Saint Joseph’s University provides incoming freshmen with an Orientation experience unlike any other. Leading up to the four sessions we host each summer, sixty Orientation leaders go through mandatory training in preparation to welcome the new students and make sure they are ready to call St. Joe’s their home in August! We leaders pack into vans and drive to North East, Maryland for our traditional overnight retreat. During this retreat, we are able to further bond as one team and, most excitingly, find out our partners and the color each pair will be representing! Fast forward to June 26th, the very first session begins.
Leading the Freshmen
Each incoming student checks into Villiger Residence Hall and is immediately assigned a roommate for their one night stay. Likewise, every student is given a color, or “group” that is led by two Orientation leaders who serve as both a resource and friend, both during Orientation and throughout their time spent at SJU. We incorporate some fun competition between all fifteen groups and each group hopes to be announced as the winner of the spirit award, given to the team that has been the most outgoing and cohesive during their 36 hours spent together. It’s unlikely for the Orientation leaders not to lose their voices in only a few hours chanting with their group and guzzling honey to soothe their burned out throats. Any typical freshman orientation at any other college typically consists of information sessions and mundane lectures about class selection, however there is something different about our program at SJU that creates such a fun and welcoming atmosphere for everyone.
During the afternoon, following Mass in the Chapel, we all walk to Overbrook station and take a brief, music-filled train ride into the city. This is very useful in showing incoming students how easy it is to access public transportation into our great city of Philadelphia. We arrive at 30th Street Station and walk through Dilworth Park to finally reach Reading Terminal Market, a Philadelphia tourist must-do. There, we fill our bellies with cheesesteaks, wings, pasta, and finish with sweet Bassetts ice cream. Before heading back to campus, it’s tradition to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art together as one student body, giving the freshmen a view of the city: the city that is theirs for the next four years. We venture back to campus, but the night is far from over. The leaders throw on bright neon clothes and add some face paint as they welcome the freshmen to join them at the Black Light Dance, or BLD, held in the Campion Student Center. Students have the option to dance to the songs of our DJ, sing karaoke with their new friends, or enjoy pizza and conversation in the Perch. I remember this being one of my favorite parts about Orientation when I was a freshman, and I’m so thankful to get to experience it over and over again as a leader.
The next and final morning with our freshmen is an early one. Freshmen are given their class t-shirts, matching their leaders and representing their group’s color. After a couple final information sessions, we end their stay with a barbecue and field games on Curran Lawn. At this point in time, the freshmen have become more familiar with their new home away from home, and the energy is at its peak. Those who began as their leaders are now their friends, and in my role as a leader, it is extremely rewarding to see the freshmen leave for home with smiles on their faces, telling their parents they can’t wait for move-in day.
Meeting the Parents
When describing why they chose to attend St. Joe’s, someone once told me that a Jesuit education is “the best kept secret,” and that they could not put into words why they chose to come here, but rather, it was how this university made them feel. It is something that can be hard to understand when on the outside looking in, and it takes adopting the culture to truly understand its value.
While those eight days in June are dedicated to acclimating the freshmen to Hawk Hill, some may not know that the parents undergo their own Orientation as well. While theirs may not include a BLD, it is just as exciting for us leaders to get to know them. In my experience, although parents are not the ones coming back to start classes in August and live in a new environment, they are sometimes more nervous than the students. However, like the students, parents get to know more information about campus resources, how to handle the first year of college life, and what it means to be a student at Saint Joseph’s University.
During the first day of each Orientation session, we as leaders sit down and have lunch with the parents in the dining hall to offer advice based on our experiences, in addition to answering any of their questions. For instance, parents love to hear our stories of how we met our freshman year roommates, or about a marketing professor helping us land a dream internship, because in the end, all parents are looking to know the exact same thing: that their child is going to be taken care of. Since we have spent time as students at St. Joe’s, we understand what that phrase “best kept secret” really means, so with every story we share, parents hang on to every word. We are there as a resource for every parent, whether they are concerned or excited, and to assure them that their child made the right decision: one in which they will find out exactly what that “best kept secret” feels like. On the outside, it looks like a high-quality education and community of people in their corner; on the inside, it may feel different to everyone, but we can all agree that it is four years that will feel like four minutes.
And it all starts with Orientation.
Sydney Nyles, Orientation 2023 Captain
Madeline Pontarelli, Orientation 2022 Captain