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Acclaimed poet addresses newest Catamounts during New Student Convocation

Nikki Giovanni receives an ovation during WCU's New Student Convocation.

A critically acclaimed poet spoke to Western Carolina University’s new students about love and bouncing back from mistakes during the university’s annual New Student Convocation held Friday, Aug. 17, at Ramsey Regional Activity Center.

Nikki Giovanni, a National Book Award finalist and winner of seven NAACP Image Awards, told the freshmen and new transfer students in the audience that everyone makes mistakes and “there’s a reason there’s an eraser on a pencil.”

“I want you to remember – you’re going to make mistakes,” Giovanni said. “You can’t blame yourself because the only way to learn is to make a mistake. What you also have to learn is to love yourself.”

Switching to the topic of love and loss, Giovanni said people need to be taught that “you don’t love things because they are going to stay forever” and “you don’t love things because they give you something.”

“You love things because you love them,” she said. “And one day, you will lose them. One day, they will pass on or you will pass on. And what you’ll have is the remembrance of that love. And that’s what’s important.”

A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Giovanni is a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech. She received a Grammy nomination for her poetry album “The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection” and was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s “25 Living Legends.” Her visit to campus was part of WCU's new Distinguished Lecture Series.

The convocation was presided over by Matthew Opinski, president of the Student Government Association, and also included remarks by Carol Burton, acting provost; Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student affairs; and Mark Speir, head football coach. Tayler Harris, a student from WCU’s School of Stage and Screen, presented a reading of one of Giovanni’s poems, and the university’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band performed during the event.

Johnny Solorzano (left), a student from WCU's College of Health and Human Sciences, participates in the New Student Convocation candlelighting ceremony with Doug Keskula, dean of the college.

Damon Sink, chair of the Faculty Senate and member of the School of Music faculty, presided over a candle-lighting ceremony symbolizing students and faculty acting together to achieve enlightenment through acquisition of knowledge. Student participants and the academic areas they represented were Jacob Long, College of Arts and Sciences; Antonio Oakley, College of Business; Alyssa Whitaker, College of Education and Allied Professions; Richard Lavallee, College of Engineering and Technology; Tayler Harris, David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts; Johnny Solorzano, College of Health and Human Sciences; Taylor Luibrand, the Honors College; and Tovah Welch, the Graduate School.

In her remarks, Interim Chancellor Alison Morrison-Shetlar gave the students three charges to help make their time on campus the best it can be.

“First, I charge you to be an active agent in your own success,” she said. “As you have heard, the faculty and staff at WCU are totally committed to you and your success. But you have to play your role in the success equation, and I charge you to do so. You have to hold up your end of the bargain. Is college going to be challenging? Sure it is – you wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re here to help, but own your own part.”

Morrison-Shetlar also advised the students to get involved in campus life. “The quickest way to get to know people, to build your own community of friends here, and to feel at home is to get involved with a group or organization,” she said.

“Finally, I charge you to graduate in four years if at all possible,” Morrison Shetlar said. “You did not come here not to graduate. You came to get this amazingly valuable undergraduate degree. Set your sights on that goal of graduation. Work hard, study hard, play hard and make these four years everything they can be – and then graduate.”

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