August 26, 2020 at 12:15pm
Dane Lisser

Virtual Opening Convocation kickstarts academic journeys

Opening Convocation – a time to welcome a new academic year.

It's an academic year unlike any other, where schools across the country are facing challenges filled with remote and hybrid learning.

Like many meetings and events that are occurring, Millikin University's Opening Convocation, held on Aug. 23, was a virtual gathering featuring many voices from the campus community, including faculty, staff members and students sharing their thoughts on the beginning of this unique academic journey.

From the main lobby of Millikin's new Center for Theatre & Dance, Vice President for Student Affairs Raphaella Prange opened the event with a promise that "this year would be filled with incredible opportunities."

“While we will begin these journeys in a remote and virtual fashion, before we know it, we will return to an in-person experience," Prange said. "Don't underestimate the power of these short term virtual experiences. Let your journey expand your personal life of meaning and value."


Prange later emphasized the support of safety around the Big Blue campus community as well as being advocates for social justice and equity.

"Wear your face coverings at all times when you are around others, practice social distancing, frequent hand washing and disinfect the personal surfaces you touch daily," she said. "Challenge your peers to do their part and role model the way."

Millikin's new President Dr. Jim Reynolds, a Decatur (Ill.) native, expressed how proud he is of the University. "As we start this journey together, know that the faculty and staff are devoted to your success. Make certain you ask them the questions you need to have answered. This is one of the more unusual times in our history and what I am asking of all of you is to help us out."

Johannah Comish Millikin senior Johannah Comish, an English secondary teaching major and student representative to Millikin's Board of Trustees, was the first of two student speakers.

Comish, of Highland, Ill., said she chose to attend Millikin because it was a school that would challenge her academically and would offer an environment that would challenge her to become the best version of herself.

"This school year, the challenge will be heightened for all of us. For our returning students, we rolled with the changes of last semester and we can bravely look forward to this next semester with the skills and lessons we have learned," Comish said. "For our new students, you are not alone. You have an entire campus community that you can depend on and it is always okay to ask for help. Together, we can all do our best to keep our campus safe while pursuing the goals and dreams that drew us to Millikin."

Senior nursing major Marcus Hayes, of Joliet, Ill., addressed the Class of 2024 with a speech summarized in one phrase: "Ready or not, welcome home."

"My academic foundation has been built on faith, sacrifice and diligence. I'll be here to praise your successes and help you learn from your failures. I'm here for you to help keep the project going even if you've lost hope in the blueprint," Hayes said. "Class of 2024, welcome to your freshmen year – the foundation of your house, and your house will be tested. Be wise, have fun, learn, ask for help and build together, because ready or not, welcome home."

Marcus Hayes Millikin University

Prior to introducing the keynote speaker for Opening Convocation, Millikin Provost Dr. Jeff Aper recognized faculty members who received tenure and promotion this past year. Those granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor were Dr. Laura Dean, Professor Angela Miller and Professor Jessa Wilcoxen. Promoted to Full Professor were Dr. Mike Hollis-George, Dr. Eric Roark and Dr. Jennifer Schroeder.

Mary Black Millikin UniversityEach year, the keynote speaker for Millikin's Opening Convocation is a faculty member who received the Czerwinski Award for Teaching Excellence and Leadership presented at the Honors Convocation the previous spring. The Czerwinski Award is given to an individual who has exemplified outstanding teaching and has also made a major impact on the campus community through important leadership efforts. This past spring, the recipient of the prestigious award was Professor Mary Black of the School of Theatre & Dance.  

"You are entering college at an unprecedented time. This pandemic has brought hardships and challenges you never could have anticipated. But the fact that you are here, even remotely, shows that you are ready to step up and meet those challenges," said Black.

When asked to put together some thoughts and advice for the students, Black chose to focus her advice around five quotes from Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical "Hamilton."

  • "I want to be in the room where it happens."
  • "Work."
  • "The revolution's imminent, to what do you stall for? If you stand for nothing Burr, what'll you fall for?"
  • "I am not throwin' away my shot. Hey yo, I'm just like my country. I'm young, scrappy and hungry. And I'm not throwin' away my shot."
  • "Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now."

"The world is changing right before our eyes and we all have an opportunity to be a part of it," said Black. "For years to come, we will tell stories about the year 2020. We have opportunities to build and embrace new ways of learning, competing and creating. We have opportunities to build new and better technologies and communities. You are embarking on a new journey this year and it is up to each of you to shape that journey. Don't throw away your shot."