UVa-Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry delivered a simple yet strong message to the students who gathered in the Prior Center for the start of the 2017 fall semester.

“We have a place for you,” Henry said during Fall Convocation, the traditional start of the new academic year at UVa-Wise. “Take a moment to acknowledge the person on either side of you. If they ever forget, remind them that they too have a place here.”

Henry said the “we have a place for you” theme was chosen to honor the late Joseph “Papa Joe” Smiddy, the College’s first chancellor.

“As we reflected on his passing this summer, our community remembered him for many things,” Henry said. “Among them, he had a gift for making people feel welcome.”

Henry said Joseph Smiddy often told students that they had a place at the College, and those words were simple and powerful. Henry shared what those words mean to her.

“First, they mean that a healthy community embraces its differences and its diversity,” Henry said. “We, at UVa-Wise, are an inclusive community. Certain basic values underpin and sustain life at UVa-Wise. This is especially important given the discord and intolerance we have recently witnessed in our nation. Please know that you have a place here, always.”

Henry said UVa-Wise values a healthy exchange of ideas and perspectives. The best baccalaureate education is one that gives individuals or groups of individuals the opportunity to grapple with complex or uncomfortable topics.

“This is a rite of passage and a natural aspect of college life,” Henry said. “In sharing those differences of ideas, you have a place here.”

Students are welcome to explore and find interests at UVa-Wise, and the outstanding professors made a place for students on campus, Henry explained. The variety of majors, undergraduate research, international study abroad opportunities, athletics, internships, student leadership and social organizations on campus also provide ways for students to explore interests, Henry added.

“If you don’t find what you seek here, then you are welcome to create it,” Henry told the students. “We encourage you to champion your cause. And while you know that you have a place here, you have to take the time to define your places for yourselves.

She urged the students to take active roles in their personal and academic growth, and to define and refine what they seek from the college experience.

“Claim this place and make it your own,” Henry said, adding that assistance is always available to those who ever feel isolated in the UVa-Wise community.

“Should you lose your footing or lose your way, all of us can help you find your footing and your path,” Henry added.

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan also attended Convocation. She said freshmen stand at a pivotal moment in their lives at the College at Wise.

“A liberal arts education teaches us so many things,” Sullivan said. “It teaches us to be critical thinkers; to be perceptive of the world around us; to write persuasively; and to integrate numerous sources of information and multiple perspectives before arriving at decisions. These broad skills—as much as any technical skill—are fundamental to the work of the 21st century.”

Convocation continued at the Lawn by the Lake with the annual student activities picnic.