special place. It’s the most beautiful campus in the United States – and I’ve been on a number of them. It has excellent academic programs. But most importantly, you will love Ohio University because of the people.” 

From faculty who are leaders in their fields to student affairs professionals dedicated to supporting students outside the classroom, President Nellis assured the freshmen they would be surrounded by excellence during their time at OHIO and encouraged them to think about making the most of this transformative time in their lives.  

“On this day, I want each of you to make a promise to yourself,” he said. “Aspire to be more than what you are today. Learn more. Explore more. Dream more. You’ll be better as a result, and so will our society.”

After officially convening the ceremony, Vice President for Student Affairs and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Jason Pina told the students to get out of their comfort zones by embracing opportunities, seeking mentors, joining organizations and engaging with professors (in person). 

“College marks a pivotal time in your life, and I can think of no better place than Ohio University to make that journey worthwhile,” he said. 

Pina then introduced Chais Michael, a junior majoring in child and family studies. Michael earned the opportunity to address the Class of 2021 with her 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. Michael submitted a video encouraging freshmen to make OHIO their “hOUme.” 

In her official welcome, Michael reminded the freshmen that everyone at OHIO, including faculty, staff and fellow students, wants to see them succeed. 

“I encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you’re given, as you never know what it may lead to,” she said. “You’re going to have stumbles along the way, but they won’t define you. What defines you is the way you bounce back from them.” 

In his remarks to the students, Interim Executive Vice President and Provost David Descutner shared insights from his own undergraduate experience years ago as a freshman attending Slippery Rock University (then Slippery Rock State College) on a tennis scholarship. 

“I made every single mistake I could make during that first semester,” Dr. Descutner said, remembering it ended with a less-than-stellar GPA and questions about whether he was meant to go to college. It was through two dedicated faculty members who recognized his promise that Descutner went on to become a successful student. 

“From that point forward, I realized that before me on that campus – just as before you on this campus – were boundless opportunities,” he said. “There are men and women across this campus who want you not just to have an experience here – they want you to have a transformative experience. What lies ahead for you is rich and boundless.” 

Faculty Senate Chair and Associate Professor Joseph McLaughlin, a noted scholar in the area of 19th century British literature, invoked some of history’s most famous authors as he welcomed the first-year students on behalf of OHIO’s faculty. 

“I teach Victorian literature, and stories are an important lens through which I make sense of the world,” Dr. McLaughlin explained. “I imagine some of you right now feel like a famous character from that world as you make this significant transition in your lives. Perhaps you feel like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole. In recent months I’m sure you’ve felt both larger than life – say, at high school graduation – and extremely tiny – say, right now. What are the rules and characters in this new world? Do you miss your cat? Before you on this platform are people dressed in strange costumes not normally encountered in the real world. ” 

Dr. McLaughlin explained that in this new world – the community that is Ohio University – he and his colleagues will not hesitate to ask students some of life’s most profound questions, pushing them to consider ideas beyond the subjects and theories tied to the curriculum of a single class or degree program. 

“Who are you? If you don’t ponder that question frequently over the next several years, we’re not doing our job,” he said. 

Dr. McLaughlin invited the students to consider the next four years not just as preparation for a career, but as an experience in which students cultivate habits of mind that make them problem posers, not just problem solvers. 

“Be someone who asks good questions; not just someone who is good at finding answers,” he said. “Someone whose motto echoes the words mouthed by Alice: ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ In four years (or five), when you gather here for your commencement, I hope your curiosity will be wider and deeper than it is today.”  

First-year students Amy Berher, a political science major from Westerville, Ohio; Samantha Dowdy, an undecided business major from Frankfort, Ohio; and Siera Joehnk, a psychology major from Batavia, Ohio, especially enjoyed Dr. McLaughlin’s remarks as they reflected on their first days at OHIO. 

“The Alice in Wonderland references were spot on,” Dowdy said. “They applied exactly to how we’re all feeling right now.” 

Following the ceremony, President Nellis and members of OHIO’s academic and executive leadership teams joined the Marching 110 and the Class of 2021 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.