Marcus Larson / News-Register##New Linfield students pose for a class photo near the campus Oak Grove, all
holding up a hand to the camera and making an ‘L’ with their hands.
Marcus Larson / News-Register##New Linfield students pose for a class photo near the campus Oak Grove, all holding up a hand to the camera and making an ‘L’ with their hands.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Linfield welcomes 580 new students

President Thomas Hellie welcomed the new arrivals, along with many of their parents, at a Friday morning convocation — the ceremony that traditionally opens the academic year. Classes started Monday.

As music professors Joan Paddock and Albert Kim played a processional, faculty members in their academic regalia marched into the Ted Wilson Gymnasium for the event.

“We come seeking wisdom and hope,” as well as knowledge, Chaplain David Massey said in his opening prayer. “May our educational endeavors erode our walls of indifference to others.”

Midway through the ceremony, the musicians played the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” It fit Linfield’s theme for the year, “Air, water, earth and fire, ancient elements on our changing planet.”

In connection with that theme, students read Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” over the summer.

Convocation speaker Theresa Betancourt, a 1991 Linfield graduate, also participated in the summer reading exercise. It reminded her of what she began learning and experiencing 28 years ago, when she moved into Linfield’s Failing Hall as a freshman.

She had grown up in a small town in Alaska, where her parents were active citizens and educators. Although she felt alone when she arrived, she soon began making friends with whom she remains close yet today. That experience made her feel part of the community.

“You don’t have to figure it all out at once,” she told freshmen.

She didn’t, she said. But with help from her professors at Linfield, and later in graduate school, she learned lifelong skills and tools. She also came to trust her own questioning and investigating.

For instance, she said, she learned to observe deeply, consider the world from a variety of angles and watch for patterns. “Attention opens the door to discovery,” she said.

Today, Betancourt is on the faculty at Harvard University, which she described as “a little school we like to call ‘the Linfield of the East.’” She directs a program examining the impact of conflict on children.

She is conducting a long-term study on former child soldiers in Sierra Leone, now parents themselves. She also is studying families affected by HIV/AIDS and examining the issues of risk and resilience.

“The notion of interconnectedness and power of community is central to my research,” Betancourt said. “Social networks and safety nets can be so powerful.”

She’s experienced that feeling in her own life, especially during her college years.

“I made tremendous connections at Linfield,” she said. “You will, too.”

Making connections, and building skills such as observation, analytical thinking and flexibility, helps prepare you for whatever will happen in your life, she said.

For example, Betancourt and other Harvard researchers were working with a team in Sierra Leone when the Ebola epidemic broke out in three African countries.

The U.S. researchers had to leave while “Ebola raged through for several months.” They were concerned for the staff they left behind, not just because of the disease, but also because the Sierra Leoneans would be left without an income.

They realized their highly trained staff could still work, and make a difference, by shifting its focus to educating people about good health practices and studying behaviors that helped people avoid the disease.

“Our team collected information from 1,000 people at the height of the epidemic, studying psycho-social elements of the outbreak,” she said.

They were able to do that because they were prepared. “If you build the right foundation, you’ll be able to take action when the opportunity arises,” she said. 

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