“This power of one can ignite a flame in others; a flame to make drastic change on our campus. As one community we can define our college experience,” said Associated Student President Brandon Mercer to first time students at the new campus event, Potentia.
Potentia was created by a committee from the Campus Life and Student Affairs to welcome incoming freshman and transfer students to Sonoma State University. “[Returning students] met for about four months to come up with the concept and massage it into what it became,” said Associate Director of Student Development, Mo Phillips.
Potentia began with local Jazz band, The Dixie Giants playing throughout campus housing villages as they led a parade of new students to the commencement lawn. “I kept tripping over my feet because the band was right behind me and I kept looking over my shoulder to see them, I was so engrossed,” said freshman Kendra Clark as she recalled Monday evening.
Once at the commencement lawn, the new students were welcomed by President Ruben Armiñana, Chair of the Faculty Dr. Senghaus, and Mercer. These key speakers helped welcome nearly 1,900 freshman-the largest in Sonoma State history.
The sky transformed into a beautiful sunset, and countless students stood together listening to the speakers discuss excellence, integrity, respect and responsibility. Toward the end of the ceremony, returning students formed a ring around the new students, welcoming them to the Seawolf community.
Each speaker offered their respective advice and motivation. “As these esteemed leaders have outlined tonight, you carry your own history, you come from your own communities, but now you are a Seawolf,” said Mercer. “That title comes with a great deal of power to make a true difference in the lives of others. Here at SSU we use that power to look out for each other, to think of us not me, and to think of how we affect the entire community with every decision we make.”
The circle of returning students lit candles that illuminated the lawn and offered a sense of comfort to new community members. “Potentia was amazing. Having students help light my candle and having the pleasure of passing on my flame to others truly felt unifying. I really felt welcomed by the staff and other upperclassmen and started to feel at home in my new surroundings,” said Clark.
Illuminated faces of joy came together last Monday night and although this was a first time event, coordinators like Phillips are already planning how to make it even more impactful next year. “[We want to] start late so you can see the blue and white glow sticks or luminary bags, and another really big thing I would like to see change next year is that the continuing students are waiting as they enter the commencement area and cheering for the new students/giving them high fives. I think that could be fun and powerful,” said Phillps.
The event came to a close as senior Gabe Duran sang and played guitar on stage while students joined together to laugh, sing and make new friends. “[We wanted to] welcome the new students and for our continuing students to participate in that welcome, [and we wanted to] focus on the potential they all have individually and what that can bring to the community as a whole,” said Phillips.
Phillips also noted that the down to earth feel was possibly more effective than previous formalities in greeting incoming students. “We used to do a more formal convocation for the students years back but I think that the message of welcome got lost in the pomp and circumstance of the event. It was too formal,” said Phillips. “We wanted Potentia to be organic, for people to meet each other, for continuing students to welcome new students and for it to have some symbolism tied in. Some sort of ritual or right of passage.”
Mercer ended his speech in a way that seemed to resonate over the glow of candles in the crowd, “We must instill a sense of excellence, integrity, and respect, but more than anything else, responsibility to ourselves and to our community. Because as Uncle Ben told us all in Spiderman, ‘With great power, comes great responsibility’.”
Upon reflection of the event Mercer said, “The attendance and energy from students to connect with each other was exactly what we wanted to see. I hope the purpose of this event grappled with students and it continues for years to come as a Seawolf tradition.”
Although this event had never been done before, a new Seawolf tradition has been created. New and returning students will remember it as a time of great comradery and motivation leading into a new chapter.