First things first, it's 'Go! Go U! Go UMass! Go U-Mass!' Freshman convocation clam bake teaches the ropes, rules and pride

Tuesday, September 02, 2014
AMHERST — The 4,650 members of the incoming freshman class at the University of Massachusetts Amherst had a lot to learn their first weekend on campus, from the location of the dining commons to the names of their peer mentors and advisers.

And at the annual new students convocation at the Mullins Center on Monday, administrators made sure that freshmen could sing the UMass Fight Song and University Cheer like old pros.

In full regalia, with the golden tassels of their caps swinging, Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy and other administrators stood on a stage in front of the students, enthusiastically pumping their rights fists in the air while chanting, “Go... Go U... Go U Mass... Go UMass!” with help from the UMass Minuteman Marching Band.

The students who filled the seats in half of the arena quickly picked up the cheer and joined in.

Convocation was one of their last appointments in their busy new student orientation schedule — with the exception of the large-scale clambake held on Haigis Mall later Monday afternoon. Most of those living on campus moved in Friday, and spent Saturday and Sunday meeting with their college deans, touring facilities and learning about academic resources, as well as venturing off campus to downtown Amherst or the Hampshire Mall.

Even though they had only been on campus for a few days, the students who streamed toward the Mullins Center Monday afternoon in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops were already talking and laughing in groups like old friends.

Emma Burnick and Colby Aitken, both 18 and from Pittsfield, talked with friends in the Mullins Center hallway before finding their seats while clutching the maroon “Class of 2018” T-shirts they picked up on their way into the event.

While they agreed they were both getting to know a lot of new people, it was comforting that they already knew some students. “A lot of people from our high school go here,” Burnick said.

“Yeah, it’s like our hometown is here,” Aitken added.

During their first weekend at UMass, Aitken said they checked out live music and other activities at UFest on Goodell Lawn on Sunday and spent time walking around campus with a map.

“We went exploring yesterday,” Aitken said. “I tried to find where my classes were at least.”

At convocation, in between marching band performances, administrators implored students to be responsible, involved members of the campus community and to step out of their comfort zone to try new things.

Carol Barr, vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education, told students to start their first day of classes Tuesday on the right foot.

“Do not underestimate how important tomorrow is,” Barr said. “It is the first day of the first week of the first semester of your college education.”

Subbaswamy — who took the podium while marching band members clapped and chanted, “Let’s go ‘Swamy’ ” — told students that it may take them a little while to adjust to life as a student at UMass. Some may need a little time to find their best friends, while others may indulge in “too robust a social life and have to tone it down,” he said.

“We are dedicated to the success of each and every student we accept. Our faculty and staff stand ready to help,” Subbaswamy told students. “Be sure to ask for help when you need it. Not only do we stand ready to help, but so do your peers.”

That peer support is the idea behind the UMatter at UMass campaign, which Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye addressed in her speech.

The campaign encourages students to get educated about problems that could happen on campus — including bullying, sexual assault, misuse of alcohol and drugs, and depression and suicide — and become active bystanders who step in to help.

“Today I’m asking each of you to grow and nurture a sense of caring and compassion for each other, your campus and the town of Amherst,” Gelaye said. “And if we all act individually and collectively, we will succeed.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.