by SAMUEL CREEMER
Like every other sophomore here at UMW, there was much of the first-year experience that I was unable to attend due to COVID restrictions. Even once we were able to come back to campus, the school was like a ghost town. This gave many of last year’s freshmen a uniquely isolating experience. Unlike most of my classmates though, I was able to recover much of this experience this year as an FSEM peer mentor. It was nice to have this opportunity through my job, and experiencing these events and a full campus for the first time after the past year gave me a very interesting perspective on them.
The first of these events was the President’s Welcome, which took place on the first day of new student arrival, Aug. 18. It was a hot day, and the event was outside, but there was still an air of excitement at the event. Melissa Jones, associate dean of student involvement, was the first speaker and introduced University President Troy Paino. This event was the first time that I had the opportunity to hear Paino speak in person. Seeing him in person, among all the freshmen, was revitalizing after the separation and isolation of the last school year. As a sophomore, finally getting to be at a big speech in person was a great symbol of the excitement that a new, more normal year could hold.
The next day, I was able to experience Glowzone for the first time. I had never attended a campus event like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The music went late into the night, and the crowd stuck around for much of it. It was nice to finally go to a campus event like this, but it also made me think back on all of the similar events that we all missed out on last year. It is hard to replicate the impact and sense of community that large events can create, so it was great, but slightly surreal, to finally be able to see a big group of students interact freely.
Later that night, I partook in one of our campus’s most famous traditions: jumping in the Monroe Fountain. The water was quite cold and the walk back to my room was not the most pleasant. Still though, it was fun to do, and it felt exhilarating to be able to participate in a tradition that wasn’t possible last year due to construction on the fountain.
A couple of days later, I attended the ice cream social at President Paino’s house. It was a fun event on an extraordinarily nice evening. It was great to see the President’s house, and getting ice cream with my friends was a treat. During the event, I even had the chance to talk with the President quickly and take a picture with him.
The last event of New Student Arrival was the highlight for me. Because the University allowed sophomores to attend, I got to experience Eagle Gathering. At 7:45 p.m. everyone met at Jefferson Square. People were visibly excited to be there, and that only increased as we lined up and waited for it to get dark. Once the bagpipes started and we began to walk, it became clear that it was going to be a special event. Walking by all of the upperclassmen, many of whom I knew and worked with, with their candles was really heartwarming. Once we arrived at Ball Circle, several members of the faculty, staff and student leadership spoke, and upperclassmen lit our candles. After that, we sang the Alma Mater, and that was when the impact of the moment truly hit. Standing by my friends, many of whom I lived in the same building as last year but didn’t meet until this summer due to COVID, I was hit with a sense of home I hadn’t felt last year. I realised that I was in a time bursting with new opportunities surrounded by the people that I care about, and no matter what I had to go through to get here, it was all worth it.
As disappointing as it was to miss Eagle Gathering my freshman year, going through it after a year at the school was incredibly impactful. Even though things were so different last year, my first year of college was still a positive experience. Being on campus meant so much to me last year, and finally being able to see and celebrate it at its best has been wonderful. Experiencing Eagle Gathering as a sophomore, I was able to celebrate not only the hope and excitement that the freshmen felt, but also the sense of home that I already felt after living here through such a challenging year.