The Fine Arts Center was standing room only as people anxiously waited to hear President Dave Wolk speak at this year’s convocation.
Not only did Aug. 31 mark the start of the 2017 school year, it also kicked off Wolk’s 32nd – and final semester at Castleton University.
“We will always be a university that helps students to transform themselves,” Wolk said, his voice cracking “And, with the help of its students, it’s transforming itself. And it’s a university that’s transformed me.”
The audience applauded as he took the stage and hung on his every word.
He spoke proudly about how there are 102 international students from 41 countries and he listed each one with care and correctness.
“Isn’t that one beautiful map?” he said, showing a map of the world with the 41 countries highlighted.
He addressed recent political events and said some of our country’s leaders have “chosen hate over love,” which set the often repeated theme of the speech, “At Castleton University, we choose love.”
After welcoming back the students and faculty, and announcing new staff members, winners of the Outstanding Alumni and Commuter of the Semester award were announced.
Tegan Waite, winner of the Commuter of the Semester award, spoke fondly of the university and Wolk. She said she hopes to continue her work on campus with her self-started club, Heal Kenya.
“It’s a great honor,” she said, “especially because it’s President Wolk’s last opportunity to get to bestow the award and so it means extra to me because we’ve been able to cultivate a good relationship over the last three years that I’ve been here, so it’s really special.”
But Wolk also made a point to mention a new problem facing the university: the decrease in enrollment.
He assured the audience, however, that this is a problem for colleges nationwide because tuition costs have increased dramatically.
But he talked about ways to increase enrollment by expanding academic options and strengthening the magnet that is Castleton University.
“We must be smart and resilient,” Wolk said. “We must modernize to meet the needs of new students. They deserve it and depend on it.”
Wolk said he has overseen the expansion of the athletic department and the footprint of the campus ten fold, to its limits.
Where he feels there is room for expansion now, however, is academics.
Wolk told the audience he feels he “has been a passenger on the transformation journey of Castleton all these years,” not quite the conductor.
There’s no doubt that it was an emotional day for Wolk and he got sentimental a few times during his address.
“I am really confident about our future,” he said, “because we are a loving community and a resilient community. We are one amazing extended family.”
He closed by expressing how happy he was that people approach him saying that they see “The Castleton Way,” like opening doors and giving directions to lost campus guests, being portrayed by students daily.
“We do all this. In this very special place, because we choose love,” he said. “This best characterizes the state of this university. We choose love.”
“Thank you. I love you. And keep smiling,” he said holding back tears as the audience erupted into applause and a standing ovation.