Classes started this week at Valparaiso University, and we have a lively bunch of freshman. With 1060 new freshman and transfer students, the energy is tangible. Combine that with the solar eclipse on Monday and you get a zany start. Never before have new friends bonded through sharing glasses from Amazon or cardboard boxes with pinholes.
On Monday during the college welcome, we bolted from the Chapel at 1:15 to look at the sky – with protection, of course. Clusters of faculty, students and staff gathered to look up and ooh and aah at the passing of the moon over the sun. Strangers connected and exclaimed, “So cool!” “You gotta see this!” The shared experience will make the class of 2017 special.
I have 55 freshman in my two sections of Exploratory Studies, and this year, each class stood in a large circle and introduced themselves. On round one, they were asked to say their names and what they love to do. I started – I’m Nancy Scannell and I love to read to my granddaughter Eileen. She is almost two and a half, and she is so so cute.
A new student to my left then turned to me and said, “This is Dean Scannell, and she likes to play with her granddaugther. My name is Sam, and I like to play guitar.” And so it went with each student introducing the neighbor to the right before introducing him or herself. Responses included swim, bike, run (a complete triathlete row), sing; play basketball, volleyball, baseball, football, lacrosse (we love our athletes); run, read, eat, savor Jolly Ranchers, apply make-up (yep), study space, and follow fantasy football.
More intriguing were Round Two’s responses to the question – “What do you do to help make the world a better place?” These students had no inhibitions about being real – “I help run a fund raiser for Diabetes research” and “I try to be a good friend to everyone” and “I take part in an annual Dance Marathon for Riley’s Children’s Hospital” and “I take care of my little brother” and “I listen” and “I love.”
After Tuesday’s classes, the freshman filed through a cheering line of administrators and faculty dressed in academic regalia as they entered the Chapel of the Resurrection for the Opening Convocation. As I clapped and smiled, I searched for my new fifty-five faces and saw groups of three and four clustered together in the flow of fresh anticipation.
Yesterday after class, freshman Bryce approached me with a huge grin and an outstretched hand. As I fumbled with packing up my things, Bryce’s joy caught me off guard. He said, “I just want to thank you. In class on Tuesday, I knew no one. Not a single friend. Then you asked us to introduce ourselves with what we love to do, and I met Austen because he likes computers, too. And then we met two more friends.”
He was so happy that I almost cried. We forget. It’s rough to be new.
This is going to be a great semester. It always is.