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Freshman new but eloquent

BY ERIN PHILLIPS | AUGUST 24, 2009 7:05 AM

The rambunctious crowd, rippling with black and gold attire, stopped in silence.

Simone Renault, hair in curls and prim in a glowing white dress, took the stage.

Sunday’s Convocation filled the Pentacrest lawn with row upon row of mostly first-year UI students, fidgeting and restless from the hot sun. But the petite and perky freshman calmed the crowd with her words.

“Class of 2013, we have the power to do anything, be anything, and soar above all expectations,” she said brightly.

Renault, a Clinton native, beat out seven incoming students in a YouTube contest for the honor of welcoming the freshman Convocation speaker. Her confidence caught the attention of Tom Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services.

“I think what made Simone stick out when watching her video was that she was articulate and genuine,” said Rocklin, who proposed the contest after hearing of a similar competition on Iowa Public Radio.

It was clear the 18-year-old had an undeniable knack for public speaking. Standing at the podium in black patent leather heels, she exuded a lively and animated presence and spoke with obvious certainty.

“I thought I’d be a good candidate because I am very strong with helping people find their calling, and I wanted to convey this to my fellow classmates,” Renault said.

But initially, Renault said she had reservations about entering the contest. She waited until the deadline loomed. It took a nudge from her mother, Laura Renault, for her to follow through.

“I told her she won’t get it unless she tries to go for it,” Laura Renault said.

After the convocation, the two women stood side by side, finishing each other’s sentences. They pull energy and optimism from one another, they said, describing their close relationship.

Laura Renault’s influence on Simone Renault reaches beyond the competition, however. Her mother is a minister at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in their hometown, and Simone Renault spent years listening to her mother’s sermons and learning those speaking skills.

“She is on her vertical voyage,” Laura Renault said, congratulating her daughter with a hug and kiss.

And it appears Simone Renault is well on her way. The neurobiology and philosophy double major also hopes to pick up a minor in global health studies.

That’s in addition to a seemingly endless list of scholarships. Renault is one of three students in Iowa to receive a national award from the National Honors Society. She is also an Old Gold Scholar, a Horatio Alger Scholar, and a Pearl Hull Falk Scholar, all of which are funded by UI.

For Renault, being a Hawkeye primarily means having pride in one’s school and “developing relationships with the people who help make one’s own dreams a reality.”

Overall, she said she hoped to inspire her classmates with a message of determination and excitement to carry them into their freshman year.

A group of anxious UI students, all former Clinton High graduates, surrounded her after the ceremony. Giddy with excitement, they proceeded to pose for many photos together, all huddled up as one.

UI freshman Alex Feaster described Renault as a “go-getter.”

“It was nice to hear someone our own age speak because I think her words definitely were able to impact our entire class,” he said.


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