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Convocation Ceremony Welcomes Newest Billikens to SLU

by Joe Barker on 08/19/2023


Fresh off their move-in experience, Saint Louis University formally welcomed its newest group of Billikens at the annual Convocation ceremony on Saturday morning.

The 2023 New Student Convocation and Family Welcome ceremony was designed to be one of the first opportunities for the new class of Billikens to develop a sense of cohesion and identity. Members of the SLU community shared what being a Billiken has meant to them and what they hope it will mean for the newest Billikens. 

President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., addresses the class of 2027 during Convocation at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Photo by Sarah Conroy. Launch SlideshowPresident Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., addresses the class of 2027 during Convocation at Chaifetz Arena on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. Photo by Sarah Conroy.

Provost Mike Lewis, Ph.D., greeted the new students and prepared them for what lies ahead. 

“I'm so excited that you're joining Saint Louis University to pursue your education and your dreams,” Lewis said. “Let me start by saying Saint Louis University is, first and foremost, a university grounded in academic rigor. You will be challenged here, you will be supported here, but you will be challenged here. You excelled at your high schools, and you’re surrounded by others as talented and driven as you. Here at SLU, we have world-class faculty experts in their fields, and they will hold you to the highest standards.”

One of those faculty members, Crystal Botkin, Ph.D., shared her excitement with the new Billikens. Botkin, the interim chair of the Department of Clinical Health Sciences and director of the Nuclear Medicine Technology Program in Doisy College of Health Sciences, welcomed all students and their families to SLU. 

“This is the start of your journey to create knowledge, pursue justice, and demonstrate leadership,” Botkin said. “This is a time for new academic pursuits, new friendships, new challenges, and new opportunities to grow in and with the community.”

Another faculty member, Molly Schaller, Ph.D., associate dean for the School of Education and a professor of higher education administration, highlighted the importance of the day. Convocation marks the first step in a student’s journey in college — a place she has spent the last 40 years.

“I am here because I love college,” Schaller said. “The college campus is the richest of environments with diverse people, opportunities to expand and grow, with music, art, theater, great minds, and interesting cultures to explore. Saint Louis University has all of those things. It is the reason why I am here.”

Schaller compared the process of college to the process of panning for gold — an analogy she learned from former students. 

“You go near a goldmine at the bed of the river, and you put material in, and you sift material out,” Schaller said. “Friends, that sifting can take time and strength, but it will yield you gold. If you don’t find the right materials, you might have to move down the riverbed a little bit — if your major is not right, or you haven’t found the right minor, or that friend group is not exactly what you were hoping for, you’ll have to keep exploring and adding in new material.”

Schaller said college will have its ups and downs, but she hopes students embrace the challenges.

“I don’t think that you will love college every day, but my hope and prayer is that you throw yourself into this incredible place and that you love who you become in this process,” she said. 

Student Government Association President Marquis Govan provided a student’s perspective. A junior studying social work and sociology, Govan offered advice but also challenged his new classmates. 

Govan encouraged the new Billikens to be “unapologetically yourself and to find your truth and your purpose,” ask the question why, live out the mission, be active in the community, and travel with love. 

“I challenge you to be a Billiken and to participate in the constant reimagination of what that means,” Govan said. David Suwalsky, S.J., Ph.D., vice president for Mission and Identity, noted that Convocation was taking place inside Chaifetz Arena — the same place where the college journey ends at commencement. He offered three questions for students to consider during their time at SLU before they return to Chaifetz Arena. 

“Do I love it — why waste your time and talent doing something where you have no passion or interest?” he asked. “Am I good at it — not, one hopes, to just be satisfactory? None of us aspires to live a life just to eke out a salary, to highlight your participation trophy on a fireplace mantle. Does the world need it? Let me tell you what the world needs. It needs you. Our world needs you to be makers of change, to be lovers of good, to be challengers to the status quo, to find new ways of doing, to value those who have been cast aside, to seek justice, to be generous in service, to be a great friend, a great spouse, a great parent or even a priest for that matter.”

SLU President Fred P. Pestello, Ph.D., closed out the ceremony with his remarks. 

“Today, I have the privilege of welcoming you as new members of the Billiken family,” he said. “... What warms my heart as president is the consistency of the messages you have heard this morning. This is an amazing place, and now you are a part of it.”

Pestello talked about how the University has been quiet over the summer with students away and faculty pursuing research. With move-in, things have returned to normal, he said. 

“This week, the campus becomes alive again,” he said. “For many of us, for me, this is my favorite week of the academic year. We welcome back our students. Our faculty have returned refreshed, renewed, and with new projects to the campus. We welcome new faculty and new staff to join us in support of you and the institution. This is an exciting week here. A week full of energy.”

Pestello shared some lessons he’s learned in his life in education. He said in his talks with alumni from every university, he’s heard a few common themes. There’s never regret over not skipping enough classes, but instead, alumni have regret over not taking things seriously, not learning more, and not embracing college. 

“You are here to acquire an education, Catholic Jesuit education, a value-centered education — but you are here to be educated to prepare you for life and work beyond SLU,” he said. “Three years and nine months from now, almost to the day, I will be on a stage right over there, and you will be seated on this floor. What’s going to happen in those three years and nine months? This is a resource-rich organization that wants to help transform you. How much you walk off this floor with in three years and nine months depends on how much you put into it.”