By Alexandra Junge
Elegantly dressed first year students in fresh-pressed shirts and colorful summer dresses gathered last Tuesday to take part in their first Rentrée Solennelle. While the Reims ceremony did not have the Prime Minister of France speak, as that of the Paris campus did, students were nonetheless given a deserving welcome by figures of the Sciences Po and Reims community.
As the students took their seats, outgoing Reims Campus Director Nathalie Jacquet introduced the first speaker of the event, Tilman Turpin, currently director of Sciences Po’s Poitiers campus, who will be taking over her position at the end of this month.
“Today I feel like you,” he told the crowd. Just like the new students, Turpin is discovering Reims for the first time. He anticipates witnessing the development of the campus and students alike in the coming years.
Next Olivier Duhamel, Professor Emeritus of Sciences Po, presented the students with three pressing questions: where are you, what will you do, and who are you? The first question may seem obvious, but Duhamel wanted to highlight the importance of the history of the university as an institution with a lasting legacy.
Duhamel was keen to debunk an infamous aspect of Sciences Po, namely that is an elite institution, reserved only for the upper class. He stressed that over 30% of Sciences Po students are scholarship recipients, making it the most financially accommodating institution in all of France.
As for the second question, he stated that students will “learn, understand, and share”. The most important thing to learn, besides love, Duhamel jokes, is the ability to think for oneself. He echoed Kennedy when he urged students to think of not only what Sciences Po can offer them, but also what they can do for Sciences Po: what associations can you join, what conferences and events can you create? How can you get the most out of your time here? These are the questions students should ask themselves throughout the coming year.
The last question, ‘Who are you?’ is perhaps the most difficult question to answer, and that is a good thing according to Duhamel. For he hopes that students will be flexible and realize that the paths they can take are plentiful. Indeed, Sciences Po alumni have become designers, singers, teachers, prime ministers and writers. He tells students that they must “Devenez ce que vous êtes”, (“become who you are”) and that through their years at Sciences Po they will find their paths and complete their transformations into themselves.
Afterward, Frédéric Mion, the iconic President of Sciences Po, reminded students of where they have stepped foot following a characteristically charming and humorous introduction, namely an institution of over 150 years of age, comprising 13,000 students, 4,000 permanent and adjunct professors and over 60,000 alumni.
If you are a student at Sciences Po, then it is because you have overcome the same obstacles as those beside you, such as the admissions process and certain academic standards, Mion stated. The students can be proud of these achievements, yet he urges them to be weary and not slide too confidently on this proud feeling. Instead they should be humble and remember that the opportunity of Sciences Po comes with responsibility.
Mion asserts that the structure of the new curriculum crafted with Sciences Po Undergraduate Dean Bénédicte Durand, will give students the best tools to tackle the numerous battles they will meet on the way. Using the historical example of the era during which Sciences Po was founded he said that the university’s mission from 1871 is still the same today, to equip people with the tools to improve the state of the world.
Mion finished his speech with Erasmus’ timeless words: “No one is born human, one must become human,” and thanked Jacquet for her work in Reims.
The Reims cheerleading team and the Euram program’s beaver mascot then took center stage, and delivered a performance that was well-received despite some technical difficulties. A rousing performance by Madji Diop, Aliénor de Thoisy, and Raphaël Grach, all Euram 2A, followed.
The last section of speeches were dedicated to the various sponsors and figures that have given Sciences Po Paris the means and help to set up such a notable Reims campus. The mayor of Reims, Arnaud Robinet, then praised the students for choosing his town, and encouraged students to get to know the town and the people who live in it. Catherine Vautrin, President of ‘Grand Reims’, urged the students to be ambassadors of the city of Reims. Lastly, Xavier Albertini, Vice President of the Regional Council of Reims, told students that they should challenge themselves to “study not to know more but to know better” during academic endeavors.
After a good two hours of speeches and performances, the students and speakers gathered in the old courtyard to enjoy the region’s famous champagne and reflect on what they had been told. Overall, everyone was inspired and satisfied with their first Rentrée, yet many especially from the Euro-American program, felt that the French to English language ratio in the speeches could have been more balanced. While the best way to learn a new language is arguably to be fully immersed in it, students still felt that not enough of the speeches were in English, thereby leaving them out of the loop and intimidated. Regardless, the central messages of the Rentrée Solennelle in Reims this year that centered on respect, humility, and vigor remained clear to all and set the tone for the much-anticipated year ahead.
Photos: Paul Rentler//Sciences Po