Loyola University Chicago

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Introducing the Class of 2020

2016 New Student Convocation

• Click on the picture to see images from the New Student Convocation.
• See more photos from Welcome Week 2016 in our official Flickr gallery

By Anna Gaynor

On August 26 more than 2,600 freshmen students—the largest incoming class in the University’s history—took part in Loyola’s annual New Student Convocation.

Coming from 44 different states and more than 40 countries, the students walked across campus and through Cudahy Library’s green doors to mark the beginning of their academic careers. They were joined on the procession by more than 500 transfer students.

And all of them received a rousing welcome from the Loyola community.

“There’s way more people than I can really wrap my head around,” said incoming student Catherine Still, a psychology major from Minnesota. “I’ve met so many cool people, and it just doesn’t end. There’s a ton of people.”

Fellow student Nate Dugener also was blown away by the festivities and was eager to start his college career.

“I love Chicago, just being in Chicago,” said Dugener, who is from Michigan and plans to study environmental science. “Just to be able to be on my own, meet new people, and get new experiences—I’m pretty excited for what’s to come.”

After Dugener, Still, and the other students finished their walk, they gathered in Gentile Arena to be officially inducted into their graduating class. Unlike previous years, though, they weren’t the only ones starting a new journey at Loyola. Joining them was Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, the University’s new president, who was taking part in her first New Student Convocation at Loyola. 

Her welcome speech was an introduction to Loyola’s mission as well as a primer on the freedoms and responsibilities that come with college life.

“You get to determine how you spend your time, who you get to know, what courses you take,” Dr. Rooney said. She drove her point home by light-heartedly telling the students: “If you don’t have any clean socks to wear, or if you realize at midnight that you forgot to eat dinner and the dining halls are closed, you will be reminded that, oh yes, you are now independent. Enjoy!”  

But Dr. Rooney stressed that the students wouldn’t be navigating college on their own.

“Beginning today, may Loyola be a place where you always find community, family, and connection, where you learn and grow, and especially where you are inspired each and every day to go forth and set the world on fire,” she said. “We welcome you, and we embrace you with open arms. May today be the start of a fantastic year and many, many more years ahead to come.”

A message to remember

Convocation also featured another notable speaker: Bryan Stevenson, the author of this year’s First-Year Text, Just Mercy. Stevenson, an activist attorney, is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Having spent his career helping the poor and incarcerated, Stevenson asked incoming students to start reflecting on their role in fighting against the injustices that happen every day.

“I believe that each of you has a unique and important gift,” Stevenson said. “I believe you can use that gift to change the world, and I’m not just saying that. I genuinely believe that all of you have the power to do something that can make the world better.”

In Just Mercy, Stevenson chronicles the humble and challenging beginnings of the institute—as well as some of the death penalty cases that have marked his career. His legal work has provided reversals, relief, or release for more than 115 wrongly imprisoned individuals on death row.

“You’ve got to stay hopeful,” Stevenson said. “I really want you to try to remember that, because your hopefulness is essential to your capacity to change the world. I actually believe that hopelessness is the enemy of justice. … When you become hopeless about what you can do, you sort of become part of the problem.”  

Common ground for all students

All incoming students received a copy of Just Mercy to read over the summer. And while reading the book was essentially a homework assignment, it also served a greater purpose: to bring students together in a common conversation about social justice. 

“Since I’m not from the U.S., it is very important to be aware that these issues are happening not just here, but everywhere,” said Mariana Sosa, a student from Ecuador who plans on taking a pre-med track at Loyola. 

She wasn’t the only student that Stevenson left an impression on.

“When I first got the book, I was like, ‘Oh, summer reading?’ ” Still said. “But I read it, and it was so interesting. I kind of reconsidered my major even. I just thought it was really, really fascinating and inspiring.”

With more than 2,600 students, the Class of 2020 is the largest incoming class in Loyola’s history. Here are some facts about them (as of August 26):
• They come from 44 different states and more than 40 countries
• More than 40 percent are students of color 
• Average high school GPA: 3.74
• Average ACT score: 26
• 26 are enrolled in the Rome Start program