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Beacon College Convocation entrance with bagpiper 2023.

As Alexander Morris-Wood surveyed the faces in Beacon College’s incoming class of 168 students — a school record and the most competitive class Beacon has ever had — gathered at the Venetian Center, he realized the numbers only told part of the story.

Sure, the College was welcoming the new students who come from 28 states and three countries – a group picked out of 600 total applications, the most Beacon has ever received.

Yet, the pride “is not just in numbers, but in all of our journeys together,” said Morris-Wood, Beacon’s vice president of program development and global partnerships, as he and other school leaders welcomed the new students on Aug. 24 at the Opening Convocation to kick off the 2023-2024 academic year.

Beacon seriously recruited this year’s class which is 20 percent bigger than last year’s, Morris-Wood said.

“We visited 400 high schools around the United States,” he said. “We have had nearly 1,000 people come to this campus over the year in our open houses and Discovery Days. We have done hundreds of webinars.”

Faculty, administrators and students gathered at the formal ceremony that included bagpipes to celebrate the new school year. The event was a master class on how to succeed in college. It was part pep talk, part reality check with plenty of inspiration to get students ready for classes. It was also a chance for Morris-Wood to tout the incoming group’s achievements.

Many of the new Beacon students arrived with resumes that have advanced placement or honors courses and awards won at their previous universities or high schools. Others have proved their resilience, transferring from more than three different colleges but not giving up on their education, he said.

These talented students are helping Beacon become a nationally recognized higher education institution.

“Like you, we have defied the odds,” Morris-Wood told the group. “We have been telling people to take us seriously, to critically evaluate us. And as a result, we’re not just the best college for students who learn differently, but a Top 10 college (in the South per U.S. News & World Report) in the United States.”

Among those speaking from the heart to motivate students was professor Dr. Richard Perrone.

“These next few years are going to be amazing, challenging, stressful and unpredictable — just like the real world,” said Perrone, who chairs the human services and psychology department, during the ceremony. “As a result of your time at Beacon College, you’ll become stronger, more resilient, and an improved version of yourself… You will be different after attending college.”

His advice?

Show gratitude, Perrone said. Don’t forget to thank your parents, extended family and mentors who have helped you make it this far.

Take healthy risks, dream big and get out of your comfort zone, he added.

Several school leaders urged students to take responsibility for their own success at school.

“Be in college – not simply at college,” said Beacon College President George J. Hagerty who repeated the same advice twice to get the message across: Don’t skip class.

“Embrace college as the gift that it is,” Hagerty added. “There are going to be challenges, and there’s going to be some hard work. But there’s going to be joy and achievement and a whole lot of discovery.”

Another common theme was reminding students they aren’t alone.

Hagerty asked the students to look at each other and say, “I got your back.”

Beacon College is a family, said Dana Manzo, the school’s vice president of student affairs.

“Lean on the family whether you need academic advice, a shoulder to cry on, or just someone to share a laugh with us, we’re here for you, and we’re rooting for you,” she said.

Manzo urged students to get involved in campus events or school clubs.

“Try something you’ve never done before. Take advantage of the full college experience,” she said.