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Saturday, June 15, 2024
The Observer

University hosts Welcome Weekend to acclimate first-years to campus

Campus comes to life again this Friday, Aug. 18. The class of 2027 will settle into their new home under the dome with the beginning of the annual Welcome Weekend.

As the suitcases and IKEA bags roll in, the class of 2027 will make their first encounters with residential staff, faculty and one another. Welcome Weekend showcases an array of campus resources — academic, spiritual and social alike.

One of the annual events, First Lecture Series, provides a unique opportunity for students to choose their own programming — attending a lecture about their life-long passion, or perhaps, exploring a new one. Andrew Whittington, director of first-year programs, explains that there is a new networking component to the “First Lecture Series” tradition.

“This year, students can opt into connecting with other students who registered for the same First Lecture by joining a First Lecture GroupMe interest group,” Whittington said. “A GroupMe is only a small tool, I know. But it can be used by students to introduce themselves, ask a question about the First Lecture and perhaps even invite some new classmates to join for a meal in the dining hall.”

Whittington explained this is an example of precisely what makes Notre Dame distinct: community.

“The fact that we bring together the entire first-year cohort of 2000-plus students simultaneously for a singular welcome experience is distinct. Not only do we all share ‘one Welcome Weekend’ as opposed to several disconnected ‘summer orientations,’ but we gather together as a class cohort routinely for lectures, celebrations and prayer,” Whittington said.

He explained that this is one of many building blocks which create the indescribable “Notre Dame experience.”

“It is most definitely a part of what makes Notre Dame special and speaks to our distinct way of teaching and learning,” Whittington said. “We believe education takes place in genuine and meaningful communion with others.” 

A ‘Notre Dame experience’: How to take part in Welcome Weekend

Whittington said Welcome Weekend is not so much about creating belonging or inviting students to join the community, but rather it is about helping them realize they are already a part of it. 

“One aim is to make known the reality that all new students are active and contributing members of this scholarly community immediately upon their arrival,” Whittington explained.

Emily Orsini, program director for new student engagement and formation at the Division of Student Affairs, explained this year’s Welcome Weekend places emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as health and wellness initiatives.

“We host the ‘You Belong Here: Welcoming All Backgrounds and Identities to Notre Dame’ program. This event is intended to fully and distinctly welcome incoming families of underrepresented backgrounds to the community at Notre Dame to allow space for these families and students to meet one another and hear about what it means to join the Notre Dame community,” Orsini said. 

In between lectures, socials and last-minute trips to Target, the class of 2027 is encouraged to take a breath during the “Rest and Reflection Time.”

During this time, students are encouraged to take a step back and take a much-deserved break from the busy weekend,” Orsini said. “This could include taking a nap, going for a walk with a friend, journaling, praying or engaging in other practices of restoration and reflection.”

As plans for Welcome Weekend come to fruition, both Whittington and Orsini expressed gratitude for their role in forming the first few Notre Dame experiences for the class of 2027 and their families.

As far as my role goes, I’m in the business of communicating those first truths that each new student belongs here, can grow here and can do good here. And it is such a privilege to do so,” Whittington said.

He advised new students to take it all in with patience.

“I think it is important to remember that Welcome Weekend is the gateway, an entry point, a beginning. It is rare that a new student has all questions answered or has a complete sense of belonging after the first 72 hours,” Whittington said. “It isn’t possible to pack all of what makes Notre Dame such a transforming experience into one weekend. I mean, how limited and disappointing would the Notre Dame experience be if it could be so easily summed up?”

Orsini offered a glimpse into her own inspiration for her work in planning a Welcome Weekend that radiates “radical hospitality.”

“One person I find a lot of inspiration from is St. Andre Bessette. St. Andre was a brother who served as a doorkeeper in Montreal who was known for his radical hospitality, his ministry to all those he encountered and his desire to meet their needs,” Orsini said. “St. Andre met everyone he encountered where they were at any given moment. He made them feel truly loved and valued, and he provided a sense of personal dignity, inviting them into a deeper relationship with God, with others and with themselves so that they might become the person that they were created to be.”