Class of 2021, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the next four years of your lives. I could not be happier that you have decided to attend Elon University, the institution that has made me who I am today. The perspectives, experiences and people you will meet and engage with will undeniably shape your life view.

Similar to other universities, Elon is, naturally, a free-flowing space of ideas and voices. The perspectives you hear, you will not always agree with. The experiences you have, they will not always be comfortable. The people you meet, you will not always appreciate their input. Nevertheless, you are here for a reason: to enhance yourself. That means having these encounters that are beyond your normal bounds.

Civic engagement is one of the principles of this year for Elon’s SGA. That means we are seeking to enlarge the spaces in which such uncomfortable discussions can occur. That means hosting town halls at the first Thursday meeting of SGA every month in Moseley 215 at 7:30 p.m. to engage our university community on difficult topics ranging from international events to mental health to sexual- and gender-based harassment.

But, civic engagement goes beyond these discussions. While that is certainly the role that SGA can play in hosting such conversations, you, as an individual student, can do so much more. You can vote, engage the Alamance County community or your home community, call your representatives, give attention to the news and more.

After the events in Charlottesville, Va., it can feel difficult to engage with others of opposite views and perspectives. However, your voice, your attendance, your engagement is exactly what our campus and country need in the wake of such tragedies.

Speaking with others means educating someone else on your perspective, one that maybe they have no background knowledge about. Civic engagement — at its core — means being vulnerable with others about topics and issues that impact our community every day.

In response to Charlottesville, I responded with more than 100 other student body presidents from across the country to stand with the University of Virginia, to state, “We collectively call on one another to speak up in the face of injustice, as silence reduces us to bystanders in oppression.” To speak up and engage is to sometimes be uncomfortable, even for me. But, if there is one lesson I hope to leave with you as you begin the next four years of your life at a university that will challenge you, I would encourage you to take it upon yourselves to engage one another in these conversations, to educate and to civically engage our campus as students.