Convocation Welcomes University’s Largest Incoming Class

Convocation speaker, author Dave Isay encourages students to find and nurture their callings

Keynote speaker Dave Isay encourages Ole Miss students to dream wildly and to find their passions during the 2023 Fall Convocation. Isay is a radio producer, founder of the oral history project StoryCorps and author of the university’s 2023 Common Reading book, ‘Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.’ Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Finding a passion is like falling in love – you know it when you see it and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to chase it all your life. That was the message noted radio producer Dave Isay gave to more than 5,000 University of Mississippi students on Tuesday (Aug. 22) evening.

Isay spoke to the university’s largest-ever freshman class during Fall Convocation at The Sandy and John Black Pavilion at Ole Miss. This year’s event marks the 175th year that Ole Miss has welcomed students to campus – a notable distinction, Chancellor Glenn Boyce said.

“You will look back at this moment as the beginning of an extraordinary journey that shapes you and the trajectory of your life,” Boyce said. “And you will learn and grow the most if you remember that success is a journey, not a destination.

“Your journey here isn’t just about where you land four years from now. It’s about the steps you take along the way, and how you learn and grow from those experiences.” 

Members of the Columns Society pass out commemorative challenge coins to freshmen and transfer students during the university’s 2023 Fall Convocation. This year’s coins are embossed with the 175th anniversary celebration logo. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The 175th anniversary celebration, themed “A Legacy of Calling,” in part references Isay’s book, “Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work.” Selected as the 2023 Common Reading Experience, the book details the role that passions and occupations play in leading a fulfilling life. Every new student received a copy of the book.

“I wish that thrilling experience of seeing your wildest dreams come true for each and every one of you one day,” he said. “May you find that one thing that you were put on this Earth to do one day. Don’t stop searching. Keep your mind and your heart open.

“Once you find it, do everything you’ve got to do that thing. It’s not easy, it’s never easy, but that’s why you’ve got to do it.” 

Isay, also founder of StoryCorps, an ongoing oral history project, has earned six Peabody Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. His book is based on interviews with dozens of people through years of radio journalism. 

Each year, a challenge coin is delivered to the incoming class of students. The coin handed out this year is a special edition embossed with the university’s 175th anniversary celebration logo. 

“For 175 years, our university has empowered students, faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders to define and pursue their personal callings and lead lives of purpose,” said Charlotte Pegues, vice chancellor for student affairs. “That essence of our university is what we want to celebrate, and we are excited to put that on full display this fall, starting with this very special challenge coin.” 

Throughout his speech, Isay wove video clips from StoryCorps interviews, showing the audience glimpses of the life of a single father who took his daughter with him to college each day of her young life, a woman reminiscing on the life of her grandmother and the story of a young boy who achieved his dream of becoming an astronaut.

“My message to you tonight: live with courage, don’t be afraid and live with your hands unfolded,” Isay said. “May you do what you love to do and may you find your calling. That is my wish for you.” 

Riley Mickelson, a freshman public policy leadership major from St. Martin, was among the few students who raised her hand to show that she’d already finished this year’s common read.

“It was normal people, everyday people who tell their story,” Mickelson said. “It was incredible, because that’s what everyone wants – to be heard.”

Dave Isay (left), radio producer and author, signs a book for Hanny Zermeno, a freshman English major from Hattiesburg, during a book signing following the annual Fall Convocation. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Lynn Moore, a transfer digital communications student from Clarksdale, said she was a little more than halfway finished with the book, but she’s determined to finish it.

“I think it’s truly amazing what you get to hear from other people’s backgrounds and perspectives,” she said. “I think it’s beautiful – the diversity, the different people. It’s not just one slate; it’s a story.” 

Moore said she sees photography as her calling. 

“I always told my mom I wanted to be an artist, and I never changed my mind,” she said. “That’s what I like about photos – it’s a memory you can keep forever.”

Regardless of the passion that each student nurtures – or even if they don’t know it yet – they can find a pathway to their calling at Ole Miss, Boyce said.

“The callings described in this book relate to professional callings,” Boyce said. “They concentrate on individuals who found a true calling in life: a vocation that gives them fulfillment, meaning and purpose. 

“I have every confidence that if you dedicate yourself to working hard, being a positive contributor to our community and connecting with your peers and professors, you can find your calling here.”