On August 28, the Raven Class of 2026 gathered around the ornate Benedictine “B” logo located in front of Haverty Center. The distinct red and black beanies stood out as they prepared to take a class picture.
Three hours later, cheers erupted from the freshman class as they removed their beanies after a morning dedicated to welcoming the freshman class through the March of Light, Mass of the Holy Spirit, and Convocation featuring legendary Notre Dame College football coach Lou Holtz’s keynote address.
Since early in Benedictine’s history, the school has celebrated an annual Mass of the Holy Spirit asking for intercession in the new school year. Fifteen years ago, administrators decided to add a convocation ceremony to officially kick off the school year and welcome the new freshmen into the Benedictine family.
For the first week of college the freshmen participate in the longstanding beanie week tradition. During the week, all the freshmen are presented with a beanie which they are expected to wear in public.
Peter Smith, freshman, found that beanie week provided him many opportunities to meet his fellow classmates and gain familiarity with the campus.
“Beanie week is a great tradition that helped me to remember that I am not alone in this new experience,” Smith said.
After having a class picture taken around the logo outside of Haverty, the freshman class prayed a Memorare together and was blessed by campus chaplain Fr. Ryan Richardson.
While the choir sang Marian hymns, the freshmen were led by two banners of the Virgin Mary up the Raven Walk during the March of Light procession. Freshman carried and placed a candle at Mary’s Grotto, asking for the intercession of Our Lady over the next four years.
Grace Cowan, freshman, joined her class in the March of Light and was deeply moved by the experience.
“I thought the March of Light was a really beautiful way to start off our four years, to dedicate these years to Mary,” Cowan said. “It was special to do it as a class, being able to start our journey together.”
Walking from the grotto to the Abbey, the freshman class attended the all-school Mass celebrated by Abbot James Albers ’94 O.S.B. Fr. Adam Wilczak ’07, from the Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas, was the alumni guest homilist at this year’s Mass.
During Mass, freshman, such as Matthew Cleary, were moved by the testimony of Wilczak and the experience of participating in Mass with the entire freshman class.
“It is a really important thing to center ourselves and our academic year ahead on the Eucharist,” said Cleary. “(The Mass of the Holy Spirit) allowed us to put the importance of the Eucharist at the front of our mind and thereby putting everything else in its right place.”
During his homily, Fr. Wilczak discussed how the Holy Spirit is at work in a student’s life and implored the students to use their next four years wisely.
“Spending some time in prayer, I felt called to try to focus on the use of the Spirit in our lives,” Wilczak said. “The fact that He is always there to guide us and to not underestimate the beauty of these four years here Benedictine College was a message I hoped to leave the students.”
Following Mass, the Convocation ceremony was held in the Nolan Gymnasium. Students heard from President Stephen Minnis, Kimberly Shankman, academic dean, and the keynote speaker Lou Holtz.
This was the second time that Lou Holtz had been invited to give the Convocation keynote address, the first being in 2007. Former Notre Dame football coach and sports commentator Holtz was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2020. Holtz was one of the first donors for the construction of Mary’s Grotto and established an endowed scholarship in his name.
“The first time I came here, the people were so friendly and present, it has just been great every time that I have been back,” Holtz said in an interview after Convocation. “I love the students and I love the school’s philosophy.”
Approaching the podium to thunderous applause, Holtz captivated the audience with his strong rhetoric. He presented listeners with three ideas that would lead to success in college and after. Beyond the practical advice, Holtz provided many laughs and personal stories from his life experience.
Julianna Bryan, freshman, was the 2022 recipient of the Lou Holtz endowment scholarship.
“I thought his speech was very inspiring, it was one of the most inspiring talks that I have heard,” Bryan said. “He was so simple, but then so deep in so many ways.”
The ceremony concluded with President Minnis briefly speaking to the freshman class and announcing the end of Beanie Week. With a loud cheer, the freshman took off their beanies and proceeded out the door and into the new school year.