Safe efficiency, high spirits and hope greet students
President Sterritt tells new campus arrivals if they are to "do well and do good" then they must "Wear your masks!"
The liberal arts training of Saint Michael’s College Director of Admission Michael Stefanowicz ’09 helped frame his perspective the morning of this year’s unorthodox but well-thought-out, safety-conscious and ultimately uplifting and hopeful St. Mike’s Move-In Day 2020, even during a pandemic on a rainy day.
“In the Catholic tradition, water is always symbolic of renewal and rebirth, and this is certainly a renewal after a period of time away for us all,” said Stefanowicz, a religious studies graduate who was helping out this morning at one of several tents by the main first-year residence halls quad shortly past 10 a.m. — about an hour after cars started lining up and arriving from the jug-handle entrance off Route 15 near Hoehl Welcome Center. There, other Admission staffers warmly greeted and efficiently directed families to the right staging areas for various residence halls after issuing parking passes and assuring all wore masks. It rained every so often all day Saturday, but with extended dry stretches that helped the day go extra-well.
The traditional indoor tabling by offices, programs and clubs in Ross was not possible due to COVID-precautions, so a smattering of tents on the green became the alternative. It was just one of many things that looked a bit different from most years.
Stefanowicz, and pretty much everybody in view – parents, orientation leaders, new students, staff – wore masks, which will be no small matter on campus this semester as Saint Michael’s President Lorraine Sterritt emphasized in her talk to the new class during a video “Virtual New Student Convocation” pre-taped in the chapel, which new arrivals watched together with smaller orientation groups on video monitors later Saturday since it would have been unsafe to gather together in a crowded chapel as in normal years.
After offering her customary exhortation during such occasions for Saint Michael’s students to “do well and do good,” the president added: “But if you are to do well and to do good, I actually need to ask one more thing of you: Wear your masks! Let us be a shining example in all things, including mask-wearing to save lives.” Sterritt emphasized the crucial need for all students, and all faculty and staff, to follow the “Community Commitment” on safe behaviors that all have agreed to since it is “the reason this historic semester can begin.”
Such focus and attention to detail on safety protocols seemed to have garnered favorable notice from parents arriving on campus with their first-year students. An example was Cynthia Curtis of Holden MA, who with her husband, Randy Curtis, was moving their first-year son and aspiring biology major Sam Curtis into Lyons 105.
“I’m super-excited for him and I feel that this school has the best chance of being super-successful this year,” said Cynthia, “so I feel really confident sending him to St. Mike’s – though, of course, I’m a little emotional since he is our oldest of three and the first we are sending to college.” They’d come up the night before and left Sam’s slightly younger siblings back at a local hotel while the three came over for the move-in.
Here are a few more “snapshots” of this year’s Move-In-Day-like-no-other:
- In a familiar sight going back many years on Move-In Day, about six Orientation Leaders or “O-leaders” stood around at the bus stop right at the first main entrance to the College by the Ross Sports Center with signs, hooting and hollering as new student families drove by — even though this year for a change, the Ross gate was only an exit to make more efficient traffic patterns. That meant that the arriving cars rolled on around the curve to the jug-handle to enter campus. These six at the bus stop said they’d arrived right before the 9 a.m. official start time for Move-In, and were enjoying themselves while staying reasonably dry by wearing ponchos. “It’s been pretty good – a little cold but fun so far,” said Roark Thomas, a secondary education and English major form Chelmsford, MA. Emma Bisaillon, a psychology major from Saratoga, NY in her second year as an O-leader, said, “It’s really nice to see all the students and families going by and waving and getting excited that we’re out here.”
- Director of Admission Stefanowicz explained how the arrivals were purposefully staggered by state this year for a steady and manageable rate of arrival – first Vermont, then New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine followed by New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island in the afternoon. Sunday’s arrival of returning students was to be similar. It seemed to be working. “You get a lot of early-birds so between 8:45 a.m. and 9:05 a.m. and there was a big rush, but then our O-leaders and staff got to come up for air a little.” He noted the presence of tables under tents out on the lawn areas of main campus by the new-student residential quad this year instead of in Ross Sports Center, including Student Financial Services, Knight Card, Athletics, the rugby club team and others. “Orientation leaders out here are doing a great job,” said Stefanowicz. “They have snacks and things for folks and are all masked up and gloved up and handing out everything safely to people. Everyone’s taking all the safety protocols very seriously because they want to make it a good semester.”
- In Alliot, the Campus Store was to be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Student Life staff dealing with issues and answering questions from their nearby first-floor Alliot office. Outside the entrance to the Store, Kyle Wentzel ’18, a business graduate who is now on the College’s Public Safety staff as a dispatcher, was helping out to see to it that the capacity of 50 in the store was being observed. “We hope we have it all down to a science,” said Wentzel, who recalled moving into Ryan Hall as a first-year in 2014. “It was really hot that day,” he remembered, ‘but what I remember best is that it was a great four years that followed. I love the opportunity to come back and help the new students move in. I’m feeling some good energy, especially high spirits even given the rain.”
- Down the hall, Dawn Ellinwood, Vice President for Student Life, was running the show and helping trouble-shoot any issues as families and students stopped in. “It’s a glorious day and we’re thrilled that our students are coming back to campus and that the rain has stopped. I’ll be in the Student Life Office here all day today keeping things moving.”
- Out around the main quad’s green/lawn, the rugby club-team tent right was feeling slow mid-morning, but coaches Kevin O’Brien, Charles Cisco and Bhuttu Matthews remained hopeful of talking to some new recruits as they patiently passed the time together talking over their program and other matters.
- First-time “O-leader” Hayley Jensen ’22, an international relations major from Washingtonville, NY, wearing one of the group’s colorful messaged t-shirt, said “it’s been pretty exciting even though different from how it was for me and others who moved in previous years –but it’s going well.” She’s looking forward to living this year in the newly named Cronogue Hall, formerly Residence Hall 4. “It will be fun to have a kitchen and everything,” she said. Of her O-duties, Jensen said, “It’s a rainy day but we’re trying to keep it hyper anyway. You have to keep the spirit alive! Today we’re just trying to get people here.”
- The Daigneault family of Colchester, VT, might have had among the shortest trips of anyone unloading in the first-year quad Saturday morning. Marc Daigneault said he and his wife, Norma, were impressed by how smoothly everything had been going so far. “It’s been good, very organized and no issues – it’s been working out really well for us,” he said. Their new student, Alex Daigneault, a Colchester High School graduate, plans to major in statistics. “We didn’t have to wake up very early this morning,” said Marc.
- Jeff Vincent, assistant dean of students/director of residence life and community standards, was in the thick of Saturday’s move-in activity, offering advice, solutions and a steady hand to the line of parents and students approaching him with questions. “I think it’s going great – the rain is holding off, people are very happy to be back and so are we!” he said. Explaining the variety of license plates even during the by-state move-in, he said some families had exceptions if siblings were arriving or other quarantine issues entered in to the equation. “At lunch time when more of these people will be leaving, I’m going to go over to Tarrant by our exit today, to direct traffic and make sure people know where they’re going,” he said.
- Newly arriving first-year Elsa Keppel-Lonegren of Craftsbury, VT said she plans to major in psychology with a religious studies minor. “I’m not sure yet on the extra-curriculars, but I’m open to everything,” she said. Her mom and dad were helping with the move-in since the traditional teams of O-leader lifter-helpers were not able to pitch in this year given COVID safety guidelines, so the masked leaders stuck to directing traffic and lifting spirits. Mom Anne-Marie Keppel has been impressed by the advance preparations she has observed to make the semester work. “Oh my gosh this is wonderful – the letters from the staff and from faculty have been incredible, the move-in has been a breeze and campus is gorgeous!” she said. The parents admitted to having the common mixed emotions in leaving their daughter off; said her dad, “we’re happy!” even while giving his daughter a hug as they mugged with sad faces. Noted mom, “Even returning students this year are as unfamiliar as are first-year incoming students with the routine, given the way this year is different, so everyone is sort of on unknown ground together now. And that’s kind of nice, actually – a new opportunity!”
- For the Petrozzo family from Long Island who were moving daughter Allie into Lyons, this all felt like a bit of déjà vu given that Allie’s older sister Katie Petrozzo is a 2017 St. Mike’s graduate. “As of now I’m studying psychology but that’s up for change,” said Allie, who enjoys playing soccer, but just for fun in college. She’d been to Saint Michael’s to visit her sister many times before, and so was familiar with the College and its culture, “and I like what I see,” she said. Her dad Vincent Petrozzo, alongside mom Jennifer, agreed. “It’s a great school, and we’re so happy we’re able to move in, since so many schools aren’t doing that – so we’re grateful,” said Mr. Petrozzo.
- Student Life Director Kerri Leach said that without the O-leaders being able to help carry things up to student rooms this year, the turnover was noticeably slower since “their cars are out there longer, so that’s our biggest issue – but if that’s our biggest issue, we can figure that out! We have plenty of green space for cars.” With the help of Student Life staffer Sydney Rybicki, Leach sent a most helpful video to families of herself driving through the arrival process on a YouTube video, so they could picture things they had to do.
- Several parents and older staffers commented on the relative “golden oldies” rock ‘n roll music of the ‘60s through ‘80s playing on many portable sound systems audible all over campus Saturday to add energy to the move-in process, and wondered if young people were more familiar with “their music” than they had imagined.
- Women’s Ice Hockey Coach Christ Donovan and his assistant coach Madalena DeThomasis ’13 (a former Purple Knight varsity player herself), walked around the move-in area and said they were waiting for their new people to come in — but most would not be expected until about noon.” We’re trying to be creative in how we greet them and are excited to see them at noontime,” said Donovan. As to the creativity required in such an unusual year that has been affecting schedules, practices, recruiting and so much more of the normal routine, “you figure it out as you go,” said Madalena.
- Over by St. Edmunds Hall, Information Technology staffers Matt Winter and Kyle Redding helped students coming by for their student-ID “Knight Cards” – getting pictures taken and filling out applications. “We’ve just had a few come through but I’m optimistic,” said Winter.
- Doug Babcock, director of public safety, had a satisfied look on his face as he visited with different staffers near the move-in area late morning. “So far I’m actually impressed by the move-in, the process, the people – they’re really on-task and really seem to have the message, and the energy’s really great to have back on campus.”
Going virtual for New Student Convocation
Even though students and families were unable to gather in the chapel at the end of the long move-in day as is the traditional emotional and moving way of things, much of the spirit of those gatherings came through in the pre-recorded event of speakers in the chapel, watched by smaller orientation groups remotely Saturday night.
After Edmundite Fr. Lino Oropeza ’11 gave the invocation prayer, Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Trumbower of the College’s religious studies faculty said he was “beyond thrilled and excited to see this day come.”
He noted the occasion for his welcome and greeting was unlike any in the college’s 116 year history – and to help the remotely-viewing students and families immerse themselves in the tradition others have experienced at least through their imaginations, he painted a word picture of the sights and sounds and ceremonials of the normal convocation. He previewed those who were to speak after himself on the taped convocation, noting how students also would, as is traditional, learn the college’s alma mater and recite the traditional academic pledge, “an indication of the seriousness with which we treat the academic enterprise.”
“Coming to Saint Michael’s College at this historic moment is a new chance to process all of those experiences [of 2020] with new insights from every field,” said Trumbower, calling that “a tremendous opportunity and privilege.”
The major keynote address for the event was from Valerie Bang-Jensen of the Education Department, winner of the major teaching award last year to earn the honor of giving the following year’s address for this event.
She built her remarks around her specialty area of children’s literature, noting how things frequently come in threes in such stories, so she offered three insights: how it’s hard to find parents in children’s books, which allows the youth to deal with the “messiness” of life — in this case, the college experience. “It’s only when we’re on our own that we learn to build the relationships that will support us, “she said. Her second of three points was that children’s books often have a quest or task that may seem epic. “You’re are now being asked to do well and to do good – masked and from six feet apart,” Bang-Jensen said. “If there ever was an epic task for college students this is it.” Her third point was about how books offer us “windows and mirrors” that help us understand our selves and others better. “It’s comfortable and reassuring to look in the mirror…but I know that many of you have arrived here to look through new windows and college is the perfect place to do this,” she said.
The president of the Student Government Association (SGA), Vanessa Bonebo ’21, a biology major with a chemistry minor, remembered herself in the place of new arrivals three years ago – “anxious, homesick exhausted, but mostly excited for what was to come.” At the time she never could have envisioned herself in the role she has now, but she “dug in” step by step, first with the MLK JR. Society leadership, then on the student government board and eventually as SGA president. “For me, digging in meant giving a lot to this community because I care about the people who live in it. “What will digging in look like for you?” Bonebo asked.
President Sterritt told the new students that they are starting a “journey of discovery,” though “the circumstances under which you start his journey are challenging – but this community – of which you are now part – is steadfast and it is ready.” She said those circumstances give the newest students “a unique place in the history of this College.”
“You come to us with qualities every college student needs to succeed, but under conditions that are, we can safely say, rare and unusual,” she said, observing that those qualities to meet such challenges — courage, resilience and hope — were needed 50 years ago when the first 22 women at Saint Michael’s arrived on campus. President Sterritt asked each new student to follow the model of those first women, endeavoring to “do well and to do well.”
“In short, the world needs graduates of Saint Michael’s College,” the president said.