Inspiration does not start with the letter C. For the first time in the history of Hampden-Sydney College, the entire community gathered for a day of reflection, personal discovery, guidance, and fun. The result was an inspired student body.
September 4 began with the traditional Opening Convocation for the new academic year. Student government leaders were sworn into office and outstanding students were recognized for their academic achievement. College President Chris Howard and Student Body President Brit McKenzie '13 addressed the crowd. However, it was with the charge to the freshmen, given by Ryan Carter '13, that everyone knew this day was different.
"It no longer matters what your high school GPA was or how fast your 40 time was," said Ryan. "It no longer matters whether you come from a good background or a tough background. At this point, it no longer matters what obstacles you have overcome to get into that seat. Because the reality of the situation is that you are in that seat, and by being in that seat, in this stadium, on this campus, on this day, you have the opportunity to rebrand yourself, recreate yourself, to essentially redefine who you are and what you stand for."
Ryan urged the freshmen-and reminded every student-to take advantage of all of Hampden-Sydney's opportunities. He closed his remarks with this: "The time passes quickly. Just ask any of us staring graduation in the face. And it's very possible to cheat yourself out of four years by succumbing to the distractions that plague H-SC, as well as many other college campuses. Whether it's something as simple as too much Xbox, or as serious as drugs and alcohol. Be aware. Be cognizant of the fact that this time is fleeting and you can easily steal four years from yourself. My charge to you is this: when the alarm goes off, every morning, you put your feet on the floor and go to work."
With that, C Day began.
Following convocation, students gathered in different venues around campus according to their class year for the chance to learn a little more about that particular stage in their college career. Among the speakers were Thad Shelly '75, Hiter Harris '83, and Tulane Patterson '78.
Mr. Shelly, the CEO of Lazard Wealth Management, tapped into his experience in the financial services industry and talked to the senior class about "Marketing Myself When My Product is Me."
He was excited to be a part of the inaugural C Day activities and to interact so closely with the students. "As a member of the Board of Trustees, I think being active with the College ensures the growth and stature of the institution and the fact of the matter is that the better our institution does, the better our own credentials become. There is also a great feeling of camaraderie with the men here."
Sophomores gathered in Kirk Athletic Center's Snyder Hall to hear Mr. Harris's talk "It's Your Time to Dream." As a young Hampden-Sydney freshman, Mr. Harris languished in the classroom and spent much of his time on the football team bench. He turned around his college career, becoming an excellent student and a football kicker followed by professional scouts. Now a partner and co-founder of the investment banking firm Harris Williams & Co., Mr. Harris inspired second-year students to make the most of the collegiate experience.
He says, "I think C Day is incredibly innovative and know of no other school that does anything like this. This is one of many examples that H-SC is on the cutting edge of innovation for educating men in this complex world. It really says something that H-SC would embrace a full day to experiencing the tenets of C Day together, as a community. This program also shows the dedication to educating the whole man, academically of course, but also experientially as a person. Developing the drive, determination and the desire to learn, as well as the traits of an honorable man, are as important as academics. All of this shows that H-SC forms an environment that prepares young emerging leaders to dream about their futures, and then to go out and grab that dream. This complex and confusing world is a perfect environment for an emerging H-SC leader."
The Class of 2015 was the first class to take part in what is likely a new tradition at Hampden-Sydney College: the sophomore pinning ceremony. Many alumni were on hand to pin an interlocking H&S on the lapels of sophomores, signifying the beginning of this stage of their Hampden-Sydney experience. The sophomore year is typically the year that students declare their academic major. It marks a shift in their coursework, from focusing on the core curriculum to an individual path.
Rand DuPriest '92 took part in the sophomore pinning. He said, "Hampden-Sydney has taken this first step in creating a new tradition on The Hill. The interaction between current students, faculty, staff, and alumni is invaluable. I encourage the H-SC administration to forge ahead with plans to make this event bigger and better each year. C Day is without a doubt the next logical step in Hampden-Sydney's never ending pursuit of 'forming good men and citizens'."
Meanwhile, Mr. Patterson, an author and the founder of several medical services companies and the non-profit Christian Health Outreach, spoke to the freshmen in a packed Johns Auditorium about the legacy of the "Hampden-Sydney man."
"The older I get, the more responsibility I feel toward the College," says Mr. Patterson. "I've hired some Hampden-Sydney guys and I enjoy teaching them about business. I love being a part of the Hampden-Sydney legacy and I had fun talking to the freshmen about what it means to be a Hampden-Sydney man. I did my best to explain to them that their job is to build a better country for us all and a better life for themselves and their families. I want them to get out there and be active and to leave this school better than they found it."
Addressing the junior class was Joe Ehrmann, president of Coach for America and author of InSideOut Coaching. The NFL veteran and social activist uses sports to teach valuable life lessons. He used C Day to talk to juniors about understanding the many different concepts of masculinity, how to recognize negative masculine messages, and how to develop their own positive self image. He urged the juniors to "get out of your comfort zone. Be confident as a man. Leave your legacy."
C Day continued in the afternoon with the freshmen taking part in community service projects while sophomores, juniors, and seniors visited sites around campus to learn about potential careers and possible hobbies and interests.
With nearly 350 freshmen enrolling this year, the College was able to send groups to two Habitat for Humanity homes, clean 14 miles of Prince Edward County highways, build two dozen Adirondack chairs for student use on campus, assist both the Southside Virginia Family YMCA and the Moton Museum for Civil Rights Education, sort food at Farmville Area Community Emergency Services, and spend some quality time with senior citizens at The Woodlands, an assisted living center in Farmville. These activities gave the freshmen a first-hand look at some of the many non-profit organizations contributing to the community just outside the college gates while having fun and making new friends.
Back on campus, the sophomores, juniors, and seniors were learning from alumni and faculty about potential career paths and personal activities that make lives more interesting and fulfilling. From stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Chalgrove with Dr. Claire Deal and strategy games in Morton Hall with Dr. Marc Hight to film appreciation with Dr. Katherine Weese in Winston Hall to the finer points of beer with Dr. James Pontuso in Bortz Library, students explored a multitude of topics and learned how many faculty and staff like to spend their time outside the classroom.
Likewise, many alumni were stationed around campus to discuss various career paths. Matt Michael '95, Andrew Jennings '09, and Charles Cabell '74 shared the ins and outs of practicing law. Warren Thompson '81 and Adam O'Donnell '12 guided students through the landscape of entrepreneurship. Dr. Robert Wade '91 and Dr. Matthew Bitner '99 discussed careers in medicine.
David Riddick '77, a retired teacher, spoke with students about careers in education. "Being back on campus for C Day was great, but being engaged with talented and enthusiastic students discussing teaching careers was very special," says Riddick. "The combination of the rigorous liberal arts curriculum and the outstanding professors under whom they study make H-SC men uniquely qualified to attack the problems in our K-12 educational institutions. It was evident in the high-spirited discussions during the Tiger Track session that these young men care deeply about the direction of teaching in America. I expect to see them lead the charge into the future of education grounded in greater choices for children in this country."
"The career aspect of C Day is a unique opportunity for current students to better understand potential career paths and how to best prepare for those opportunities," says Harry Jones '94, who participated in the sophomore pinning and in the Tiger Tracks discussion on banking and finance. "The world is a very competitive place and C Day is another tool for Hampden-Sydney students to learn from its alumni on how to positively differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. I look forward to participating in many more C Days in the future."
He is not the only one excited about the future of C Day. President Howard says, "After our first C Day we have a lot of data and points of information to review in terms of how we can improve the event. I am very bullish about the future of C Day and I am proud of Hampden-Sydney for being an institution with the courage to try something new. Our faculty and staff worked so hard to make this day a success and they proved to me that when a community comes together, it can accomplish great things."
Hampden-Sydney College prepares students for any career or calling through its time-tested liberal arts curriculum. The new tradition of C Day gives students tools for finding that calling and for creating a pathway to reach it.