Connecting, reflecting: New arrivals move in

August 28, 2015

An early-morning coffee run to Dunkin’ Donuts set the utterly positive tone of Move-In Day 2015 at Saint Michael’s for Nicole Noce’16, a Resident Assistant in Lyons Hall.

As Noce tried paying the tab on several coffees and doughnuts for the entire Lyons staff, she heard the woman behind her in line say “I’d like to pay for this.” Turns out it was a Saint Michael’s graduate who’d seen Noce’s neon-green T-shirt worn by RA-move-in helpers. “I absolutely loved my time at Saint Mike’s, especially Move-in Day and all the excitement,” the deliberately anonymous graduate told her. “You’re doing hard work and I want to pay for it.”

It was a great example of the College’s exceptional community spirit that has become happily familiar to Dawn Ellinwood, vice president for Student Life. “I think Saint Michel’s does move-in so incredibly well,” said Ellinwood, who joined a chorus of praise from staff leaders all day for this year’s Orientation Leaders – “O-Leaders” – for their preparation and dedication. The group, sporting turquoise t-shirts throughout Orientation, spent months preparing for Thursday, August 27, with training sessions and by contacting groups of new students beforehand.

The theme of “Connect and Reflect” tied events of Thursday and Friday together, continuing through orientation and beyond. The phrase refers to a new program this year, also the result of months of planning, which on Friday called for O leaders with smaller groups of new students to join faculty, staff and upperclassmen in fun and interesting excursions off-campus to encourage bonding and community-building.

“That energy will be going all weekend,” said Grace Kelly, director of student activities, about  mid-day Thursday. “What a wonderful opportunity for new students to ‘connect and reflect’ while meeting all sorts of Saint Michael’s people and doing something fun the area – for instance, we’ll have tours of Burlington including a scavenger hunt, a tour of Winooski, a group doing a Segway tour, a group going to a museum, a couple groups going up to St. Anne’s Shrine – one to observe plant life and one to talk about Edmundite heritage – some to Ben and Jerry’s … there’s 40 different sites in all “ She  estimated 500 to 700 people would participate in all. “The diversity of offerings is phenomenal,” she said.

Early arrivals Thursday morning had rain to contend with, but it had stopped by 9:30 a.m. — a welcome sight. As is traditional beside the bus stop by the main entrance, spirited students waved signs and yelled greetings as arrivals honked back (but no whistles this year to assure optimal traffic safety). The greeting crew was a nice cross-section of majors and hometowns — Kate from biology/Environmental Studies (ES) and New Hampshire; Paige from business/ES and Huntington, VT; Valentina from Miami, FL (and political science/global studies); Richie from Rockland, MA, and theater/music, and Zach Johnson, from Pembroke, MA, (and biology/secondary education). “They picked “the peppiest, happiest most enthusiastic to be out front!” Valentina said. One sign read “Honk if you’re awkward!”

Robert Porcha is the uncle of Stanley Foster, a first-year basketball recruit from the Rochester, NY area, and was beside the family’s vehicle on the main Quad green as they helped their nephew unpack the car. Porcha said both of Stanley’s parents are retired military – “father Marine, mom Navy — and I’m Navy also. Five of us came over to bring him and we’re really excited.”

Nearby, “O Leader” Peter Keefe, a biology major from Belchertown, MA, by 10 a.m. already had hefted “some heavy fridges and a lot of chests with heavy items” up to the fourth floor of a quad dorm — “but we’re not tired – we got plenty of sleep.’

Emma Drennan was arriving with her mom and dad from Philadelphia to fourth floor Joyce Hall, having made most of the trip the day before and staying overnight off-campus. She plans to study theater. “I wanted to go to college in Vermont and to a Catholic school so this was the obvious choice,” said Emma. “Another thing is that I love Burlington – and I talked to folks who’ve done theater, and it seems fantastic.”

Information and support by the truck- and table-full

Zach Minior of Bristol, RI, a chemistry major, and Luke Woodard ’18 of Kensington MD (sociology/ES), stood by in EMT/firefighter duty gear beside a fire truck and ambulance in the Ross Sports Center parking lot as families walked by – they were there to talk up Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue squads and show off some equipment. “Some of us our tabling inside too and others are walking around helping people move in,” Zach said.

In Ross, O-leaders at the entrance Thursday morning handed out vital information packets. In the main gym area, a wide assortment of offices had tables set up for families to gather information and talk with reps. Coming in, the dad of new student Daniel Haynes ’19 showed some emotion as he told of dropping off their only child, starting their drive that morning from Uxbridge MA, at “5:38 a.m.” Daniel will study computer information systems. Said Daniel’s mom, “I got a random hug from some guy!” — which she seemed to appreciate.

Also inside Ross, Carlos Vega of the Admission Office said move-in day is his favorite day of the year, particularly at lunch where he sits down with of students he has recruited, since many bring large extended families along for move-in day from as far away as New York City or Miami. He also took time to watch a soccer scrimmage with some of his Miami recruits involved, and was happy when they seemed to hold their own.

Sarah Kelly, vice president for enrollment and marketing, sounded excited about the incoming class. “Our SAT’s are significantly ahead of last year, and our predictors anticipate a higher GPA – plus we have 110 students coming into the Honors Program versus 63 last year, and that’s with a purposely much smaller class,” she said. “We’re right around 500, which was our goal — with last year’s larger class we wanted to be sure everyone is housed comfortably. And that’s been achieved thanks the great folks in Residence Life.”

The Society of Saint Edmund was well-represented in Ross too — including Fr. Lino Oropeza, who was ordained last year and happened to be up from his assignment in the Selma, AL, missions to fund-raise and help out at Edmundite-run parishes in Essex Junction. “I told a student transferring from a university that’s run by a different order that we’re cooler priests than they are!” he joked. Longtime campus favorite Fr. Marcel Rainville is back to being a full-time campus minister this year, and said he already had greeted several students he’d met on Pre-Orientation Weekends (POWs) in July at Saint Anne’s Shrine. Second year-“Vita Program” students talked with families about liturgy and prayer and program opportunities – one of them, Molly King of Plattsburgh, NY, who is not Catholic, has still immersed herself in many of those programs, demonstrating the welcoming openness of the spiritual culture on campus, Fr. Rainville said.

Busy day for the president

In Dion Family Student Center, faculty heard about strategic planning at the college from President John J. Neuhauser in the packed Roy Event room Thursday morning, along with other informational speakers. “Just getting back in the rhythm of things,” explained Tim Mackin, director of the Writing Program and instructor of English afterward.

President Neuhauser stopped later Thursday afternoon while walking across campus to chat about the day, on his way back from photos at the library with about 25 new international students hailing from as many as 15 nation – “from China, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria… and others,” he said, Some were undergraduates, some starting academic English programs before a regular sequence, and a few starting intensive English. “One thing that was striking is that some of them came in dress that would be more traditional to the particular area of their country where they came from,” he said. The president said he had “done some circulating” with faculty and staff all morning, greeted some families and had events booked all day until the evening Academic Convocation in the Chapel.

He said a key part of the strategic planning conversation beyond academics involves finding “more for students to do after 5 p.m., once classes are done during the week,” based on student feedback. One possible answer might be the new “Makers’ Space” on Dion’s first floor, which he described as a “collection of very disparate tools and devices – sewing machines next to very expensive laser cutters and 3-D Printers. We’ve already had people print chess sets using family pictures! You have to take a gamble sometimes, and we’ll see how students respond.”

International student Jeremy Yu from Fujian Province in China said (in impressive English) that this is his first time in the U.S. He wants to study theatre or Spanish, and might try to start a magic club. He’s looking forward to life In Lyons third floor ,where he already met a bunch of guys, he said.


A favorite ritual of move-in day is the annual group photo on the Chapel steps for alumni parents who are delivering new students. Among them was Patrick McMorrow ’76 with his daughter, Veronica McMorrow’19, from Dorset, VT. Patrick said he was an American history major and loved his Saint Michael’s experience. On an earlier campus tour, they had looked at a model room, Joyce 106, next-door by chance to his old room. “When I patted the door of 107, she rolled her eyes,” Patrick said with amusement of Veronica, who plans to study elementary education and be involved in Wilderness Program since she is a rock-climbing enthusiast. She’ll live on Ryan 4. Dad Patrick said he went on to a good career in ski resort management, and felt very well-served by his liberal-arts education.

Pete Murphy ’58 posed in the photo with two granddaughters who are both now Saint Michael’s students, to his great delight – they are Shannon (’16) and new arrival Hannah (’19) Krehely of Pasadena, MD. Shannon has a double major in MJD and English with a minor in philosophy. Pete told great stories of his Saint Michael’s days and his later career around the world in the U.S. Foreign Service. He told about a pet squirrel he had in his old room in Founder’s Hall (then called Old Hall), which lived in heavy drapes his mother sent with him– the other guys occasionally tried to whack it when it escaped and came to their room. He’d take it home for holidays, he said. Later during his career in the Foreign Service overseas, he had a pet lion on assignment in Africa, he said. Pete said his college stint was broken in two by time in the service, not uncommon for the era. His granddaughters said they would come to visit Pete’s summer home in Colchester over many years and would come to Mass at Saint Michael’s, growing to love the music and community. “Coming here for me just seemed like destiny” said Hannah, who at age 10 told a priest in confession at the chapel that “one day I’d be a student here,” her mom related.

Convocation: Ritual and anticipation

Several speakers wove the day’s theme of “Connect and Reflect” into their remarks during the traditional evening New Student Convocation Ceremony in the Chapel at 7 p.m. “You cannot be successful in this passage without the involvement of others,” Talentino said in citing this year’s theme.  Shannon McQueen, Student Association president from New Hampshire, got huge cheers from O leaders perched in the choir loft – the rest of the church was full, shoulder-to-shoulder, with the new students. She told entertaining stories about her own move-in day three years ago that involved origami frogs and cardboard starfish. She used a statistical device learned in her studies to help them think of the “brilliant rarity of this education” – noting that if the world population was 100, only 7 would have college degrees.

Nathaniel Lewis of English, Rathgeb Teaching Award recipient for 2014, made the main address. He began by considering the Ralph Waldo Emerson question, “Where do we find ourselves?” in the context of this week’s “Connect and Reflect” theme. He wondered “what is mindfulness and how do we achieve it?” — noting that the process can be “painstaking and demanding.” He spoke of the power of metaphor and the idea of the edge. “Metaphor should leave us unsettled,” he said, speaking later about how the word “reflect” can mean “turning light back into the world.” Further playing with words and their origins, he noted that “orientation is a word meaning facing toward the East – where the sun rises.”

“We are all jewels in an interconnected universe” he said, drawing on Buddhist ideas. Other exhortations in his talk: “May you travel out of bounds” and wander intellectually, he told the class; and,  “Be dragons and tigers.” To close, he told of his personal adventure when their age in the Cascades wilderness with a group of peers and wise mentor. When he and others thought they were lost and became anxious, the mentor told them, “I know exactly where we are – we’re right here!”

Academic Dean Jeffrey Ayres and Enrollment VP Sarah Kelly did the traditional formal “handing over” of the class to the faculty now that they have been found worthy and prepared for the experience. Music Professor and Chorale Director Nat Lew taught everybody the school Alma Mater, engagingly explaining its imagery and history. As Alma Maters go, it is a very good one, he said. Then organist Susan Summerfield accompanied while everyone stood and sang along. The organist also played a beautiful processional and recessional.

President Neuhauser, in his formal remarks, returned to his favorite traditional themes for new classes: That Saint Michael’s is not primarily about job training (though important) but also “understanding the world around us”; moreover, that “we ought to be about a deeper discernment”; and that the college “takes formation seriously” (though that does not mean indoctrination); also, that students’ intellectual, social and moral growth are the  primary goals of the enterprise. “We are about having you develop habits of mind and habits of heart,” Neuhauser said. “Learn to pay attention…to be mindful.” He told any parents present that “This community cares, and we take precious care of your students.” To the class, he said, “This is not a time to drift. The start is important and can set a tone for a lifetime.  Begin well, and the rest is much easier.”

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