St. Mike's Community Welcomes the Class of 2017
On Thursday's Aug. 22 Move-In Day, a first-year student's dad approached Saint Michael's President Jack Neuhauser, who was standing on the lawn by Lyons Hall in the quad dorms about 2:30 p.m., sleeves rolled up in shirt and tie, watching the last of about 550 new students arrive at their new home-away-from-home. It was nearly 90 degrees and sunny but a storm looked to be coming in off to the northwest. The dad said he wished he could stay for the New Student Convocation in the Chapel that evening at 7 p.m. but figured he'd better get going on the long drive home to Connecticut. "Well," Neuhauser said as they shook hands, "One thing I'll say to them tonight which I'll say to you now: 'We'll take care of them.'"
And take care of them "they" did – student life staff, security officers, program leaders, clergy, food-service workers, book store staff and some faculty -- as families began arriving shortly after 9 a.m. when student life staff started handing out dorm keys. In Saint Mike's tradition, the day was the very picture of a community working as one. Greeters at the main gate blew whistles, jumped up and down, yelled and smiled as loaded-down cars from New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut and farther turned into the main lot off Route 15 from both directions.
"I like people and I want to make them feel as welcomed as I was," said one greeter, Rebecca, a senior environmental studies major from Rhode Island. Small armies of Orientation Leaders in turquoise-blue shirts met each car as it pulled onto the lawn areas around the quad. They asked families what room the cargo was headed for, they grabbed items and started carrying it in – sometimes up three or four floors. Families hugged, students looked nervous or happy or dazed, or a little of all three. "One thing I notice is they bring way too much a lot of times," Neuhauser observed. "Leave the skis and winter jackets home for now, bring them later!" Air conditioners, TVs, refrigerators were the heavier lifting as the helper-lines marched on.
Security officers were out in force to keep traffic moving smoothly. "We established this sort-of circular traffic pattern last year with the new construction site then and it was a real success so we decided to try it again," said Pete Soons, director of public safety. Dean of Students Dawn Ellinwood surveyed the early scene in full swing shortly past 10 a.m. and said, "So far, so good -- Hopefully the rain holds off -- I think we'll be in by then." Happily, most students were all in by the time clouds broke with brief thunder and lightning about 3:15 p.m. "People are so up, people are so happy now, I think we're doing well!" Ellinwood said. The move-in period ran from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., with arrivals purposely staggered. "We split the class in two, half comes in, then the other half," she explained.
A couple senior priests from the college's founding Edmundite order wearing black suits and collars walked by, talking with new arrivals. The fathers were headed toward Ross Sports Center, where the Society of St. Edmund had a table set up in the main gym along with scores of other offices, clubs, activities and programs of possible interest to students and their families. Father Ray Doherty '51 said he'd missed 1947's move-in day as a freshman since he was on the "preferred waiting list" as a baseball prospect. Fr. Richard Vanderweel '58 recalled as if yesterday his arrival in 1953 with his family from Dunkirk, NY, in his paper-hanger dad's Willy's Overlander station wagon. "I was nervous, eager to see what college was like, whether I could pass … I had to work my first two years cleaning the staircases and halls in Ryan Hall," said the longtime philosophy professor, now emeritus, looking at that same dorm 60 years on, newly attached to the just-completed Quad Commons Student Center. Over at Ross Sports Center, the younger Edmundites in training, Michael Carter '12 and Jon Wheeler '10, chatted with families before heading back to seminary next week in Boston. Todd Wright, Wilderness Program director, talked up his well-known and popular offerings from another table. One new student from the Chicago area said she transferred to St. Mike's after Googling "best Wilderness Programs" and the college appeared first on the list that came up.
Russ Burridge from Newbury, VT, unloaded the family mini-van outside Lyons after getting up with his daughter Sarah at 4 a.m. and driving up. "That was easy for us," the rural Vermonter said, displaying his "World's Best Dad" T-shirt and joking, "It must be true – I said so!" Sarah had moved most of her stuff to her fourth-floor room already with some help. "I think it's really nice," she said of the room, "but I haven't met my roommate yet – she's from Denver, Colorado …. But we've talked a little on Facebook." Sarah says she fell in love with St. Mike's four years ago when she first came up for the summer Vermont EpScor Streams Program for high-schoolers, working with faculty biologists to study Vermont waterways, and she's been back for the program since. "Four years ago, she said, ‘this is where we're going to go,'" her dad said. Sarah already knows she wants to major in biology and anthropology, work with MOVE, maybe join rugby and do some music, either vocal or playing her trumpet. "She's the first generation to go to college in our family, so it's an exciting day," Russ said.
Outside Ross Sports Center, senior Sarah Hier saw a familiar face among a first-year family walking by – "Oh my God, you were my counselor at camp in New Hampshire!" the young woman said. Hier explained how she'd also given the family a tour of campus as a tour guide more recently but hadn't realized the new student had decided to come until that moment. They hugged and agreed they'd be seeing each other around.
By afternoon, college leaders had sent word via e-mail that the first-floor of the new student center was open for visiting and a line formed fast at the new Einstein's Bagels near the main entrance. Students marveled at the chartreuse walls in the center's second-floor fitness center, though equipment won't arrive until next Monday or Tuesday. Some senior staffers and a vice-president for finance tried some food and drinks from Einstein's. "It's awfully good," said college architect Jim Farrington, adding with relief, "The health inspector came through this morning and passed it so we're good to go. The fact we actually have people in here and it looks like space we can bring people into on the first two floors are our big things today without a doubt." Journalism Professor Traci Griffith walked through admiring the new center with her young son Jaden. "It's so wonderful to see students coming back and then meet new parents and children and everyone is just wide-eyed and amazed at this point," Griffith said. "I can't wait for the weekend to be over and school to start."