New student taking a selfie with their Medallion

Welcoming the Class of 2020

Sept. 7, 2016 — At the end of New Student Orientation, all Grinnell first-years are invited to attend a ceremony that connects the College's past to their futures. This year more than 400 students entered Herrick Chapel to the sound of Pink Neighbor, a local band composed of alums Erik Jarvis '12 and Katie In '13. The Medallion Ceremony opened with an explanation of the significance of the silver medallion the members of the Class of 2020 were about to receive.

The story begins in 1846 at a meeting of the Iowa College Association in which members were debating whether to found Iowa College — now Grinnell College — in Davenport. James J. Hill stood up, threw a silver dollar on the table and declared, “Now then! Appoint your trustees to take care of that dollar for Iowa College.” That was the founding dollar of Grinnell's endowment, and the story continues today as students are given a silver medallion to commemorate Hill's gift and signify a responsibility to help sustain the College in the future.

Three alumni speakers — Aamir Walton '15, Opeyemi Awe '15, and Lester Alemán '07 — discussed the opportunities their time at Grinnell afforded them. Aamir views a Grinnell education as a privilege. And like other privileges — wealth or class, for example — it is best used to help others who lack it. In discussing his views as an alum working in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Aamir pointed out recent successes DAR has seen, particularly with regard to the percentage of alums in the classes of 1966 and 2016 who gave to the College last year. “The most important part of philanthropy,” he stressed, “is participating.”

In addition to discussing the areas in which she sought to make change as Student Government Association president, Opeyemi told the Class of 2020 about the opportunities she had to explore different career paths while still a student. She came to Grinnell with a broad interest in African development and explored that interest through a College-sponsored internship at Challenging Heights, a Rosenfield Program-sponsored internship with the State Department's special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, and a Wilson Program-sponsored week in California shadowing African entrepreneurs.

Lester reminded students of the impact Grinnellians have had and continue to have on the social fabric of this country — he singled out Harry Hopkins 1912 and Herbie Hancock '60 in particular. In his senior year, while he was director of the Stonewall Resource Center, Lester pushed for gender-neutral housing at Grinnell. He noted that Congress is only now discussing similar matters, but Grinnell made effective change 10 years ago. Since graduating he was the program director at the Los Angeles branch of the Posse foundation and coaches executives on diversity — executives, he says, can be difficult to coach. His parting words to the Class of 2020 reminded them that it was up to them and other alums to be responsible agents of change and to help Grinnell continue to be a forward-thinking institution.