At first glance, the sight of the Class of 2013 lined up along the quad in preparation for a ceremonial walk evoked memories of graduating AU classes of old, ready to take their final steps around campus.
But these freshmen, standing in single file on a late summer morning, had a different purpose.
As part of a new AU tradition that aims to bookmark the beginning and end of their AU experience with a grand processional, they marched through Glover Gate and into Bender Arena to the convocation ceremony where they received their formal welcome to American University.
Tartan-clad bagpipers led the way, piercing the still August air with their solemn sound as the students walked around the newly expanded Kogod Building and through the open doors of Bender. Inside, the faculty and staff lining the lobby erupted in thunderous applause to greet the new class as they filed in and received navy blue AU ballcaps emblazoned with 2013.
University leadership, cloaked in full academic robes, helped preside over the ceremony as five speakers – President Neil Kerwin, SPA/BA ’71; Provost Scott Bass; Student Government President Andy MacCracken '11, 2009 Scholar-Teacher of the Year Meike Meurs, and AU Alumni Association Vice President Erin Fuller – took turns addressing the incoming class.
The ceremony marked their entrée into the AU community – as students and scholars, but also, in the words of President Kerwin, as “alumni in training.”
Remarks from Provost Bass, SG President MacCracken, and Professor Meurs touched on some of the challenges and adventures that lay ahead. But in a change unique to this year’s convocation, the links between those “alumni in training” and the AU alumni community worldwide were underscored by the ceremony’s final speaker, Erin Fuller, SPA/BA ’93, SPA/MPA ’94, who welcomed the freshmen to AU on behalf of the more than 100,000 Eagles around the world.
Fuller drew laughter from the audience as she noted some of the differences in her AU experience two decades earlier. “I shared a phone line with my roommate,” she said with a smile. “No cell phones in 1989. I waited in line to type my papers at the computer lab – very few students had their own computer.”
Some things, though, remained the same, and these similarities transcended the years to create a shared experience between Fuller and the 1,500 listening from the other side of the podium they will cross in a few years most will likely claim flew by.
“All of you still have amazing opportunities ahead of you,” she said. “Many of you share a commitment to service, to excellence, to connecting with people who aren’t like you in the least.”
Fuller offered a litany of accomplishments by fellow AU alumni in business, public service, and the arts and entertainment. Then she closed by invoking an important mantra whose message reinforced the very sentiment of the ceremony, tying together the rich symbolism and traditions of AU’s past, present, and future.
“Once an Eagle, always an Eagle,” she told the class. “Enjoy this time, when all things truly are possible… and enjoy your journey at American University.”