The newest members of Fordham College at Rose Hill got a warm welcome on Aug. 31 at the Freshman Academic Convocation, held in the Leonard Theater at Fordham Preparatory School.

The convocation took place a day after students arrived on campus. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, noted that the class of 994 members was the most talented in the college’s history, with an average SAT score of 1252.

In his welcoming address, Father McShane recalled the words that St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, said to St. Francis Xavier, his best friend and classmate at the University of Paris, when Loyola asked him to become the first Jesuit missionary to China.

“As he sent St. Francis Xavier off, he said simply these words, ‘Go and set the world on fire.’ That was the last exchange between the two of them,” Father McShane said.

“I say to you, members of the lucky class of 2013, while you’re here, set the University on fire. Not literally, of course,” he continued. “When you finish here, I will say to you then, go set the world afire with your love, with your talent and with your dreams and ambitions.”

The convocation was also an opportunity for administrators to convey their high expectations for the incoming class. Michael E. Latham, Ph.D., Fordham College at Rose Hill’s interim dean, said he hoped students would find themselves extremely troubled by the injustice in the world.

Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., senior vice president/chief academic officer, reminded students about the important role that social justice and community-building play in a Jesuit education.

“The process of creating a truly inclusive community serves as a powerful witness to a world divided by nationality, race, social class and religion. Inclusive communities challenge the world in which the poor and those without power are oppressed,” he said.

Freedman cited a recent New York Times Magazine story about the oppression of women worldwide, calling it the foremost human rights cause in the world today.

“If we improve the lot of women by elevating the quality of women’s lives in the less-developed world and across the globe, we will move much closer to solving many of the world’s problems, from poverty to terrorism,” he said.

To make it clear why students should take their obligation to social justice seriously, J. Patrick Hornbeck, Ph.D., assistant professor of theology, led the group through an experiment. Hornbeck asked them to imagine that the 1,100 people assembled in the theatre represented the 7 billion people who will live on the planet in 2011.

Asking those with green stickers on the backs of their programs to stand up, Hornbeck noted that those 535 people represented the 48 percent of the world’s population who live on less than $2.50 a day.

At the end, he called for those with black dots, and only one stood. That person, he said, represented the 1/10th of 1 percent of the total number of people in the world who have the opportunity to attend a major American research university.

“We live in a nation and in a world of great inequality between the privileged and the marginalized, and almost all of us share, in some way, in that privilege and in that marginalization,” Hornbeck said.

“We could simply accept that as the status quo. But it’s in the very nature of the University to resist such an easy way out,” he said. “It’s in Fordham’s nature, as a Jesuit school, to force us to confront the gritty underside of reality, where there is suffering as well as joy.”

Michael E. Latham, Ph.D., interim dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, greets students after the convocation.
Photo by Chris Taggart

Patrick Verel is a news producer for Fordham Now. He can be reached at [email protected] or (212) 636-7790.