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U. welcomes new classes at convocation

President Christina Paxson acknowledged incoming students at the annual ceremony

New students fought intermittent downpours, flooded streets and echoes of thunder to celebrate the opening of the University’s 250th academic year yesterday on the Main Green.

After officially commencing the new year, President Christina Paxson welcomed the 1,537 members of the class of 2017, 120 Alpert Medical School students, 639 masters and doctoral students, nine Resumed Undergraduate Education scholars and 70 transfer students. Paxson commended these students on the “great curiosity, creativity and determination that they bring to their work” and emphasized the diversity of the  incoming first-year class.

“Perhaps most important, each year we welcome a community of scholars with a great breadth of experience in a diversity of backgrounds,” she said.

Paxson called the collection of first-years a “lively experiment,” referring to the creation of the state and the University as models of experiments in which diverse communities worked toward universal betterment. While the word “experiment” implies uncertainty of success, there is “not one chance” the the class of 2017 will fail, Paxson added.

After Paxson spoke, Professor of History Omer Bartov took the stage to make his convocation address, titled “Education, Power and Conformism.”

Bartov’s speech explored the task of making the most of one’s time at Brown, and he asked the students how they will have changed by 2017. There is great power in education and the knowledge Brown offers, he said.

“The role of education is first and foremost to teach us to question the very rules and regulations, conventions and unspoken assumptions upon which our society is based,” he said.

Using historical examples from around the world, Bartov warned against the evils of conformism and even the harms of inactive nonconformism, calling on the audience members to cultivate rebellious spirits. He added that in over a decade at Brown, he has worked with many intelligent and dedicated students, but the rebellious and inquisitive are harder to find.

Many first-years said the energy of the speeches and the ceremonial walk through the Van Wickle gates excited them.

Dan Rapuano ’17 noted that Bartov’s message was different from that of most speeches he had heard.

“I think it’s pretty cool that, at Brown, you have a convocation speaker basically telling you to question everything, even what he says and even what all of your professors say,” he said.

The a capella group The Higher Keys opened the event with the national anthem and closed with the alma mater, and the Brown Opening Convocation Brass Ensemble also performed.


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