By Chris Casey | University Communications
DENVER - Incoming freshmen at the University of Colorado Denver heard a message loud and clear at Friday's high-spirited convocation: Get connected to your university family and pursue college with courageous zeal.
The program drew a packed house to Tivoli Turnhalle and featured comments by students and university leadership, music by a cappella group UCD Mix, a guest speaker and complimentary CU Denver pins and T-shirts. The ceremony concluded with a barbecue picnic in the quad.
"It was exciting," freshman Zach Hueser of Centennial said of the program. "I really liked the guest speaker (author Jon Vroman), and everybody who presented did very well. They were very poised. I'm really excited (about the start of school), and the convocation made me more excited."
The event's upbeat tone was set by program emcee Mehdi Bandali, a recent CU Denver graduate and former student government representative. Bandali used a ship metaphor to illustrate the university experience. "In a few years here you will be docking at the harbor of success. Whether you're a freshman, transfer or graduate student ... you will have success at the end of this journey."
Raul Cardenas, associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said students can enhance the journey if they get out of their comfort zones and expand their interests. "This is your time -- embrace it."
He noted that the Class of 2016 arrives at the dawning of a new era. He explained that student government last year led an effort to name a mascot for the Denver Campus. "Beginning this year, it's yours. It's exciting. It's part of the legacy that you will leave for many years to come. You guys are the Lynx. ... My question to you is, what's going to be your legacy on our campus? We want you to leave your legacy here -- not only for others to come, but for yourself and your family. We are proud that you have joined the University of Colorado Denver family."
Other speakers included Gordon Hamby, president of the Student Government Association; Peer Advocate Leaders Lubna Mazin and Connor Stanley; Chancellor Don Elliman and Provost Rod Nairn. Getting the more than 200 students to jump out of their chairs, shout, hug each other and tell jokes was special guest Vroman, founder of the Front Row Foundation, which gives people with life-threatening diseases once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Vroman, author of "Living College Life In The Front Row," explained that there are two kinds of people: those who are victims and those who take ownership of their lives and grow from adversity.
"You've made a wise choice by being here, because when you change your environment you change your life," Vroman said. He got the crowd laughing with video clips of his young son resisting both kale and plain yogurt.
"What's good for you isn't always good going down," Vroman said. "Here's the reason why people don't succeed in life: they seek comfort. And here's the reality: Most of your growth comes from discomfort."
All of the speakers reminded the students to work hard, but also to have fun during college. Hamby and the PALs representatives urged students to get involved in the many clubs and extracurricular activities on campus.
Hamby, noting that he's a "couple days older" than his peers in the room, said he was detached and "too cool for school" the first time he attended college. He isn't making that mistake again. "Engagement, involvement -- this is truly the key to the success of my college career now."
Mazin and Stanley encouraged students to cultivate time management skills and outlined the many support services available on campus. They reminded students about some of the fun events coming up in the next several weeks.
Nairn encouraged students to take advantage of the university's outstanding professors. "Many of them are leaders in their fields," the provost said. "They really are ready, standing by and open to interacting with you and helping you with your educational journey."
Elliman echoed other speakers' comments about having fun during college, and left students with this advice: "Most of the success you achieve here is going to come from you ... We're here to support it, we're here to encourage it, we're here to prop it up if we need to. But you've got to make this happen for yourself."
Another fun event coming up for students is the Block Party in front of the new Business School on Aug. 23.
For any questions about support services or other campus programs and events, students should call the Office of Student Life at 303-556-3399.
(Photo: Students attend the barbecue picnic after the convocation program at CU Denver.)