Rutgers-Newark welcomed the Class of 2027 at its convocation ceremony, where the theme was “rooted in Newark’s Excellence.’’
Students cheered and rang cowbells as RU-N leaders and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka urged them to become changemakers, fighting injustice and expanding their knowledge and sense of community.
“Rutgers-Newark’s roots are very much in Newark, and so will yours be – not just the 12 percent of your entering class who come from here, but the rest of you will feel that way very soon,’’ said Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “Because ultimately, as the multi-award-winning author Isabel Allende said, ‘Roots are not in landscape or a country, or a people, they are inside you.’”
This year, Rutgers-Newark has 3,190 new students, including 2,150 new undergraduates and 1,040 graduate students.
Cantor told students that they would find a sense of belonging and purpose in the years ahead. “At your new home, you will join a family intent on having impact, making change, as we all probe the roots of excellence by digging deep together in a range of publicly-engaged scholarship and collaborative work rooted in Newark and resonating far beyond,’’ she said.
She reaffirmed RU-N’s mission to make college acessible to all, especially local students. “We are...an institution and a city devoted to cultivating all the talent in our own backyards – talent that too often runs up against the walls around opportunity,’’ she said.
She lauded Newarker Deborah Reagan as the kind of student embraced by RU-N. “Let’s ring the cow bells for her, a mom of four who worked full time while getting an associate’s degree and is now our Phi Theta Kappa scholarship recipient in the School of Criminal Justice with aspirations to attend law school.’’
In his welcome to the class, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka exhorted students to view the world’s greatest problems as a chance to make their mark and collectively overcome obstacles.
“The great things about big problems is it gives you the opportunity to rise to the occasion and step up to the plate,’’ he said. “They exist so you can solve them, not run from them, not blame other people or hide. You wouldn’t even know who David was if Goliath wasn’t around. Get your slingshot in hand, put a rock in in it, and challenge Goliath straight ahead.’’
He told students that leaders don’t shrink from opposition, and they know how to work with others to accomplish their goals. “We need you all to be leaders and leaders are not cowards....And as leaders, depend on the people next to you. You have to understand that are other people among you that will get you there.’’
Baraka praised Chancellor Cantor for her commitment to diversity and the potential of Newark residents, especially non-traditional students.
“Many of you probably wouldn’t be here, adults and children alike, if it wasn’t for the vision and humanity of this chancellor,’’ he said. “Around the country they’re finding ways to limit diversity, in Newark they’re embracing it.’’
Keynote speaker Edward Fergus, a professor in RU-N’s Department of Urban Education and Policy, stressed the importance of creating networks. “Find your tribes, your community, your niche and keep adding more to it,’’ he said.
Fergus, a first-generation college student who emigrated from Panama as a child, described how his group of close friends relied on each other during college. “We didn’t dream that we could be professors but we had an opportunity to nurture each other,’’ he said.
Two student speakers invited their peers to get involved in campus organizations and activities.
Pooja Ghadiali, in her fourth year at the School of Arts and Sciences-Newark, said that as a commuter, she didn’t always feel like attending events, but that when she did, it was a transformative experience.
“I know how it feels to say, I’m tired, I just want to go home,’’ she confessed.
Her favorite event was Community Engagement Day, when student volunteers complete projects throughout Newark, including those that address food insecurity, homelessness and pollution.
“When I started doing work and giving back I felt empowered and passionate,’’ said Ghadiali, who is majoring in Political Science. It fueled her ambitions to forge a career in government, she added.
Student Governing Association President Halyn Xherja, an Honors Living-Learning College student and psychology major, said that as a child, she watched her mother attend classes at RU-N and receive a degree. That inspired her to do the same.
During the ceremony, she reminded students to register to vote and asked them to find the convocation pin they received as a gift at the ceremony.
“Welcome home!” she exclaimed as students held their pins.