Students, faculty, staff and guests gathered at Stephens College on Thursday to open a new school year more than a week after classes had already begun.
On Thursday, for the second time since it was stopped in the mid-1990s, the college's opening convocation officially kicked off the school year with reflection and optimism, welcoming students both new and old.
"Up until convocation, everyone is moving in and getting orientated and trying to get classes straight," said Catherine Withrow, president of the Student Government Association. "Convocation is really the first time we have to bring the Stephens family together. It's a symbol of the fact: We are a family."
Withrow opened the convocation Thursday by welcoming everyone back and greeting those who were new to campus. "How lucky we are, to see so many familiar faces," she said, "and to be greeted with hugs and smiles when we walk around campus."
Faculty chairman Rob Doyen followed Withrow, and then President Wendy Libby spoke. Honorary Stephens' alumna Mary Kitterman, who served as dean of faculty at Stephens from 1988 to 1998, concluded the speeches.
Kitterman is now vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty at Cottey College in Nevada, Mo.
Libby, now in her second year at Stephens, was instrumental in reinstating the opening convocation. During her speech, she joked that women are no longer required to wear white on the first day of the academic year and explained the convocation's importance in beginning a new school year.
"Let us take a few minutes to reflect on who we are at our core," Libby said. "We're here to celebrate the spirit of Stephens, the traditions and innovations that have brought us to where we are today."
Late-morning classes were canceled Thursday so students could attend.
"They say we're technically required to come, but I'm here by choice," sophomore Tiffany Baxter said. "It's a good way to start off the year."
At the convocation, speakers and students seemed excited. Enrollment is up, and a $35 million fund-raising campaign for campus renovations has been extended after reaching its goal so that renovations could be completed on Lela Rainey Wood Hall.
"Everyone on campus is really optimistic about the changes we're going through," Withrow said. "I think the entire community of Columbia is aware of all the positive changes occurring at Stephens."
The convocation ended with the singing of the Stephens hymn, which features a new verse added just last year for Libby's inauguration, and cake in celebration of the school's long history.