At Convocation, Incoming Students Urged to Find a Sense of Belonging

September 4, 2019
By: Kristen O'Reilly

First-year and incoming transfer students walked through the Tiffany Alumni Gates and a gauntlet of applauding faculty and staff on their way to Worcester State’s annual Convocation Ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 3., an event marking the official start of the academic year. They then filed into Sullivan Auditorium to hear advice and encouragement from speakers representing students, faculty, alumni, and administrative leadership.

Worcester State is welcoming around 890 new students this fall, the third-largest class in its history.

Alumna Jillian Witkowski ’16 offered her own story as an example of how keeping an open mind and staying true to yourself can lead to a fulfilling life and career. She began her educational journey as a nursing major, mostly because she felt that was expected of her, but ended up graduating with a degree in communication.

“I’ll tell you what all of you in here should want: You should all want to live a life where you are true to yourself. I was pursuing a career that would give me a picture-perfect life, not the career that I truly wanted,” said Witkowski, now a health and family consumer science teacher at Wachusett High School as well as the keeper coach for the girls’ soccer team. “I’m currently living the dream that I never knew I had.”

Witkowski, a two-sport athlete, reached a breaking point her junior year when the stress of being a perfectionist in a demanding major overwhelmed her. Thanks to a support system she cultivated on campus, including coaches, friends, and counseling center staff, she regrouped and found her way.

“Whether you know what you want to do in life or not, Worcester State is the perfect place to learn, grow and find yourself. I strongly recommend all of you to get involved. Go to events, explore your options. You never know when you might meet your next boss, your next mentor, a reference, or even a friend. Because I found all of them at Worcester State,” she said.

President Barry M. Maloney emphasized the importance of graduating on time and taking advantage of all that Worcester State has to offer.

“I’m going to ask you today to set a goal for yourself. That goal, if you are a first-year student, is to graduate within four years,” Maloney said, noting that doing so is the best way to control the cost of higher education. “At the same time, stretch yourself. Aim to be more than just the student who works hard and stays on track. Become a leader.”

Calling upon personal experience and his own academic research, Assistant Professor Tim Murphy, Ph.D., of the Urban Studies Department said the key to happiness is cultivating a feeling of belonging.

“One way to start feeling like you belong here, is to start saying you do,” he said, prompting the crowd to repeat “I belong here” at several points in his talk.

“The willingness to see yourself as part of this place, whether by identifying with another person here, sharing an experience, or being involved with something that gives you the feeling that you are not alone,” he said. “Once you accept that you belong and you include others in something you are doing, you extend that sense of belonging to others.”

Patience is also essential, he added.

“By the time you graduate, you will have taken some sense of ownership of this place. WSU will have become a part of you and you a part of it. You will have established a sense of belonging here, extended that sense of belonging to others around you and be able to say, with utmost conviction, that you belong here.”

Offering a student’s perspective, Student Government Association President Maribel Mateo ’20 warned those in the audience that “these four years will be the fastest of your life.”

“It will take time to adjust to a new lifestyle. But trust me, it is all possible, as long as you stay away from procrastination and utilize all the resources that are available. Get involved and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is more than just a college campus. This is your new home,” she said.

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