Parents and their teenaged children exchanged quick, tear-filled goodbyes on Sunday as Union College’s class of 2015 finally glimpsed the path to independence.
The day would be busy but exciting as the 578 first-year students were left to explore what will be their home for the next four years.
“It may seem hard to believe,” college President Stephen Ainlay said during the official welcoming ceremony at Memorial Chapel, “but in four years you’re not going to want to leave this place.”
Students began moving in at 9 a.m. with help from their parents and family members, while resident life staff stood close by to answer questions and give directions.
For five hours the new students were given time to tour the campus again, settle into their new dorm rooms and get acclimated with their roommates in Davidson House, Richmond House, Webster House or West College. At 3 p.m. the welcoming ceremony began, to be followed by orientation and a class group photo.
Ainlay emphasized the memories that would be made, the friends that would become family and how the school would always hold a place in their hearts.
“I believe there is not a parent or family member here that does not wish they could have the opportunity to have these experiences again,” he said.
Those beginning their college careers at Union were selected from among 5,151 applicants and are the second-largest class in the college’s history. They also make up one of the college’s most diverse classes, coming from 30 states and 12 countries, along with having the highest average SAT and ACT scores for any incoming class in Union’s history.
A roar of applause thundered across the chapel, and many students looked surprised as these statistics were read aloud by Matthew Malatesta, vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment.
“We spent a lot of time this year looking at applications and we know the successes you’ve had, but at this point it’s over. From this point on, it’s about what you do here that truly matters,” he said.
All of the speakers passed on words of wisdom, personal anecdotes and hopes about the future, while students eyed the door and fidgeted in their seats.
Malatesta told of meeting his future wife during orientation activities at Union College as part of the class of 1991, warning, “Stand up straight and behave yourselves, because you don’t know who could be here with you.”
Steve Leavitt, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, advised the freshmen to get lots of sleep, get involved and take care of their parents.
“Remember that they still exist and keep in touch,” he said. “Text them every now and then to let them know you’re alive.”
College officials warned parents that the children they dropped off would not come back the same people they once were and that was normal. While finding out who they are, and what they want to do in their future, they may become distant, but one day they’ll return and the bond will be closer than ever before, he said.
Tom and Brenda Davies said letting their 18-year-old son, Ian, go was easier than they thought but they excused themselves if they started to cry.
“I’ve already cried like four times today,” Brenda said.
Ian moved in early, on Thursday, and went on a special trip with members of his class to visit the Adirondacks. His parents came for the day from Amherst, Mass., to see him off.
“I think it’s helpful that we live so close, at least for us,” said Tom Davies. “We already have several days planned to come visit him to watch cross-country meets.”
Elaina Glickman and Raleigh Homer, students from Massachusetts, said they too found it easier to say goodbye to their parents than they previously thought possible. While walking to orientation, they explained how eager they were to meet new people and be on their own.
Despite the fun times coming up, President Ainlay still implored students to remember why they came to Union in the first place and the standards students are expected to uphold.
“You picked Union, but remember, we also picked you,” he said.