Adeja Crearer didn’t know who she could be until she scaled the walls she built around herself.
The double River Hawk and associate producer for CNN in Atlanta told the incoming first-year and transfer students at UML’s 2020 Convocation that they are uniquely positioned to do great things because of the obstacles and challenges surrounding them – a whole world of chaos, crisis and COVID-19.
“You are a very special class, as you are starting the most important chapter of your lives amid a pandemic, a racial crisis, economic turmoil and a high-stakes presidential election among many other things,” said Crearer ’17, ’18.
She recounted how she spent her first few months at UMass Lowell in a self-imposed exile, leaving her residence hall only to attend class. But she eventually found her footing and thrived, becoming a student leader on her way to earning a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in peace and conflict studies.
So here was the former recluse, telling an incoming class living under the isolation of a pandemic to “be comfortably uncomfortable. That means stepping out of your comfort zone.”
It was UMass Lowell’s 15th annual Convocation ceremony to open the start of the academic year, but for the first time it was held virtually due to COVID-19. Instead of filling the seats at the Tsongas Center, students watched via Hopin software or Facebook Live.
The event, however, was not without tradition. ROTC members presented the colors. The UML Marching Band belted out the River Hawk fight song, and the UMass Lowell Chamber Singers layered the lines of the national anthem like a celebratory cake. Chancellor Jacquie Moloney welcomed the new students to UMass Lowell and Provost Joseph Hartman banged his scepter on the ground three times to open and close the event.
Moloney acknowledged the unique challenges that the students face entering college at a time when social distancing and remote learning are the norms.
“I know that making connections will be a challenge in the coming months,” Moloney said. “The class of 2024 is going to go down in history as being the most innovative, resourceful and resilient class ever known to UMass Lowell. Because that’s what it is going to take to get through all of this. Dig deep and bring all you have to the table to make a difference while you are here.”
Crearer said the class of 2024 “will be the activists that create change, the politicians that see humanity instead of political party, the teachers that go beyond the classroom and the leaders that lead by example and not just by position.”
Crearer exhorted the new students to take charge of their education.
“On campus or off, I want you to write this next chapter with the same ambition and grit that it took you to get where you are today. And when you get to your first day online, I hope you know that every UMass Lowell class that came before you is rooting for you. The world is rooting for you,” she said.
Student Government Association President Hannah Casey told the virtual crowd she “found passion I didn’t know I had” at UMass Lowell, and tapped into “absolutely limitless opportunity.”
She also reminded the students of the new reality they face in the wake of the pandemic.
“We have a responsibility to be safe for ourselves, our fellow students and our faculty and staff because we are in this together. Our lives can change completely in a matter of days, based on our actions,” she said.
Following the event, students were invited to log on to a virtual Engagement Fair to explore campus life, student government and the university’s vast array of clubs, organizations and activities which they can participate in remotely.