President Helble at Convocation

President Joseph J. Helble ’82 drew on his own experiences to deliver a message to the Classes of 2025 and 2024: 'The Lehigh journey is a journey that will change you.”


University Convocation Opens 2021-2022 Academic Year

Speakers encourage the Classes of 2025 and 2024 to find their passions, be curious and explore concepts beyond their academic cores.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

Lehigh officially marked the start of the 2021-2022 academic year with a University Convocation at Baker Hall Thursday, as President Joseph J. Helble ’82 delivered a message to the Classes of 2025 and 2024, as well as transfer students, that they had embarked on a journey unlike any other. “Trust me,” he said, “the Lehigh journey is a journey that will change you.”

He pointed to his own Lehigh student experience, when he arrived on campus as a first-year, unsure of his major and unsure whether he’d be able to compete in intercollegiate sports. Graduate school was not on his radar. But he was open to possibilities, he said, and Lehigh faculty and staff encouraged him to go outside his comfort zone.

“If you don’t have it all figured out, don’t worry,” he said. “It will come.”

In his address, Helble encouraged incoming students to experiment outside their academic and intellectual cores, by taking classes outside their fields of study or by attending lecture series on topics they know nothing about. “If you are truly open to it, it might help you see the world in extraordinarily new and different ways,” he said.

After a series of orientation events and a week of classes, few students attended the convocation in person. Those who did stood out to Helble, who told them they had demonstrated independence of spirit and thinking in choosing to attend the convocation over other activities. “Hang onto that,” he told them.

The program began with an invocation from Rabbi Steven P. Nathan, director of Jewish Student Life and associate chaplain; a welcome from Ric Hall, vice provost for Student Affairs; and a greeting from Provost Nathan Urban. The Lehigh University Choir, directed by Steven Sametz, the Ronald J. Ulrich Chair of Music, performed.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Christina Viau Haden delivered the keynote address. In her message to students, she told three stories of “passions intersecting in unexpected ways.”

Mechanical Engineering Professor Christina Viau Haden delivered the keynote address

Mechanical Engineering Professor Christina Viau Haden delivered the keynote address. 'This is your opportunity,' she said in a message to students.

Her first story was personal, as she recounted her decision to train as a voluntary emergency medical technician while in college to study mechanical engineering and her decision two years earlier to study sign language for no other reason than she had found it fascinating. Responding to an EMT call one day to tend to a woman who had fallen and who had suspected head trauma, she had an intuition that something was not as it seemed. Going out on a limb, she asked the woman in sign language if she was deaf. She was, and Viau Haden was able to communicate with her and tend to her concerns about not being able to pick up her daughter at her school bus if she was taken by ambulance to a hospital.

“My father had taught me that life is like a toolbag, that you fill it with everything that you want to learn about,” she said. School was her playground, and she took classes in sign language, which became beneficial to her in her role as an EMT, and in biology and other areas.  

She said, “Curiosity helps you branch out from your intended major and learn about anything that you've ever wanted to know about while you're here. This is your opportunity. You never know how it might just make the stars align for you one day.”

Viau Haden also told a story about Leonardo da Vinci, as she prepares to teach a course next spring about “the artist and the engineer” with her colleague Mellie Katakalos in Lehigh’s Theatre Department. In his quest for knowledge, Da Vinci studied animals to understand biology, which then inspired the invention of thousands of devices, she said.

“What made Da Vinci so profoundly different?” she asked. “He was curious about everything around him. He wanted to understand the world and everything in it.”

Her third story was about a young woman named Lacy Hughes, who, she said, might have found a solution to the world’s plastic problem in her kitchen. As she was cooking, she noticed how fish scales bent easily. She said Hughes went on to experiment with more than 100 combinations of ingredients, pulverizing and boiling down mixtures of fish by-products, until she found a recipe that would make a pliable, biodegradable plastic sheet.  

“You don’t know where your paths are going to take you, but if you follow your hearts, it’s going to be amazing,” Viau Haden said, as she encouraged students to tap into their curiosity.

“If these stories speak to you, and if you are excited about the boundless possibilities of combining your passions, creative inquiry and a desire to make the world a better place, you’ve come to the right place,” she said. “You have the promise and the ability to shape your experience here at Lehigh into whatever you can dream it to be. “

Prior to the convocation, Provost Nathan Urban hosted a reception in the Tamerler Tent near the Rauch Business Center for new faculty, recently promoted and tenured faculty and newly named endowed chairs, professorships and fellowships. “It's great to have the group together, and it's great to see students here on campus,” Urban said. He noted that one of his favorite events is meeting new faculty, as they bring new ideas and perspectives to campus.

Story by

Mary Ellen Alu

Photography by

Christa Neu

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