The iconic CSUN Library is normally the site of CSUN’s New Student Convocation, which welcomes incoming freshmen and transfer students to their new home on campus each fall. On Sept. 17, an image of the library served as a digital Zoom background as the university welcomed new students to a primarily virtual fall semester.
CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Mary Beth Walker, and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students William Watkins shared their words of praise, wisdom and encouragement with the new Matadors, especially those who will spend their first CSUN year off the Northridge campus.
“Even amid a pandemic, our Matador pride still unifies us as we come together virtually tonight and thoughtfully envision your CSUN journey ahead,” Harrison said. Addressing the new students, she said, “You have joined CSUN in a year like no other in our university’s history, but resilience and adaptability are part of our DNA.”
Harrison noted a few ways that students can make the most of their college experience, including getting involved with clubs and organizations, participating in cultural activities, tutoring and mentoring, and accessing services such as counseling and advisement — all of which will stay within reach throughout the primarily virtual school year.
She also praised CSUN students for being passionate about the social issues that took center stage this year, including the Black Lives Matter movement, and making a difference within their communities.
“So, be active, be involved and, of course, as part of your civic privilege and responsibility, vote in November,” she added, putting on a face mask with the word “VOTE” printed in big, bold letters.
Walker spoke about the ways that CSUN faculty and staff will continue to support students’ academic experience, noting that more than 1,200 faculty members completed training over the summer to enhance their online teaching.
Walker also mentioned this year’s Freshman Common Read, “Educated,” a memoir by Tara Westover. “Educated” chronicles Westover’s journey from her fundamentalist Mormon family to pursue higher education. The provost emphasized the book’s message that bravely pursuing education can change one’s life, no matter their circumstances.
“I hope that each of you find similar meaning and excitement in your own studies — it’ll be the most important learning that you do,” she said. “I want to challenge each of you to be brave and take some chances. … We’re here to help you, to push you and to encourage you every step along the way. And four years from now, we will be here in person to congratulate you on your graduation.”
Watkins urged new Matadors to face the challenges of the coming years head on. Recalling his own college experience at CSUN (then known as San Fernando Valley State College), he said, “Frankly, I was a little bit intimidated and frightened by the experience of coming to such a large institution.”
Yet, despite the challenges, he pressed on, motivated by the idea that “my degree wasn’t just about me,” said Watkins. His goal was to lift up his family and community, and to ensure that his perseverance and success could inspire others. “If I did it, so can you,” he said.
Keenon Takaki, a pre-accountacy major in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics entering his sophomore year, was awarded the prestigious Dianne F. Harrison Leadership Award, which recognizes a CSUN freshman who has demonstrated outstanding involvement in a student organization on campus.
On top of completing his first year with a 3.91 GPA, Takaki has been actively involved in the CSUN Accounting Association by helping set up the Accounting Association Podcast. He serves as director of the organization meeting Monday Meetings, a position rarely held by a first-year student. He also participated in CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program as a tax preparation consultant for families and individuals with low incomes.
To the new students watching, Takaki said, “It wasn’t that long ago [that] I was in your shoes, and, quite frankly, I didn’t know what it meant to be successful as a freshman until I decided to step out of my comfort zone and surround myself with people who challenge me to be better.
“So, make the most out of your freshman year, be bold and brave enough to fail at something new,” he said.
At the end of the event, attendees were invited to sing along to a new take on the university’s alma mater, “Hail to the Matadors,” by acclaimed CSUN a capella group Acasola. The group created the captivating performance remotely, stitching together individual recordings from each performer.
Rose Merida, president of CSUN’s Associated Students and the 2015 recipient of the Harrison Leadership Award, said that Matadors “are making history” this year as they battle two viruses in society — COVID-19 and systemic racism.
“However, I know in my heart that as students,” Merida said, “we can and we will get through COVID-19, we will combat inequity and inequality, and we will be successful as students pursuing our educational dreams.
“I know this because I know we Matadors are resilient,” she said.