COLUMBIA — About 400 students and guests attended Stephens College's annual opening convocation Thursday morning.
An excited buzz could be heard and felt around Kimball Ballroom beforehand as old friends caught up and strangers said hello for the first time.
"It is an event that serves as a symbolic marker for your upcoming year of intellectual exploration and creative discovery," Nancy Cornwell, vice president for academic affairs, told the gathering.
Cornwell welcomed returning students home and assured new students they will find the Stephens community gracious and kind.
This year's convocation was dedicated to the memory of Rebecca "Becca" Jean Roth, who died in Texas in May after graduating from Stephens. A moment of silence was held.
Stephens President Dianne Lynch said she hopes students will rise to the challenges of the upcoming year.
“The easy things are not the best things," Lynch said. "The hardest things are the best things.”
Madelyn Horn, student government president, promised big changes this semester, including the addition of an outdoor seating area being built near the Hugh Stephens Library.
Barbara Oakley, associate professor of engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., delivered the event's keynote address.
Oakley kept the crowd entertained and laughing with anecdotes about her life, such as her time working as a translator on a Russian trawler in the Bering Sea.
"I learned Russian in the ways that probably most people don't," she said.
Oakley urged the young women to "reach out, take risks, do things differently."
"Sometimes the best things can happen in the most unexpected places and times," she said.