Paying attention to his own words of advice, Christian Conte left the audience for the New Student Opening Ceremony with the best gift of all: An awareness that small acts of kindness and empathy for one’s own neighbor can make all the difference.
“I have never regretted giving selflessly to someone else, nor have I known anyone who has regretted giving selflessly to someone else,” said Conte, an assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology and the keynote speaker for Thursday’s ceremony at Lawlor Events Center. “I believe we do feed people all the time.”
Conte’s charismatic speech, delivered with equal parts passion and pacing, sewn expertly and energetically together with both levity and moments of seriousness, was just one of the many highlights during the annual ceremony, which welcomed the University of Nevada, Reno’s first-year students to campus.
Conte, who was awarded the Silver Compass Award during the ceremony in recognition of his extraordinary commitment to students, was himself a relative newcomer to the campus, having joined the faculty of the College of Education in fall 2006.
Conte noted with a smile that in 11,000 hours of clinical counseling, he had come to the realization that there are two kinds of people: “People with issues and … may they rest in peace … people who are no longer with us.”
Conte said he has been putting together a new book, called “My Gift to the World.” The book is a compilation of contributions from people who have been asked to send Conte stories about “what they would do if it was their last day on Earth,” he said.
“My gift to the world today would be this,” Conte said. “Pay attention to the energy you bring to and leave behind to situations. If you are ambitious, and you don’t feel you are doing this, then change it.
“If enough of us get together and decide to do this, our community could be pretty phenomenal.”
Good energy was evident throughout Thursday’s ceremony.
ASUN President Eli Reilly told the students that the beginning of their college careers was “time to get excited.”
“Let me tell you,” Reilly said, remembering that only three years ago he, too, was sitting in the audience for the New Student Opening Ceremony, “the best is yet to come.”
Reilly said that to have the best experience possible over the next four years, it was imperative that all students view their time at Nevada as a time to “not be ordinary.”
“Treat every solitary second of the next four years as precious,” Reilly said. “This is your time to live and experience things like never before. I want each of you to leave this place in four years knowing you spent your time here in the best possible way.
“Now it is your time to go out and experience your version of the college experience.”
Provost Marc Johnson – also a relative newcomer, having arrived on campus this summer from Colorado State University – helped put the event into context.
“In front of me are 1,000 stories of individual persistence and triumph,” he said, noting that included in the group were 26 Presidential and National Merit Scholars, and more than 1,300 recipients of the Governor Kenny C. Guinn Millennium Scholarship. Perhaps most significantly of all, Johnson said, more than a third of those in attendance on Thursday were “the first person in your family to attend and graduate from college. This is a milestone for your families. We’re glad that you are here with us today.”
“Challenge yourself,” Johnson added. “Ask for help and take advantage of the great opportunities that occur each day on our campus.”
Paul Neill, a longtime physics professor and director of the Core Curriculum, opened the ceremony with an altogether fitting quote from his countryman, the Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
“There are no strangers here,” Neill said, his gentle Irish accent seeming to further the theme of the power of selfless acts and positive interaction with the world around us. “Only friends you haven’t yet met.”