As the Class of 2026 started to settle into residence halls and discover everything Clark has to offer, they heeded advice from University leaders who encouraged them to explore their passions, discover their true selves, and not be afraid to make mistakes.
“Forging your own path at Clark is actually what will allow you to get the most out of your time here,” President David B. Fithian ’87 told first-year students and their families during a welcome event on Thursday afternoon. “I feel very confident as an alum myself in saying that I believe that many of the things that drew me to Clark those 39 years ago are some of the same things that draw you here today.”
On Friday, the students gathered in the Kneller Athletic Center for “Fiat Lux: Your Clark Academic Journey Begins,” a ceremonial welcoming to their first academic year at Clark.
Danielle Morgan Acosta, associate dean of students, explained that for more than half a century, the words “Fiat Lux” — “Let there be light” — have guided Clark’s mission to illuminate the path of knowledge, discovery, and positive action.
“Perhaps you are processing how to be a light for yourself, to be committed to challenging your preconceived notions, exploring your identities, and being persistent and relentless in your willingness to grow and emerge as who you want to be,” she said. Each student was then given a miniature flashlight. The overhead lights were doused, and the students flipped on their flashlights in unison, the hundreds of individual beams illuminating a newly formed community.
New students were also given a graphic novel adaptation of “Parable of the Sower,” a 1993 science fiction novel by Octavia E. Butler that will be the literary foundation for a series of lectures and programs this semester as part of the Common Academic Experience. Betsy Huang, dean of the college and professor of English, told students that the post-apocalyptic story looks beyond survival to sowing the seeds of a meaningful life.
“We chose this book because it offers so many entry points of inquiry and conversation,” she said. “There’s something in it for political scientists, geographers and climate scientists, economists, sociologists, biologists, philosophers, and more … It’s a great book to demonstrate to you how Clark’s academics are plugged into the world, and how plugged in you will be, too.”
Akeisha Latch ’22, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration, explained that the students will experience highs and lows during their college career. Those moments will help shape and strengthen them, she said. “It’s the beauty of watching yourself grow over time and transform into the best version of yourself.”
With 705 new students, the Class of 2026 is the largest in Clark’s history — representing 34 states and 27 countries. President Fithian urged the incoming class to immerse themselves in a community of talented and engaged students and accomplished faculty.
“You will learn a great deal in our classrooms and laboratories, but you will also learn much from time spent with other members of this community, in the dining halls, in the residence halls, on the athletic fields, and in so many other places on campus,” Fithian said.
“Understand that part of college is about coming more fully into your personhood. It’s about finding your voice. It’s about learning what matters most to you. It’s about allowing others into your journey and about learning how to make decisions for yourself and live with any consequences of those decisions.”
Sofía Bishop ’23, the president of the undergraduate Student Council, on Thursday urged students to allow themselves the space to accept failures as well as victories. “Give yourself the grace to be human,” she said. “Being perfect is an illusion.”
Bishop said new students are joining a campus with a rich array of opportunities to learn, to grow, to discover who they are and how they want to make a difference in this world.
“One thing that always impresses me about Clarkies is our resilience and sense of justice, something I believe each and every one of you may adopt as you join our community,” Bishop said. “We rally around causes we care about. We challenge convention and constantly redefine what leadership can look like. You’ll always find someone whose passion lights them, fuels their mind, body, soul, and spirit.”
Sebastián Royo, provost and vice president for academic affairs, encouraged the first-years to take advantage of all that Clark has to offer.
“You’re here because we believe in you,” he said. “You’re going to have to work hard. Academic excellence is at the heart of our mission here at Clark. But we’re confident that you’re capable of doing it.”
Margo Foreman, vice president and chief officer of diversity, equity, and inclusion, recommended that students seek opportunities to work in collaboration with others in the pursuit of creating change.
“No two people here are alike and that’s a good thing,” she said. “Don’t just tolerate other perspectives. Hear them.”
Kamala Kiem, associate provost and dean of students, said, “My highest aspiration is to cultivate a fulfilling and holistic experience that inspires every one of you to discover more about yourself, find your calling, and for every student to feel love and joy here.”
Volunteers sporting “Team Clark” T-shirts helped families unload their cars under sunny skies Thursday morning, pushing red bins packed to the brim with bedding, pillows, clothing, and decorations into the residence halls. New Clarkies embraced loved ones, ending one chapter of their lives and embarking on another.
The events carried a key Clark message.
“Most importantly,” Fithian said, “I want to encourage you to be the agent of your own change.”