Is Convocation on permanent vacation?

By Rebecca Osowski & Kait Bedell – Features Editor & News Editor

Students gather at this year’s U-Belong event, which has replaced Convocation. Photo by Kaie Quigley

Convocation was a welcoming ceremony for first year students and their families which took place during move in day.

Faculty members dressed in regalia and marched into the Athletic Center to listen to speeches given by various administrators including President Michael Alexander, Vice President of Academic Affairs and a keynote faculty member.

Over the years, however, convocation has changed at Lasell as it has moved away from a traditional approach, ending in 2015, to a more inclusive event.

Jim Ostrow, retired Provost at Lasell, had observed through personal experience, along with President Alexander and retired VP of Financial Affairs Steve Bloom, retired Vice President of Academic Affairs, the need for a welcoming event on campus. “We observed through our own kids, a welcoming event for students would drive them into campus, they would feel more comfortable, and our idea was to put incoming students together and with interaction with existing students,” Ostrow said.

Associate Dean of Curricular Integration Dennis Frey said he had witnessed the event as a faculty member various times throughout his time at Lasell when the event took place.

“I valued the sense of community it brought to both faculty and the first years who attended,” Frey said. “It was a nice…way to welcome first years to the college.” On the other hand, Frey said the timing of the event was “awkward” and caused difficulties in planning.

Associate Dean of Curricular Integration Michelle Niestepski agrees with Frey, saying timing is a key reason convocation has shifted over time. “Traditionally, it had been on Fridays and then it was moved to Saturdays and a few years some of the Jewish religious holidays conflicted with when convocation
was,” Niestepski said.

Frey said that one of the biggest takeaways for him was getting the chance for faculty to wear the regalia which is typically only worn once a year for commencement ceremonies. “Wearing the regalia brings a sense of celebration and community,” Frey said.

Niestepski, who was a faculty speaker at convocation in 2015, enjoyed the welcoming
aspect of convocation and how “parents were invited to say goodbye to their [children] and it was always the official start of the semester for everybody.”

After 2015, convocation took on a new meaning as students and their parents were
welcomed to an academic fair where upperclassmen would present projects and show incoming students what their next four years would look like academically, while also hearing short welcoming remarks from President Alexander and other faculty.

Although Frey said he valued the experience while the traditional event was still taking place, he said he liked the U-Belong event which has taken its place in previous years.

“To be honest, I’m not sure that it should be brought back,” Frey said. “I think the U-Belong event does a much better job of welcoming back all students, whereas convocation was only for first years.”

When discussing the U-Belong celebration, Niestepski said, “the U-Belong celebration is really designed to bring everyone on campus together… [and] get everyone excited for the new academic year. The first week, that is really what students want to do, they want to be outside, they want to be having fun, connecting with other students, upperclassmen, and faculty and staff.”

Despite the U-Belong celebration’s success, both Niestepski and Ostrow believe student perspectives could be interesting in determining convocation and its impact going forward. “I think it would be interesting to have a group of students, faculty and staff together to think about events before… the first day of classes that students are really drawn to and that could add meaning to their experience. Convocation should [have to do with academics] so maybe there is a way to add to [U-Belong] or tweak it but that is something for a group to talk about,” Ostrow said.

Although no students currently on campus have experienced the traditional Lasell convocation, some students, such as junior Kensie Lennon, said they enjoy the U-Belong Celebration that has taken its place.

“The U-Belong celebration is a great way to kick off the new year and I think it’s the perfect way to bring the Lasell community together,” Lennon said. “Even if it is a new tradition, I think it’s one that should stick around for years to come.”

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