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New students challenged to seek mentors as they pursue faith, knowledge and service

by Luanne Williams

Ready to embark on their college journey, new students get words of advice from upperclassmen, University leaders

Incoming Wingate University students were challenged Sunday to seek out mentors; to expect mind-blowing, opinion-changing and life-altering experiences; and to pursue lives marked with faith, knowledge and service.

University President Rhett Brown told the Convocation crowd of more than 1,000 new Bulldogs inside Cuddy Arena that opportunities will remain just that if they fail to take advantage of them.

“What you get out of your college experience is directly related to what you put in,” said Brown, as he shared vignettes from his own time as a Wingate student and pointed to advice gleaned from the recent Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey.

That poll queried 100,000 American college grads of all ages to find connections between how they spent their time in school and how fulfilled they are now. The game changers, as reported in a recent New York Times op-ed by Frank Bruni, were not how prestigious their college was or what they majored in. Instead, what made the difference was time spent “establishing a deep connection with a mentor, taking on a sustained academic project and playing a significant part in a campus organization.”

Brown told students they would have the opportunity to do all those things at Wingate and especially emphasized the role that mentors can play in their lives. He said that for that reason, last spring the University implemented the Mentor Medallion, an honor that members of the graduating class bestow during Baccalaureate on faculty and staff who have best shepherded them during their time at Wingate. He described Convocation and Baccalaureate as bookends to their college careers and urged them to make the most of their time in between.

Student speakers Laura Thompson and Jose Ocampo also talked about the value of mentors.

"Many universities offer perks and other benefits, but not all invest in their students,” said Ocampo as he welcomed the Class of 2022. “I can proudly promise you today that Wingate will invest in you.”

A junior marketing major, he said the job of students is to be willing to work hard, to be open to mentors’ input and “in short, to make sure we are a sound investment.”

Thompson, who will serve this year as Student Government Association president, urged fellow students to exercise their faith by trusting the many role models they will find on campus, to gain knowledge by seeking experiences outside of their comfort zones and to embrace opportunities to serve others in ways both large and small.

“My personal wish for you all is that you all gain mentors on campus that help you become a better version of yourself, that you make connections with professors, and have life-changing experiences as you live intentionally with the purposes of faith, knowledge, and service,” she said.

Near the end of the hourlong celebration, Wingate Provost Helen Tate led students through the recitation of the University Honor Code. First, she shared a bit about her father’s life to illustrate the importance of personal integrity.

Describing his rough start as the fatherless child of a woman who worked in a boarding house, Tate said statistically her father didn’t have much of a chance. Amazingly, rather than ending up a drunk or a shyster, he became a college-educated family man and church leader, she said, causing her to wonder what made the difference.

“As I tried to understand how my father’s life turned out, I realized it was not one person responsible, but rather lots of ordinary people who were there at just the right time, serving as examples of honesty and integrity,” Tate said. “He followed the example of caring relatives, friends, scout leaders, teachers, coaches and church members and chose to live honorably in service to others.”

Similarly, she told students that by making the right choices day by day they will not only shape their own lives, but they can change the odds for someone else.

Convocation, which began with the faculty processional, included an invocation from the Rev. Dane Jordan, a litany led by Assistant Professor Jacob Wobig, and a benediction from Assistant Professor Christy Cobb. Wingate’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Professor Kenney Potter, performed a South African Welcome Song called “Vela, Vela,” and also sang the Alma Mater at the event, which marked the end of New Student Orientation and the beginning of the academic year.

Aug. 19, 2018