Now in its 17th year, the New Student Ceremony welcoming the University's first-year students to campus has seen its share of inspirational faculty keynote speakers over the years: Gifted faculty, who teach with passion and who in their keynotes have shared their own personal and professional stories to scores of new students.
Albert Lee, the talented vocalist, director of the Nevada Chamber Opera and vocal professor for the School of the Arts in the College of Liberal Arts, left the audience with an immensely powerful and emotionally moving message during Friday morning's ceremony at Lawlor Events Center.
By the time Lee finished, the gathering of new students, families, friends and faculty all gave Lee a standing ovation.
"I want you to promise yourselves that you will not take the path of least resistance," Lee told the audience. "That you will always strive to be your best."
Lee's keynote melded his experiences of the past summer with what he termed "a tumultuous" time that the country is currently experiencing, including a hotly debated race for president, as well as local issues with far-reaching ramifications, such as the November ballot measure that is asking Washoe County voters to vote for a tax increase to help fund local schools. Even with the tumult, Lee said with an encouraging smile, "It is a phenomenal time to enter college," a time he added, full of "untold possibility."
Lee recounted several of his own experiences from the past summer, including being asked to sing at a wedding between two gay men. He said there might be some people who would discount the wedding. Lee took a deeper look at such feelings, though, noting that any "nervousness and discomfort" was in some ways no different than what many of the first-year students in the audience might be experiencing in their new college environment. This was the beginning of a time in their lives, he said, where the students would no doubt be exposed to new ways of thinking and events that could force them to ask difficult "uncomfortable" questions of themselves and of others.
"Instead of running from discomfort, I admonish you ... I implore you ... to see the lesson in the uncomfortable moment," he said. "Ask yourself, 'What can I learn from this moment?'"
In late June, Lee said he was asked to perform the Lord's Prayer at the funeral of his brother. He said he shared the story because there would be moments in the new students' college lives when they would be faced with sadness, or helplessness, and be tempted to quit. He asked the members of the Class of 2020 to seek strength in themselves over the next four years. He said the Class of 2020 was capable of great deeds and accomplishments, and believing in their capabilities and talents would be crucial to their success as college students.
"There is nothing that can ever stop you, but you," he said.
Later in the summer, Lee performed and traveled in Germany and Austria. In Austria, he was called a racial slur. He said hearing the slur hurt, and he retreated for a time to his room.
"I've been in situations where my gift was welcome," he said, "but I was not."
Lee used his experience in Austria as a call to action for the Class of 2020. He asked them if they were the type of students who would immediately come to the aid of someone who was being marginalized, or persecuted, on campus, or would they simply walk away?
Lee said such decisions would be central to their time as students at the University.
"You are here to open your minds, broaden your horizons and find your place in the world in which we live," he said.
ASUN President Brandon Boone told the Class of 2020 that the next four years of their lives at the University "will define you as an individual. The way you spend the next four years is completely in your hands now."
He gave the Class of 2020 three pieces of advice: One, "You guys are going to have to actually work hard. You are responsible for your own education"; Two, echoing Albert Lee, "Get comfortable in being uncomfortable on this campus ... Challenge yourself to learn, grow and try new things'; Three, "Make as many memories as you can for the next four years. It's about defining yourself and discovering your potential."
"Your time here is precious," Boone said, "and I want each and every one of you to leave here knowing you spent your time here in the best possible way."
In his welcome remarks, Provost Kevin Carman told the Class of 2020 to "treat your education as a fulltime job with mandatory overtime weekend duty. Study regularly, and often. Some of the wisest use of time management is not necessarily what you do in class, but rather, what you do out of class. ... Develop a plan for the entire semester right through to finals."
As Lee did, Carman stressed the theme of college as a time personal growth and change, noting that new perspectives and new understanding of others was what college was all about.
"Understand that your time at the University will likely be a period of great change for you," he said. "Stay in touch with your core values, but don't believe everything you think. As you learn, your eyes will be opened in ways you could not have imagined. You will have the opportunity to interact with students of many races, religions, ethnicities, and gender identities over the next four years.
"Get to know people who are different than you."
Carman noted that the students in attendance on Friday morning could very well see their majors change over the next four years, and that they could very easily be studying something entirely different than what they expected in August 2016.
That was OK, the University's chief academic officer said with a big smile.
"This is what this time in your life is all about - finding your passion and your own path on a road to a career, and to personal satisfaction and fulfillment," he said.