On Opening Day, Aug. 29, as vehicles arrived at campus residences from Frye Street to Bardwell Street, the scene was the same: red-shirted upperclass students descending, greeting, and emptying them far quicker than they’d been filled.
Leaving their home in Medway, Mass., just before 6 o’clock, the family of Sarah DiPillo ’20 arrived at Bates by 8:30 a.m. and were instantly helped by those red-clad students at her 55 Campus Avenue residence.
They brought an older daughter to nursing school the week before, and that helped them prepare for the Bates trip. “We learned the importance of prior organization,” said her father, Paul DiPillo. “Double-check and triple-check, and don’t stress too much.”
He said, “I’m feeling very happy to see Sarah taking the next step, the next chapter in life. She’ll meet a whole new community of people from different walks of life, different states, different countries.”
“That will help shape her.”
The two new residence halls, at 55 and 65 Campus Avenue, loomed large on Opening Day.
In front of the new residence at 55 Campus, one recent arrival had what seemed like a typical assortment of luggage piled on the esplanade: five soft bags including two sizable duffels; one durable plastic case, plus bedding and other loose accessories; two slat-sided wooden crates; and a Magic Chef compact refrigerator.
The dozens of students working on Opening Day represented a confederacy of various Student Life programs, all working under one umbrella to greet the incoming class.
Close to 200 student leaders were on campus to greet the incoming class. One hundred and eight were part of AESOP, the annual outdoor and excursion program for incoming students, and 65 were residential-life leaders, either Residence Coordinators or Junior Advisers. Another 25 are here as OWLs, Orientation Week Leaders who run activities and programs for the new students.
Ebullience was the norm. At one point, a young woman in pigtails and clothes of many colors zoomed on rollerblades past 55 and 65 Campus Avenue, trailing a thick wake of soap bubbles and calling, “Welcome to Bates!”
Felicia Page ’19 of Farmington, Maine, joined the cause this year as an Orientation Week Leader, helping to run activities and programs for the new students.
Recalling her own orientation last year, she says she was “very overwhelmed,” she she wants to help this year’s newbies cope with the newness of it all, not to mention the beginning of a different kind of a relationship with parents and siblings.
The various Student Life deans are charged with nothing less than the satisfying and smooth settling-in of the Class of 2020, and all day their demeanor never changed.
Their colleague Erin Foster Zsiga, associate dean of students for residence life, talked about why it’s important to get this day right. “This is the beginning,” said Foster Zsiga. “The first day of their experience at Bates is what they’ll remember on the last day as they graduate. These are the memories that they’ll call up.”
She added, “This is who we are. We’re here to help, we’re here to be a resource, we’re people who care about you.” It’s about the Bates community: To parents, “it sends the message that their students aren’t alone.
Karly Oettgen ’19 of Wellesley, Mass., a Junior Advisor at the college’s residence at 280 College St., talked about giving the new students some space in their first few minutes on campus.
While she and other leaders are trained to be helpful, “we’re trying to be really mindful about coming up to you and knowing everything, and you don’t know anything. We’re trying to be there for them, but a little distanced so we’re not overbearing.”
In Gomes Chapel, Claire Deplanck ’20 of Manila, Philippines, plays a thumb-wrestling icebreaker activity with the closest audience member, Anu Yadav, mother of Vid Yadav ’20 of Laguna Niguel, Calif., during the session “Your Student’s Transition to College” led by guest speaker Mike Weber.
Students and families of the Class of 2020 gather on the Historic Quad to hear welcomes from Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Leigh Weisenburger and President Clayton Spencer.
Spencer’s charge to the students was that it’s time to shed their high school mindset and be open to change.
“Since we’re in Maine, let’s consider the lobster. In order to grow he has to shed his outer, hardened shell,” she said. “Unless each of you dares to step outside your own armored-up ways of being and open yourself to your own uncharted inner terrain, you will miss the chance to develop deep and authentic connections with others.”
Dave and Cathy Biggert were among the many parents saying goodbye by day’s end, and the notion that distance makes the heart grow fonder was, too soon, poignantly true: They’re from Mbabane, Swaziland, 30 hours of flying time.
It had been a good day. Dave reported that Jayde “did a lot more research choosing a school than we did, and I can see now why she chose this one — the ambiance of the place, the people, the scenery, all that kind of stuff.”
Asked about how they felt, Cathy made a sad face, and Dave said, “I‘m very happy with the choice she’s made. It’s our second child here in the States studying.”
Then Cathy broke in. “This is our baby,“ the youngest, she said. “It’s just that I‘m going to miss her terribly. It’s very far away.”