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Annual Convocation Inspires New Tritons to Embrace Their Curiosity

Hundreds of students sit in rows of chairs facing a large stage with a speaker at the podium and video screen behind that says
The New Student Welcome Convocation marks the formal entrance of incoming students into UC San Diego’s scholarly community. The event also offered a chance for new Tritons to hear from campus leaders and engage with faculty at the start of their collegiate journey. Photos by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

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Hundreds of new Tritons gathered on RIMAC Field last Tuesday, Sept. 20, to take part in the 17th annual New Student Welcome Convocation ceremony, a campus tradition that marks new first-year and transfer students’ entry into UC San Diego’s scholarly community. Speakers from across the university shared words of inspiration and called on the new students to step outside their comfort zone and learn from each other. 

The event was the first opportunity for students to meet campus leaders and faculty. Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla welcomed students and reminded them that even if the journey becomes challenging, the transformation they will experience will be more than worth it–and they will also help shape the UC San Diego campus community in the process. 

“You belong here,” Khosla said, noting that UC San Diego’s breadth of academic enrichment opportunities await. “You are part of the UC San Diego Triton family forever. Take a moment and look around you and see the diverse community of the best and brightest students who are ready for any challenge.”

Executive Vice Chancellor Elizabeth H. Simmons pointed out the value in having a wide variety of experiences and opinions on campus. She encouraged students to listen to each other even–and especially – when they disagree, as one of the best ways to learn and grow. Simmons also suggested that students should go beyond the familiar, try new activities or areas of study, and take advantage of the many resources available at UC San Diego.  

UC San Diego Associated Students President Sky Yang stands at the podium at Convocation, with faculty sitting in front of him in the foreground.
Associated Students President Sky Yang encouraged students to get out of their comfort zone and try new things.

“It’s time for our university to learn, evolve and grow,” Simmons said. “You as individuals bring unique experiences to our campus…those are going to inspire and challenge the rest of us so that we don’t get stale and so that we explore the world in new ways by looking through your eyes and your experiences.”

Attendees also heard from the president of the UC San Diego Alumni Association, Ping Yeh. He acknowledged that, like the matriculating students, he chose challenge when he chose UC San Diego; still, in Yeh’s eyes, challenge is the only way to learn. Yeh then introduced the new Associated Students president, Sky Yang, who delivered his first live speech of the year. 

“My strongest advice for you this year is to put yourself out there and see what you’re going to bring to this beautiful campus,” Yang said. “UC San Diego is a special place. It rewards challenge-takers, free thinkers, dreamers and change-makers like you.”

A collage of images that show Professor Angela Booker as a young adult wearing the yellow hat that she references in her story.
Snapshots from Professor Angela Booker's photo album, where she dons the famous yellow hat that was first purchased for swimming and later became her prized possession. 

Hats off, Tritons

Associate Professor of Communications Angela Booker’s vibrant sense of humor and wisdom shone through every moment of her keynote address. Although she quipped that there’s “no chance the majority of you will remember anything I say in the next few minutes,” Booker’s wry remarks and candid discussion of her experiences with therapy, grief and growing up Black in 1980s Phoenix made her speech one to remember. 

At six years old, Booker joined the local swim team, where she was one of the only Black team members. She explained that her hair dried differently than the other swimmers and made her self-conscious. Still, all it took was a $1 yellow hat from Walmart to change everything. Booker wore it everywhere: to practice, between races, in the pool. Eventually, the hat molded to fit perfectly when her head was wet. 

“People knew me by that hat,” Booker remarked with a laugh. “It was my prized possession and I was ready to pass it onto my kids.” 

Unfortunately, the tale of Booker’s yellow hat doesn’t have a happy ending – it was lost after a friend borrowed it without asking. At the time, she felt like she’d lost part of herself, although she didn’t know. She realized later why she clung so tightly to that hat. 

“I had poured my playful and competitive spirit into it,” she shared. “So when it was lost, I felt like I’d lost a part of myself.” She was forced to reckon with the fact that she didn’t know who she was without the hat. 

Booker also shared with students the importance of embracing this new chapter of their lives. “While you’re here, it’s okay to grieve the things you let go. Releasing them lets you step bravely into this beautiful period in your life where who you are and who you are becoming can make the most important things happen for you, for our community, and for society.”

Still, even through her grief, Booker realized something: she had been given a wonderful opportunity to rewrite the old version of herself into someone better and more resilient. She reminded students that while college is a chance to grow and try new things, it’s also a stressful time – at some point they will likely need a little extra support. 

“I wish I’d been braver about seeking and using the mental health resources on campus,” Booker explained as she encouraged students to prioritize their own well-being. While she certainly had her struggles at college, Booker also emphasized that some of her greatest joys and adventures took place during those years.

“While you’re here, it’s okay to grieve the things you let go. Releasing them lets you step bravely into this beautiful period in your life where who you are and who you are becoming can make the most important things happen for you, for our community, and for society.”
Professor Angela Booker

‘Make this place your own’

Booker concluded her speech with a “bonus gift” for the students: go to office hours! Convocation attendee and Chemical Engineering Professor Justin Opatkiewicz had similar advice for students, recommending they be brave and start conversations with their professors and their peers—Opatkiewicz is a firm believer in that there are no stupid questions. 

“Students are often afraid to ask a question, but I always like to remind them that if they have this question, it’s likely at least a dozen other students in the class have the same question,” Opatkiewicz said. “Someone just has to step up and ask. If it doesn’t get asked, it doesn’t get answered, and we want students to be curious.” 

A crowd of students seated at Convocation, with the back row standing and waving.
Hundreds of students attended Convocation, excitedly cheering for their college as each one was recognized.

First-year student Maya Chang chose UC San Diego as the home of her collegiate journey because of its unique ability to let her combine her two passions: math and art. As an interdisciplinary computing and the arts (ICAM) major in Seventh College, Chang is excited to explore her interests surrounded by a group of like-minded students. 

“My major is very specific and is exactly what I was looking for,” Chang said. “Out of all the colleges I looked at, UC San Diego was the only one that had what I’m interested in, and that drew me here!”

Chang is but one of the hundreds of students who matriculated at Convocation and who will help shape the future of the university. While each may feel like just a drop in the ocean of people flowing across Library Walk, every member of the UC San Diego community plays a role in creating the university they want to see. 

“You’ll make this place your own,” Booker said in her closing remarks. “You can’t help it. We are here because of you—the university is its students.”

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