Before the incoming freshman class made its way under the oaks, they first stopped in Alamance for a token of good luck. 

1,734 new students all touched the bell inside Alamance, a remnant of the 1923 fire that destroyed much of campus. The bell serves as a symbol of resilience and determination, said Jon Dooley, vice president of student life. 

Zach Ohmann | Elon News Network

New members of the Class of 2023 started a new tradition by touching the Burnt Bell in Alamance Building before continuing on to convocation. The burnt bell is one of the last remaining relics of the 1923 Elon fire.

“Deformed and disfigured by the effects of the fire that destroyed the main college building in 1923, that bell serves as not only a physical connection to the earliest days of Elon College but also as an important symbol of the resilience and determination that is ingrained in the spirit of Elon,” Dooley said.

Dooley said the new tradition of touching the bell was started this year to give new students a tangible reminder that they are part of the Elon community. The incoming freshman class will also graduate exactly one hundred years after the fire. 

“When you face setbacks during your college experience, which you most certainly will, you will have a tangible reminder that the spirit of Elon is in you,” Dooley said. “That you too can rise in the face of adversity.”

Some incoming students have already displayed resilience and grit, as 131 are first-generation college students, according to Dooley. 

President Connie Book also used history to inspire the incoming freshmen. Book reflected on the vibrant and ever-changing summer of 1969, with the historic moon landing and Woodstock. 

“That moment 50 years ago shines light on our now and our future and illustrates the critical importance of your education and the role that you will play, class of 2023, as citizen and guardian of our democracy.”

Book paralleled the summer of 1969 to the summer of 2019, saying the headlines are different but the story continues as society changes. 

“This is why I feel so passionately that the world needs Elon graduates,” Book said. “The world needs the values an Elon education prospers.”

Book pointed to the headlines about unrest in Venezuela and Hong Kong, mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, climate change and immigration that dominated much of the news cycle over the summer. 

“You are our hope,” Book said. “Our hope for that smarter, stronger and kinder world.”

Book took time to address racism, sexism and homophobia, as she did last year, saying those acts diminish the Elon community. 

Zach Ohmann | Elon News Network

President Connie Book hands out acorns to new students from the Class of 2023 following convocation.

“Like all college communities, Elon is not immune to the pattern of gender-based violence that is deeply entrenched in our culture,” Book said. “At Elon, we do not tolerate sexual violence. Despite the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses, we refuse to believe that our community is powerless to stop it.”

Jack Johnson, Student Government Association executive president, urged the class of 2023 to be intentional with their choices.

“It’s a gift. But it’s also a responsibility,” Johnson said. “Responsibility to keep yourself on track, maximize what’s been given to you, enjoy all of this.”

Johnson challenged new students to think of their time at Elon as 1,367 individual days instead of a four-year plan to get a job.

“What you have are 1,367 unique individual opportunities,” Johnson said. “Opportunities to meet new people, try new things, sit, relax, learn, explore.” 

A senior this year, Johnson thought back to when he was sitting in the crowd and said the time at Elon flies by. 

“What makes college is the small moments in between those milestones,” Johnson said. “It’s days, not years, that change your life.”

At the end of the ceremony, the class of 2023 received an acorn, as per tradition. The acorn is a symbol of the oak trees and ultimately the journey of education, President Book said. 

“Seeds need to be planted in order to grow,” Book said. “Seeds of learning are taking root while you’re a student. Class of 2023, grow deep roots and reach high.”