Enamored by social media and impressed by the quality of his incoming students, Philadelphia University President Stephen Spinelli started off the school year with a cell phone photo. And a tweet.

On Thursday afternoon, Philadelphia University welcomed its prospective Class of 2017 at its Academic Convocation Ceremony that gathered approximately 700 freshmen and their families on the school's East Falls campus.

An annual event, the convocation is the first official gathering of incoming students for the Classes of 2017 and 2018 — the latter are enrolled in five-year programs — as it ceremonially marks the start of the academic year for freshmen.

Providing words of wisdom were Richard Negrin, Philadelphia's managing director and deputy mayor for administration and coordination, and NBC10 reporter Vince Lattanzio, a PhilaU alum.

In addition to the remarks, three area educators nominated by incoming freshmen received Centennial Medals, which honor individuals who have made a positive impact on the lives of their students.

What lies ahead

Addressing the students and families seated before him, Spinelli related that students at his school are treated "as innovators and professional leaders" from their first day on campus.

With this distinction, Spinelli enumerated a set of expectations of his students.

"We expect you to continue the ethical practices you learned from your families. We expect you to contribute to the culture of responsibility and grow into positions of leadership in your field," said Spinelli. "We expect you to work hard ... and we will celebrate your successes."

Lattanzio, a 2007 graduate of PhilaU, began his career at NBC10 as a digital content producer, eventually transitioning into being an on-air reporter.

He recalled that he began his career at the television station as an intern while at PhilaU.

"What you do here and learn here will have a profound effect on your future," Lattanzio said.

Moving from prospects to present tense, Negrin referenced the social-media theme and acknowledged being called the "Deputy Mayor of the Twitterverse."

Suggesting that cities are "the proving ground for innovation," Negrin encouraged the incoming freshmen to be engaged students while on campus and active citizens when off.

"Build your network, get out of your classroom, go out to your community," he said. "Make your impact on the City of Philadelphia – we need you."

Early honors

But there was more than sage advice at the event.

Three area high-school teachers received recognition from PhilaU by their former students.

A tradition dating to 1984, the three Centennial Medal awardees for 2013 were present at the convocation, each nominated for the award by incoming freshmen.

Arlene Sullivan, a teacher at Morris Catholic High School in Denville, NJ was nominated by incoming architecture student Austin Dimare.

Liane Golightly, an educator at International Christian High School in Philadelphia was suggested by biology major Shawn Malia.

Matthew Coulson from Howell High School in Farmingdale, NJ was nominated by architecture major Lauren Ransom.

She recalled how Coulson challenged her in leadership, team-building and public-speaking group activities. After each exercise, they would debrief as a group, aiding in reflection and personal growth from the experience.

"Mr. Coulson is a hero," said Ransom. "He is teaching our generation how to deal with life."

Concluding the ceremony, Spinelli predicted that this type of guidance would lead to future successes at college and beyond.

"You're the new the face of our community and we look forward to seeing your many accomplishments," he said.