California State University, Northridge celebrated a decade of new beginnings at the 10th annual Freshman Convocation on Sept. 15.
Thousands of freshmen in bright green or red Matador T-shirts strode onto Oviatt Lawn to cheers from student leaders and the strains of March of the Matadors by student musicians. They were greeted at the foot of the Oviatt Library stairs by CSUN administrators, student award recipients and keynote speaker Jon Ronson, author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, the 2016 Freshman Common Reading.
The evening’s speakers imparted messages of self-empowerment and resilience, encouraging the new students to honor their individuality while maintaining togetherness.
“As young adults, you will find yourselves facing new choices, as well as new opportunities — personal choices that will affect your future,” CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison told the freshman class. “By choosing to attend CSUN, you have made an important first step in this world of responsibility and choice — by deciding to invest in your future and getting a college education.”
Joshua Khabushani ’16 (Philosophy), recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Graduating Senior Award, shared his experience struggling with personal hardships during his college career, and he advised the new students that hardship might be necessary to develop a better self.
“The really fortunate amongst you will not just experience this as one independent event, but as a recurring theme woven throughout your education,” Khabushani said. “Attending CSUN presents you with a chance to completely reconstruct your personhood — refining, refining, refining, until you encounter the self you were meant to be. And truly, what a gem of a being will emerge from your depths.”
Keynote speaker Ronson, a journalist and New York Times-best-selling author of books such as The Psychopath Test and The Men Who Stare at Goats, shared about his positive college experience, his curiosity and his love of learning.
“I loved college,” Ronson said. “It’s a place of adventure and freedom. It’s where I found my confidence and my voice and my people.”
He talked about his most recent book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which dives into public shaming in the digital age and social isolation.
“On social media, we are like drone strike operators — we don’t need to think about the village that we have just blown up,” Ronson said. “We are like snowflakes who don’t need to feel responsible for the avalanche.”
Ronson said what remedies this phenomenon is simply talking to one another and being together as humans. He said the college experience is a place to nurture kindness and empathy.
“College is a place to be empathetic and to be curious,” Ronson said. “Find your people, find other people who aren’t your people, but you might learn something from them anyway. Find your voice, and have an amazing time.”
Harrison echoed his message with a call to action for students — to listen to one another, especially if it’s a matter of disagreement.
Celebrating Academic Learning
The Freshman Convocation launched in 2007 with a keynote speech by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as an out-of-classroom extension of the Freshman Common Reading. “The common reading serves to unify academic dialog,” said Christopher Aston, assistant director of the Office of Student Involvement and Development.
“There is a hyper-saturation of information today, with a lot of people talking about a lot of different things,” Aston said. “What if we were able to have an intellectually stimulating conversation about the same subject, at the same time, beyond one classroom, throughout the semester?”
This year’s convocation ceremony also recognized sophomore Roselva “Rose” Merida, the 2016 recipient of the Dianne F. Harrison Leadership Award, for her dedicated involvement on campus. Merida became a producer for Associated Students productions, a Camp Matador counselor and a student club leader by the end of her freshman year, all while keeping up her studies as a pre-med student studying cellular and molecular biology.
Merida said she was inspired at her own convocation by that year’s student leadership award recipient, Kenya Lopez.
“I remember how President Harrison was speaking so highly of [Kenya], and I thought to myself, I want that to be me next year, because I wanted to be someone who is involved and help make CSUN that much more of a better school,” she said.
Freshman Melissa Ibarra, an undecided major, said the 2016 convocation made her feel more welcome in her new environment and instilled a sense of belonging.
“The convocation inspired me to want to get more involved in my school,” Ibarra said. “I realized just how many opportunities and experiences you can have through the university.”
Ibarra said Ronson, who is one of her favorite authors, shared something she won’t forget:
“If you are an aspiring writer,” Ronson said, “but you find [it] unbearably hard and it’s tearing you apart and you feel you have no talent, congratulations — you’re a writer.”
Ibarra took that to heart.
“That made me feel I could be more confident,” Ibarra said. “I’m going to have more confidence when I do my poetry and get involved in poetry slams.”