Torrey Fall Convocation ceremony welcomes its largest-ever freshman class

New students were invited into Torrey through ceremonial traditions and a speech from new associate professor Todd Thompson.


Courtesy of Sophia Silvester

Torrey students actively listen to the speaker during the 2019 Torrey Convocation.

Sophia Silvester, Freelance Writer

The Torrey Honors Institute held its annual Fall Convocation ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 19, centered around the theme of community. Torrey associate professor Adam Johnson said that though the “script” is the same every year—why Torrey is worth going through—and each speaker captured a different aspect of the spirit of the program.  

“It’s always different, but it’s always the same,” he reflected.

Assistant professor Laurie Wilson agreed, adding that convocation this year focused on “community coming together.” 


The ceremony began with a processional of the faculty, all dressed in formal academic regalia. Director of Torrey Honors Paul Spears welcomed all present, and specifically the incoming freshman class. Then several knocks rang through the chapel before the back doors opened, revealing eight representatives, one from each of the freshmen cohorts. They walked to the front of the chapel, where one student carried a sword and was dressed in a monk’s robe and a wooden cross. He awaited their arrival.

“It was very interesting,” reflected freshman accounting major Jonathan Barnum on his experience as the Milton cohort representative. “Some of the other individuals around me were wearing Nationball clothing and I was not… That was an interesting dynamic to see the somberness and reality that Torrey is, but also the fact that there is room for that level of fun and such.”

The monkish figure addressed each representative, asking what they seek to gain from their four years in the program. After everyone answered, they filed into the pews and the entire audience sang “All Creatures of Our God and King,” followed by a recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.

Spears then took the stage once more and spoke briefly on the heart behind Torrey. He explained how the meaning of the sword seen earlier was a visual representation of the sword of truth: the Bible. Freshman biological science major Sara Chao said this was one of her favorite parts. 

“I thought it was really cool when they brought out the sword,” she said. “Once they explained the significance behind it, it just took on a whole new meaning. There was a lot of tradition I didn’t understand, but I liked how they want to immerse us in the community and they really want to make us a part of Torrey.”

Spears finished his address by speaking on how the life of the mind is best pursued in community.

“Today,” Spears concluded. “You are invited to more… You are invited to a life together for four years.”

A brief interlude followed, during which two Torrey students read excerpts from 1 John and the Gospel of John. Spears then resumed the podium to introduce two new professors, Sian Draycott and Thompson, filling in for the two professors on sabbatical this year. He turned the stage over to Thompson, this year’s commencement speaker.


Thompson described himself as “bearded and bookish.” His speech focused on what he described as his own “walk to Emmaus:” his journey from a one-time book-burning high schooler to a Torrey professor. Like the two men who walked with Jesus to Emmaus, he went through a spiritual transformation once he had a space to voice the doubts and uncertainties he had about Christianity and the resources to find the answers. 

The next portion of the evening was broken into prayers by class, each led by a specific professor. Upperclassmen holding candles gradually lined the aisles with each prayer, ending with the seniors. There were more than a few misty eyes among the senior class by the end as they reflected on their time in Torrey.

Freshman biological science major Gabbi Jenkins said she appreciated this time of prayer. 

“It was encouraging and enlightening, especially since we’re in the third week of school and it’s stressful,” Jenkins said. 

The convocation came to an end with Spears’s final words.

“Now,” Spears concluded as the candles were put out. “Go forth with grace, love and fellowship.”

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