Speaker after speaker at a student convocation Wednesday urged Sacred Heart University's Class of 2018 to make the most of every moment.
If the 1,410 freshmen needed a reminder of life's fragility, they only needed to look at the front seating area, where members of Kappa Delta sat silently as tributes were paid to Kaitlyn Doorhy, 20, a friend and sorority sister struck and killed by a car last Friday while crossing a street.
"It kind of showed her dedication to Sacred Heart and shows how we are a family," said sorority sister Elizabeth Zaffina, a Sacred Heart sophomore from Westport.
The normally upbeat kickoff to the new academic year was dedicated to Doorhy with a moment of silence. Several of the sorority sisters said the program made them feel less alone in their grief.
"She would have liked it," said Katie Pegno, a junior.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose appearance at the convocation was planned some time ago, told the crowd that Doorhy was clearly a young lady that put service above self.
"She learned here, perhaps earlier than many, that we are at our best when serving others," Malloy said. "I hope you find what makes you happy. I hope you find that which makes you most successful. I hope you overcome any deficit, self-imposed or imposed by others, so that you can reach the pinnacle that you all desire for yourselves."
SHU Provost Laura Niesen de Abruna described Doorhy as full of life and full of love for Sacred Heart. University President John Petillo said Doorhy had come back to school early, along with other members of her sorority, to help new students move onto campus.
Despite the grief, Petillo said it is important to carry on and celebrate the beginning of a new academic year.
"This is a special day. It is a beginning," he told the students. "We want you to be excited."
Petillo urged the new class to follow him on Twitter, to get to know their professors, be curious and expand their minds.
"Don't deprive others of your gifts," he said.
Nicole Gittleman, a senior and president of Sacred Heart's student government, told the new class that the university is a lot different than it was in 1996, the year most of them were born.
Enrollment was smaller, tuition was about a third of what it is now and dormitory life was still a relatively new experience for the one-time commuter school.
Now, the university, labeled the second largest Catholic college in New England, has close to 7,000 students, 63 majors and is still growing.
By the time the Class of 2018 graduates, there will be two new dorms, a new building for the business school, more parking and more students.
"What will you have in 2018?" Gittleman said. "I hope skills for a new career, a lifelong set of friends, lasting memories."
To get there, she challenged the new class not to hesitate -- to try something new and to have heart.
Malloy offered similar advice, saying the event took him back 41 years to his own freshman year at Boston College. He admits he wasn't prepared for college and struggled due to a learning disability. But the struggle, he said, made him stronger.
Sean Cronan, a freshman from Milford, said one of the first events he attended on campus was a prayer service for Doorhy.
"Tears were overflowing, but the huge turnout showed how much love there is on campus," he said.
On Long Island, where Doorhy grew up, a funeral service is scheduled for Friday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church in Mattituck, N.Y.
The family has asked mourners to wear bright colors in honor of Doorhy.