FORUM Vol. 39, No. 1, August 26, 2014


Convocation speakers offer new students advice, challenges

Convocation speakers welcomed new students to Grand Valley by offering them advice while presenting challenges.

President Thomas J. Haas told students who gathered in the Fieldhouse August 22 that the faculty members sitting in the front rows will become critically important to them.

“These people, who are renowned in their fields, have chosen to teach you and to challenge you to learn,” Haas said. “In doing so, they will change your lives.”

He said that was a lofty goal, then reminded students that they came to campus with their own goals.

President Thomas J. Haas addresses the audience at Convocation in the Fieldhouse on August 22.

Photo by Amanda Pitts
President Thomas J. Haas addresses the audience at Convocation in the Fieldhouse on August 22.


“Find your passion, so you will contribute to our campus life and to your communities and to your professional areas,” he said.

He followed speakers Karen Gipson, chair of University Academic Senate, and Andrew Plague, Student Senate president, who offered their own advice to first-year students.

Gipson, professor of physics, said faculty members will not only challenge and teach students but also offer them the tools necessary for lifelong learning.

Gipson said change is “an essential feature of a liberal education.”   

Plague said he spent the summer collecting advice from returning students before deciding what to say during the ceremony. He found three themes in those pieces of advice: get involved in campus activities and organizations, get help by utilizing campus resources, and be yourself.

“It took courage for me to be myself,” Plague said, who added he found support at the LGBT Resource Center as a first-year student to be able to come out as gay. “Through friends, professors, and campus resources, I found the courage to be myself during my first year at Grand Valley and it changed my life,” he said.

For the first time at Convocation, an alumnus addressed the audience. Matthew LaVere, a freelance photographer from Royal Oak, told students their definitions of success might change over time.

Karen Gipson

Faculty Senate Chair Karen Gipson addresses the audience.

Gabriel Reitemeier

Music student Gabriel Reitemeier sings 'It All Fades Away.'

Provost Gayle R. Davis began Convocation by explaining the pageantry of the ceremony and academic regalia. “This ends a week of orientation in which you learned a lot about us and gained a lot of information about the culture of Grand Valley,” she said.


Faculty/Staff Address

Before Convocation when giving his annual Faculty/Staff Address, Haas outlined his vision for Grand Valley, centered on remaining relevant in Michigan and ensuring that students and graduates will make a global impact.

He recognized recent accomplishments such as receiving an increase in state appropriations, increasing retention and graduating students at a rate above the national average.

Haas said this is not a time to rest but, rather, to introduce initiatives to continue to attract high-quality students. An example, the Design Thinking Initiative will allow a range of curricular and co-curricular opportunities to our students and faculty, he said, adding the catalyst for the idea was Davis and others in the Provost’s Office.


President Thomas J. Haas gives his annual address.

President Thomas J. Haas gives his annual address.

Haas summarized international education achievements and said a newly created team, Global Grand Valley, will move forward with plans to enhance global learning for all students.

Grand Valley’s retention rate has risen to 71 percent but Haas also mentioned a report that stated the number of Michigan high school graduates will decrease 20 percent by 2019.

“In order for us to maintain the number of first-year students we see coming to campus this year, with high academic credentials, we must gather even more of the market share both in- and out-of-state,” he said.



Haas reminded the audience that everyone on campus plays a role in recruiting students. He also said work has started on the university’s next strategic plan and all colleges and divisions will begin creating their roadmaps next year.

Texts of Haas’ Faculty/Staff Address and Convocation are online at