The Class of 2023 is ready to rock it. New and returning students and faculty officially kicked off the 2019-20 academic year – the 170th in Heidelberg’s history – during Opening Convocation on Thursday.
Provost Beth Schwartz began Convocation with four pieces of advice for new students: Stay focused on your goal (graduation!), find your voice and define who you are, take action by being part of a community with incredible opportunities, and find your mentor.
In his opening remarks, President Rob Huntington thanked the new students “for making Heidelberg University your college of choice” and upperclass students “for choosing us again and returning!” He has high hopes for the Class of 2023, which brings talent, energy, diversity and accomplishments to the ‘Berg community. [Read President Huntington’s full remarks here].
“It is our privilege to teach, mentor, and serve each one of you in support of your academic and career aspirations,” the president said. “We are a better school with you here.”
The highlight of Opening Convocation was the keynote address from ’15 graduate Hannah Long-Higgins. She returned to campus from Washington, D.C., where she works as a video journalist for BBC News, to inspire the ‘Berg community.
“It feels really good to be back,” Hannah said. “I think we can all celebrate today that an English major has found full-time employment,” joked Hannah, who also completed a second international studies major in the Honors Program.
“The stories I’ve been privileged to tell and the people I’ve gotten to meet have broadened my world and my understanding of the human experience,” she said. And it may not have happened if not for her Heidelberg experience and a fortuitous, profound conversation near the end of her freshman year with English major and “cool senior” Natty Berry, in the Honors House.
Natty told her, “’Writers have to write, Hannah. And whether you like it or not, you’re a writer.’ I felt like he was opening a door. I didn’t know where it would lead but I was listening.”
Hannah found the courage to walk through that door because of two powerful words she learned at Heidelberg … “yes, and.” When she and her friends wanted to start an improv comedy group, “Heidelberg said ‘yes,’ we said ‘and,’” she said. She got the same response when she wanted to spend her junior year at the University of Heidelberg, although she was not a German major and didn’t know the language. That experience broadened her interests. Then came the dreaded question around graduation time: What’s your plan?
Hannah didn’t have one. “I panicked. … I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation, but I did know how I wanted to be in the world,” she said.
She took an internship in Seattle, chronicling the plight of a labor union for hospitality workers. Her “lightbulb moment” occurred at a grad school fair when she took a leap and had a conversation with a recruiter for Columbia Journalism School. “I had no journalism experience!” she said. “Who was I to think I could get into a program like this?” But the recruiter smiled and said, “We’re just looking for great writers who want to tell stories.” She applied and got in.
At Columbia, Hannah came to understand how Heidelberg had prepared her for grad school and her eventual career as a broadcast journalist – “bursts of familiarity,” as she called them. There were the daily news quizzes that were similar to those taken in her Global Politics class at Heidelberg. The timed writing assignments were similar to her English exams. The intense, immersive pace of her grad program felt much like her experience learning German in Heidelberg, Germany. And she had studied and researched the work of her Columbia photography professor for her Honors thesis.
“Heidelberg had readied me for the (grad school) experience in ways I couldn’t have anticipated until I showed up. And best of all, I had discovered a career where being a generalist – and having a liberal arts foundation – was my greatest strength and biggest asset, not my weakness,” Hannah said.
She told the students they will encounter the same unexpected doors while at Heidelberg – maybe a professor, a mentor, a friend who plant a seed. “But you have to be paying attention. … The ‘yes’ is the invitation to the rest of your life. … the ‘and’ is up to you now.”
Although graduation seems far away, the Class of 2023 will be confronted with those same questions about their future. Hannah has these hopes for them: “I pray you have the courage to pause, smile and say, ‘I’m not sure what I’ll do quite yet. But I sure as hell know how I want to be.”