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What I Know About BU Now

A senior’s thoughts on freshman Matriculation


Photo above by Vernon Doucette. Photos below by Kalman Zabarsky

More than 4,200 Boston University freshmen matriculated yesterday morning, and I was one of them — more accurately, I was among them, a senior in a sea of freshmen parading down Commonwealth Avenue and into the official ceremonies. (I don’t think many of them spotted the interloper in their midst.) Having dozed through my own Matriculation three years ago — the chairs seemed much comfier then, and the speeches longer — I was eager to file in with my school and take in the wisdom of the BU bosses: President Robert Brown, Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, and Provost David Campbell. I suspected I knew exactly what I was going to hear: inspirational calls-to-arms, humorous anecdotes, and odes to the glory of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Instead, I got a reality check, and so did the incoming class. The morning’s speeches were notable for their honesty about what BU is really like: a serious school, without a lot of room for excessive navel-gazing or major-changing. Some students arrive as confident navigators of BU’s urban environment; those who don’t must learn quickly. Many students thrive at career-focused internships and through inner-city volunteer work, rather than dwell in the stacks of Mugar Library. Classes are actually hard — a fact that may be difficult to swallow for the 457 high school valedictorians in the Class of 2012.

“Difficult demands will be made of you,” Campbell told them. “We are confident that you will not only meet those demands, but excel.”

Both Brown and Anita Patterson, a College of Arts and Sciences associate professor of English, spoke about the faculty: what they do, what they can do for students, and most important, how to approach them. I remember watching the imposing procession of professors in full regalia at my own Matriculation and finding it a fairly unsettling introduction to the people who were going to be grading my finals in four months. But Brown’s address wasn’t coddling: “The faculty,” he told the class, “aren’t sitting in their offices waiting for you to knock.”

Harsh, but true — and I wish I’d spent more of my freshman year reaching out to these people instead of skulking out of Morse Auditorium unnoticed after lectures. My first year at BU, I thought of my instructors as talking heads in front of a PowerPoint presentation. It wasn’t until I made an effort to learn about my professors as people — people with fascinating opinions and interests, conducting research and engaging with the international community — that I was able to overcome my nerves and speak in class, to have the occasional dinner with my favorite lecturer, and to help one professor with research for his book.

Watching this year’s Matriculation reminded me that I attend a university where both students and faculty take their academics, their professional ambitions, and their commitment to the broader community seriously. It showed me, once again, the responsibilities and opportunities that exist at a large, urban school like BU — ones that don’t always exist behind ivied gates. Student Union President Matt Seidel (CAS’10) gave yesterday’s undergraduate allocution, saying that “BU is a place that rewards those who look past their inhibitions and take a chance.”

He’s right. The BU community has helped me when I’ve asked for it, but my successes, as well as my failures, have been my own. It’s a gratifying feeling, one that makes me feel a little bit better about entering the real world next year, and that gives me hope for the unsuspecting freshmen who surrounded me.

Katie Koch can be reached at kkoch@bu.edu.


One Comment on What I Know About BU Now

  • Jackie on 09.07.2008 at 8:28 pm

    Class of 2012

    Dear Senior,

    My daughter was amongst the freshman group that matriculated this pass weekend. Yes, she is stubborn and was ready to say an unapologetic GOODBYE. She didnt even want me to help her set up her room. Hey, what are moms here for anyway. Well, I headed back home knowing shes got it all in control. One week later she has called me three times and says that the work has kept her so busy she has to schedule time to eat. I told her I love her and missed her and told a few jokes. I know she will grow her freshman year. How do you like them apples?… Jackie

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