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SLU-Madrid Welcomes New Billikens at Virtual Convocation

by Katie Gortz on 09/14/2020

SLU-Madrid officially welcomed the newest 130 members of the University community – the Class of 2024 and new transfer students – at the first-ever virtual convocation ceremony.

Fall 2020 Convocation

SLU-Madrid Director and Academic Dean, Paul Vita, Ph.D., served as Master of Ceremonies for the first-ever Virtual Convocation Ceremony. 

With over 100 Zoom connections as well as a live stream on YouTube, participants in dozens of countries including Belgium, France, Colombia, Panama, Serbia, the United States and Spain, took part in this traditional ceremony that marks and celebrates the entry of new students into the SLU-Madrid academic community.

Watch SLU-Madrid’s Fall 2020 Convocation Ceremony

SLU-Madrid Director and Academic Dean, Paul Vita, Ph.D., served as Master of Ceremonies for this year’s celebration. Speakers delivered their addresses in-person as well as via video. Vita first called upon Rev. James O’Leary, S.J., SLU-Madrid Campus Chaplain, who shared a description of the meaning of Jesuit education, written by Rev. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former head of the Society of Jesus:

 “Our purpose in education is to form men and women 'for others.'  The Society of Jesus has always sought to imbue students with values that transcend the goals of money, fame and success.  We want graduates who will be leaders concerned about society and the world that they live in. We want graduates who desire to eliminate hunger and conflict in the world and who are sensitive to the need for more equitable distribution of the world's goods. We want graduates who seek to end sexual and social discrimination and who are eager to share their faith with others. In short, we want our graduates to be leaders-in-service. That has been the goal of Jesuit education since the sixteenth century. It remains so today.”

University President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., then addressed new students via video. He expressed his regret at not being in Madrid and able to take selfies and give high-fives, but was glad to be able to participate virtually.

After reflecting upon the unique conditions necessitated by a global pandemic, Pestello reminded students of the meaning behind OneSLU. “Early on in the pandemic, I coined the term OneSLU,” he explained. “OneSLU is really what we are all about. We are certainly spread out across the globe and even a little more isolated perhaps under the conditions in which we now have to live, but we are united. We are united in a shared vision, a shared vision for the world and the impact we can have on it. United by the very thing that brings us together. [We are] Global, Catholic, Jesuit, research leaders.”

Pestello concluded with a simple but fundamental reminder for the new students: “Make the best of your international education.”

As a representative of the SLU-Madrid Alumni Association, Katherine Espinosa (Class of ‘13) frankly acknowledged the unusual circumstances in which the newest Madrid Billikens are embarking on their SLU-Madrid journey, but she encouraged students to see the present as an opportunity to look for creative solutions. “From restriction is born a kind of creativity,” she said. “Let’s ask ourselves what we can do. How can you do what you need and want, with what you have, from where you are?”

She concluded, “SLU-Madrid has faith in its faculty, staff and students to give one another an experience of excellence even in these times of doubt. We want to thank you, Class of 2024, for the faith that you have already placed in SLU-Madrid.”

Director of Admissions Heidi Buffington likened the new students’ road to SLU-Madrid to her experience walking along the Saint James Way (Camino de Santiago), a network of pilgrimage routes that lead to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. She mentioned that the 130 new students represent 29 different countries in a list topped by the U.S., Spain, Morocco, Germany and Georgia. An astounding 60% of these students come from countries other than that of their nationality and 10% hold more than one nationality. This diverse group of students has already shown great resilience, embarking on their university career amidst a global pandemic, celebrating their convocation exactly six months to the day since the State of Emergency was declared in Spain on March 13, 2020. Buffington concluded with a quote by the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado: “Caminantes, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.”

Student Government Association (SGA) President Rayan El Grabli referred to her SLU-Madrid experience as the best, greatest and most challenging experience of her life, and offered words of advice to new students. “Share your knowledge, be open, challenge yourself on a daily basis, take that one class that has zero connection to your major, embrace your dream, change majors if necessary (it's OK!), absorb everything, and above all, have fun,” she said.

Faculty Senate President Carolina Anzar, Ph.D., then offered a welcome on behalf of the Madrid Campus faculty. She encouraged students to get to know their professors and to learn to use classwork to better understand themselves and the world around them.

In his closing remarks, Vita discussed the meaning of the Jesuit mission and charged students to take it to heart. “Being a person for and with others means caring about the world around you,” he said. “No matter what country you are from, get informed about the issues that are shaping your country and impacting the world. Participate in the democratic process by voting. Use your SLU-Madrid education to help you identify what you believe in and articulate what you stand for. Be ready to be challenged. Be ready to change. That is what SLU-Madrid’s formative, international, Jesuit education is all about: helping you discover what it means to be a person for and with others."