A male cheerleader being tossed into the air
VCU's cheerleaders helped build a high-energy atmosphere. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Convocation, Spirit Walk offer a rousing welcome for VCU’s newest students

VCU President Michael Rao tells freshmen and transfer students they have an opportunity to develop newfound confidence and purpose. “I want you to figure out who you are,” he said.

Share this story

Monroe Park was abuzz with activity Monday afternoon as thousands of Virginia Commonwealth University’s newest students gathered for the New Student Convocation. This was the formal welcome to the university for VCU’s freshmen and transfer students.

The Peppas, VCU’s pep band, were blasting some of their best beats as the Cheerleading Squad did flips along the lawn. Freshmen wandered around the area in small groups, taking in the sights and sounds of the event. Among them, Melody Cang, Monica Cruz and Anya Harris walked around together. The first-year students said they had spent the day exploring the campus and getting themselves accustomed to everything.

Rodney the Ram walking in front of the pep band
Rodney the Ram was among those providing a spirited welcome to new students. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

Harris said she was already familiar with VCU, since she participated in a summer program, but she said was happy to see more people on campus. 

“I’m really just excited to meet new people and make new friends,” she said.

Max Santos, another freshman, said he was feeling nervous but excited at the same time.

“I come from the suburbs so it’s not like the city, it’s a bit different … but it’s nice to be here,” he said.

Paige Watson said she was also a little overwhelmed because VCU was different from what she was used to. Despite this, Watson said she was most excited to form new connections with people around campus.

“I know that sounds like a cheesy thing to say,” Watson said.

During Student Convocation, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., noted he had met several students as they moved in last week and enjoyed learning each person’s story. The students, he said, “are why we are here.”

The pep band in front of a crowd of new students
The Peppas helped lead the way for the annual Spirit Walk. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)

“You are the center of our mission,” Rao said. “We exist to … help you shape the rest of your lives.”

The president said he saw enormous potential in all the new students he met.

However, Rao said he knew what it was like to feel like a fish out of water. He came from a small town where few people attended college, and he didn’t know what to expect when he started his freshman year.

“It wasn't long before I had three groups of people – my professors, staff all over the institution, and other students – who comforted me and made me feel like I belong,” Rao said. “I ask all of you to do that for each other.”

Four female college students sitting in the grass
New students enjoyed the chance to interact at Monroe Park. (Hannah Loving)

He said the students’ time at VCU will help them develop the confidence they deserve to become who they are meant to be.

“I want you to figure out who you are,” Rao said. “I do not want somebody else to tell you who you are or what you should be. You figure out who you are.”

Following Student Convocation, students participated in the Ram Spirit Walk, an annual VCU tradition. The Class of 2026, incoming transfer students and The Peppas marched through a portion of campus while fellow students, alumni and community members cheered them on. Everyone then gathered back at Monroe Park for a party featuring live music, inflatables and a free dinner.

A crowd of students standing in monroe park, many of them are cheering.
VCU's freshmen and transfer students participate in the festivities. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)