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SLU-Madrid Welcomes New Billikens at Convocation

by Katie Gortz on 08/31/2021

SLU-Madrid extended an official welcome to 230 new members of our community — the Class of 2025, new transfer students and the fifth class of University of Delaware World Scholars — at the annual Convocation and Family Welcome. A tradition on both of SLU's campuses, the ceremony marks and celebrates the entry of new students into the SLU-Madrid academic community.

New Billikens at 2021 Convocation

SLU-Madrid is pleased to partner with the University of Delaware World Scholars program once again this year. Thirty-two World Scholars will complete a semester of college abroad at SLU-Madrid during the fall of 2021.

Assistant Dean Jaime Ortiz served as Master of Ceremonies for this year's celebration. After an invocation led by James O. Leary, S.J., Ortiz introduced the first speaker, SLU President Fred Pestello, Ph.D., who addressed the new students via video message. 

Pestello recalled the immediate sense of pride and connection he felt the first time he visited the Madrid Campus, a reflection of the united global community he coined as "OneSLU" at the start of the pandemic. He reminded the new students that they are now members of this community. 

He also urged students to each take advantage of the opportunity to receive a rigorous, values-based Jesuit education, serve a higher purpose and establish their own personal mission.

"I am excited for you to embark on this educational journey," he concluded. "Enjoy getting to know your new home away from home. Settle in. Venture out. And discover yourself in our world."

As a representative of the SLU-Madrid Alumni Association, Rayan El Grabli (Class of 2020) drew from her own experience as a SLU-Madrid student, advising new Billikens to keep their hearts and minds open and to challenge themselves. 

The next speaker, Director of Admissions Heidi Buffington, awed the audience with information about the depth, talent and diversity of the new transfer students and members of the Class of 2025. These 198 incoming students hail from 28 different countries in a list topped by the U.S., followed by Spain, Italy, Lebanon and Morocco. The U.S. students represent 30 states as well as Puerto Rico. Their interests range from elite-level competitive horseback riding and playing the bagpipes, to volunteering as a COVID-19 contact tracer for the Navajo nation and teaching English to children in an orphanage in Colombia.

Student Government Association (SGA) President, Daniel Harris discussed the ways in which his SLU-Madrid education has changed his perception of the world. "Coming to SLU-Madrid has been the best decision I have made to this day, and I can guarantee you'll feel the same way," he concluded. 

Faculty Senate President Carolina Aznar, Ph.D., then offered a welcome on behalf of the Madrid Campus faculty. She reminded students that their experience at SLU-Madrid is one of exploration and discovery, an opportunity to learn about themselves, humanity and the world in new and meaningful ways. 

The final speaker, SLU-Madrid Director and Academic Dean, Paul Vita, Ph.D., brought great energy and enthusiasm to the stage as he shared a story, which he dedicated to the late Jonathan Smith, Ph.D, SLU's Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement.

For Vita, the spring season this year was a particularly special time in Madrid. After the strict confinement of the previous spring and a historic snowstorm in January, Vita found himself walking around the city more and more this spring, enjoying the blue skies and blossoms on the trees as the city came back to life. On one of these walks, he encountered a man who was wearing lederhosen, playing a wooden recorder, and marching in a defiant yet directionless way, the true embodiment of the eccentricity of urban culture. After crossing paths with this man many times over the course of the next few months, Vita came to the realization that, alongside the blue skies and tree blossoms, "this marching recorder-player [was] taking it upon himself to heal an urban space so traumatized by the pandemic – through music!"

Inspired by the marching recorder-player, Vita offered SLU-Madrid's new students his reflections: 

"I hope your SLU education and your experiences in the wonderful city of Madrid teach you to listen. To listen to what you may not think you need to hear. To listen to what you may not want to hear. To listen to reach a clarity of understanding… I also hope that your SLU education inspires you to apply [your] communication skills to serve others and to contribute to making your neighborhood and your world a better place."

Vita offered SLU-Madrid's new students his reflections

The Fall 2021 Convocation ceremony took place on the Padre Rubio Patio and was streamed live to smaller groups of students in different locations on campus.