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Clarke University’s Virtual Convocation Welcomes New Students

By Clarke News  |  September 14, 2020

The ceremonial start of the 177th year occurred on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2020, with Virtual Convocation and Tree Planting Ceremonies.

President Thom D. Chesney, Ph.D., began the ceremony with a message of “Mask up. Back up. And Wash Up.” He encouraged students to reflect on the positive personal accomplishments they achieved during the time of COVID-19 lockdown.

All new students were formally welcomed by President Chesney and Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan Burns, Ph.D. Remarks were given by the honorary speaker and the Clarke Student Association (CSA) Executive President. The event also included the Tassel Ceremony and planting of a class tree, which symbolizes student growth while here at Clarke.

View the CU Convocation & Tree Planting recording

The honorary speaker at Convocation each fall is the winner of the Meneve Dunham Award for Excellence in Teaching. Jennifer Mai, PT, DPT, Ph.D., MHS, NCS, Professor Physical Therapy and Chair of the Physical Therapy Department, provided this year’s address. She shared three main takeaways: find your support system, find balance, but don’t be afraid to take that step outside your comfort zone, and find what you love about Clarke and share your passion with others.

Mai encouraged new students by saying, “Use your own stepping strategy. Step outside your comfort zone. Will you find balance by joining a new club or having coffee with a new friend? Or will you find balance by saying ‘Thanks for the offer, but I’ll need to join you next time?’ Protect your yes. Listen and be open to other people’s perspectives.”

Tucker Labelle, Clarke Student Association President and class of 2022, provided these words of wisdom, “We are the generation of change. We are the generation to prove what’s right and wrong. We are the generation to lead. When this is all said and done, I want to look back in the history books at this little University among the hills of Dubuque, Iowa, and know we did it right. I want to know we had each other’s backs, and most importantly, I want to know that we prevailed through the hardest of times as One Clarke, One Community.”

Professor of Philosophy Norm Freund gave a history of the tree planting ceremony, noting trees that were named during notorious times, such as the class of 1918, during the flu pandemic, named their tree “Woodrow” after the president leading our nation at that time, and during the depths of the Great Depression, the graduates of 1935 defied the harshness of their age by naming their tree, “Amaranth,” which is Greek for “unfading.”

Samantha Brookens, a senior class senator, took the microphone to name the tree for the class of 2021. She said, “From the start of our freshman year to today, the start of our senior year, never would have I thought we’d end up here, amidst a pandemic, quarantining, and following all the other COVID-19 protocols. Although it may be challenging, the class of 2021 can push through anything and still be successful. In honor of Convocation and the official start of the academic school year, the name of the class of 2021’s tree is ‘Quarantree.’”

The tradition of the Tassel Ceremony followed the speeches. Navigator faculty and students were in remote classrooms to watch the livestream of Convocation. Faculty presented those students with an official tassel, which is one component of the academic regalia donned at Commencement. Tassels identify dedication and hard work as students advance toward their degrees.

Burns said to the students, “I encourage you to put this tassel in a special place, in your room, or on your bulletin board. I hope you will recognize it as a symbol of the goals you wish to accomplish during your time at Clarke. May this tassel remind you of your special place in our University community and inspire you to reach your goals.”

The Tree Planting Ceremony followed Convocation. Select new students read tributes to the tree they are planting on campus, a burr oak. The sheets of paper with the words they read aloud are buried within the tree roots as a symbolic gesture. In their senior year, these students will name their tree at that Convocation ceremony.