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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Freshmen, transfer students gather in Kohl Center for New Student Convocation

‘You belong here," Chancellor Mnookin says as she welcomes students from across US and world to Madison
Celia Hiorns

About 8,000 freshmen and 1,000 transfer students assembled in the Kohl Center on Tuesday for the University of Wisconsin’s annual New Student Convocation.

Joel Baraka, a UW alum from the class of 2022 who earned a degree in civil engineering, delivered the convocation address. Baraka urged students to get help when they need it, even when it can be hard to admit. For Baraka, it helped transform his freshman year and undergraduate career into a more valuable experience.

“You will be presented with multiple opportunities to be part of various communities, clubs and organizations,” Baraka said. “Do not let this opportunity slip away. Not only will this be a great opportunity for you to keep up this community around the community of Madison, but also it will push you to grow.”


Baraka attended school in a refugee camp before coming to Wisconsin, and co-founded a nonprofit, My Home Stars, which makes quality education more accessible for refugees. Baraka urged students to take every opportunity they could, and not restrict themselves to things they were comfortable with.

While welcoming new students, the new Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charles Lee Isbell Jr., made an acknowledgement of the attack on a UW student Sept. 3, saying UW was dedicated to supporting the student and her family during this time.

Isbell also urged the new Badgers to take advantage of their time at UW, because graduation would be here sooner than they realize. Recalling a quote from Benjamin E. Mays, Isbell encouraged students to reach for the stars.

“We are here to support you in this journey, but this journey is yours, so take ownership of it, and do not be afraid of failure,” Isbell said. “‘On Wisconsin’ is a call to greatness, and we know that you are great.”

In her remarks, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin congratulated the group of students, citing this year’s pool of applicants as the highest number ever, making it one of the most competitive to be admitted to UW.

Mnookin also highlighted the Wisconsin Idea, speaking about how important it is to share knowledge and innovations with not only members of UW, but the state, the country and the world.

“We don’t sit on the sidelines here at UW,” Mnookin said. “We don’t wait for someone else to step out to try to make things just a step better, and you don’t either. And that’s part of why we selected you to be a part of this great class.”

In addition to the congratulations, Mnookin addressed the attack of a UW student on Sunday, expressing her support for the student and her family during this time.

Shifting to a conversation about academic freedom, Mnookin referenced “sifting and winnowing,” a process she described as learning to think critically, argue persuasively, listen carefully and produce work that is a high level of excellence.

Mnookin said this starts with curiosity and an open mind, pointing out the diversity of ideas that are exchanged in a community like UW. By engaging with these ideas, students can discover what drives them, what they believe in and why, according to Mnookin.

“That’s part of what both academic freedom and freedom of speech are about,” Mnookin said. “There’s no doubt that freedom of speech is a heck of a lot easier to believe in when you agree with the speaker, but the truth is, it’s probably most important when you don’t.”

The Go Big Read selection for this year, “How Minds Change,” by David McRaney, matches this sentiment, as it urges readers to think more critically about disagreement.

Mnookin said being at a large, public university gives students the opportunity to engage with a wide range of people from diverse backgrounds and points of view. Instead of limiting their circles, Mnookin encouraged students to expand them beyond people like themselves.

Part of this academic freedom, according to Mnookin, is engaging in respectful conversations of disagreement, both with students, professors and other members of the campus community.

“It’s through those engagements that new unexpected knowledge is produced,” Mnookin said. “And then we, and you, will come up with the ideas that can truly change the world.”

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