For many reasons I’m especially excited to be attending my 18th “Freshman/Alumni Rally,” which has changed its name to “First-Year Student Rally,” since the event began over six decades ago. The reason is that transfer students are also welcomed, which doesn’t change one great annual tradition: that this year’s “Great Class of 2020” will be adopted by my own “Great Class of 1970.” (Tradition says that every class is described this way, regardless of their performance.)
Another ritual: some inevitable “freshman indiscretions” from being away from home for the “first” time (tell that to those who boarded at prep schools). I was living proof of this in 1966, when I misused my Rally gift from the Alumni Association – the then traditional corn cob pipe, with free packet of tobacco (!). The startling gifts were eventually discontinued for obvious reasons.
Six years later I had the privilege of attending, and helping organize, my first of 14 Rallies as Alumni Association staff assistant. Among top memories were the astoundingly loud cheers and chants led by the immortal John Steckbeck, later ably followed by Asst Athletic Director and former MLB pitcher, Craig Anderson ’61. Even louder was the band’s stunning insistence on setting off its revered cannon — loud enough outdoors in Taylor Stadium, but ear-shattering in the front lobby of Grace. In apoplexy each year at his inability to curb this zeal, Alumni Director, Jim Niemeyer ’43 got the final word in the script: “THE CANNON WILL NOT BE USED IN GRACE HALL!!!”
But the event is really about the new, young and impressionable arrivals. Will they appreciate advice offered from the Lehigh president, Dean’s Office, coaches, or 50-Year Class Representative? There was a good-natured, uproarious response in the 1970’s when a popular women’s coach inadvertently said at the mike, “We still have some slots to fill on our field hockey team!”
The majority of new students have little idea what lies ahead in their futures. When C.J. McCollum arrived in 2009 as a 6’3”, 165 lb. basketball prospect, he wrote: “I chose Lehigh because of its great academic reputation; I’ll major in Journalism because I want to be a sports analyst and broadcaster.” He listed his dream job as “The NBA” – and, yes, has now beaten the odds as one of the pro league’s top young point guards. He recently signed a 4-year contract extension with Portland for $106 million.
In 1982, freshman Cathy Engelbert started out in computer engineering, the daughter of an RCA engineer working on NASA projects. She finished in accounting and, like McCollum, she became a senior basketball captain and also captained women’s lacrosse. After 29 years with the world’s largest accounting firm, Cathy last year became Deloitte’s chief executive in the U.S. and cracked a glass ceiling as the first woman to lead a Big 4 firm, leading its $14 billion division with over 60,000 people in over 100 offices nationally.
You don’t have to be an athlete to succeed, but another outstanding example is Colin Kilrain, who enrolled in ’77 to become the first-ever 3-time wrestling All-American hailing from Massachusetts. As a senior, CK wanted to become a Navy Top Gun pilot, but his eye exam prevented that. Undaunted, he became a renowned Navy SEAL before assuming global responsibilities. These included special operations in Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa; commander of all 2,000+ East Coast Navy SEALs and also head of U.S. Pacific Command. When Osama bin Laden was killed, Colin was serving in the White House on the National Security Council as director of Strategy and Policy for the Office of Combating Terrorism. This June, the President appointed Kilrain as three-star vice admiral as commander of NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters in Brussels.
The bottom line for all of us (newbies or old timers) is the importance of having dreams, plus the flexibility to deal with hurdles along the way, i.e., “life is what happens when making other plans.” Best wishes for the coming years on campus to all our new arrivals at Lehigh!