VALPARAISO — The bells of the Brandt Campanile rang in a new school year as nearly 1,000 students donning Valparaiso Brown and Gold took a step forward in their academic careers.

More than 800 freshman and transfer students and 175 graduate students, some having already attended their first college classes earlier that morning, welcomed the beginning of their Valparaiso University experience in Tuesday afternoon's 91st Annual Opening Convocation at VU's Chapel of the Resurrection.

“We all want to be part of something bigger," VU President Mark Heckler said in his address to the students. "We all want to discover something truly exceptional and tap into the energy of a movement that moves a society forward. Valpo is a place for those who strive for a better world.”

This year, graduate students represent 18 states and 12 counties earning their undergraduates degrees from 50 different United States universities, and 35 international universities.

Undergraduates come from more than 300 cities nationally and 20 countries internationally ranging from Serbia to Nepal.

“Valpo is a place that intentionally brings people together from every background and faith and perspective to engage in dialogue across difference,” Heckler said. “At Valpo, you will discover what your future will hold and how Valpo will allow you to pursue your calling.”

Heckler, who earlier this month announced his intention to step down as president, encouraged students to turn their phones on and not off in a speech that challenged the incoming Crusaders to find their authentic selves in an age of 24-7 connected world.

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The president offered the new students a few pieces of advice — get involved in campus life, listen critically and inclusively to peers, and build a personal brand that reflects ethical, honest learning grounded in faith.

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He encouraged students to look beyond the picture-perfect poses of an Instagram-worthy selfie paraphrasing the advice of famed war photographer Robert Capa, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, get closer.”

“Get closer. Delve deeper. Go beyond,” Heckler said. “When you find something that sparks your interest, pursue it. Work hard at it. Become good at it. You will lead a rich life not just by following your passion, but by working hard to be excellent at it.”

At the convocation, Crusaders also took time to recognize their own leadership making note of incoming faculty, celebrating university anniversaries and inducting two new deans — David Cleveland as dean of the Law School and Patricia Mileham as dean of the Christopher Center Library.

Class of 2020 Student Body President Annika Brown encouraged her new classmates to welcome the unexpected adventures and lessons to come in their time at VU.

"My experience at Valpo has taught me no one experiences a straight path," Brown said. "Embrace the ambiguity of the years ahead and let the unknown guide you of your endless potential."

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.