Minutes before Friday afternoons convocation, Fort Lewis Colleges incoming freshman class stood in anticipation outside Whalen Gymnasium.
Sarah Benson of Littleton, an aspiring English and art double major, said she was thrilled for convocation, as were her parents, who had come up for the occasion.
I am excited. Its the start of a new chapter in my education, said Benson.
Inside the cavernous gymnasium, parents sat in bleachers, some poring over the program, while others fanned themselves with it, their anticipation blunted by the soothing music of a brass band. The gymnasiums usual wood floor was disguised with a blue mat.
Greg Christianson of Baxter, Iowa, sat with his wife, Joyce, and daughter, Courtney, in the first bleacher. Christianson said that they had been in Durango since Monday, and were eager to watch Christiansons son, Cody, formally begin his collegiate career.
He decided to come here himself, just fell in love with this place, with the mountains. I hope he has a good time, and that he gets a good job, and hopefully that he moves back, closer to home. But I guess thats up to him, said Christianson.
FLC holds convocation each year for the incoming freshman class and transfer students, along with their families. The fall semester begins Monday.
As the clock hit 4:01 p.m., 400 students began entering the gym in two long processional lines beneath the American flag, the Colorado flag and banners commemorating FLCs NCAA Division II championships and amid peals of proud applause.
Parents leaned over the rails, camera in hand, straining for a glimpse of their child.
Shuffling up the aisles, students searched the stands for the faces of their loved ones. On finding them, some students waved back at their beaming parents, while others, ashen-faced with embarrassment, tried to look away, only to find that they couldnt, and succumb to a sheepish smile.
When FLC President Dene Kay Thomas entered the gymnasium in full academic regalia, the din brought to mind Noah faced with Old Testament thunder. Taking the podium, Thomas said, Welcome to Fort Lewis College. It all starts here!
Thomas noted that worldwide, only 7 percent of people hold degrees from a four-year college, before puckishly adding, We hope you will graduate in just four years. I like to think Im talking to the class of 2016.
Thomas said college was a journey that would bring new friends, laughter, tears and stress. Enjoy. And when you return to this gymnasium in caps and gowns, I hope you will remember today.
Judging by the audiences rapture, the parents, at least, will never forget it.