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For those of us in the academic community, New Year's Day occurs in late August or early September when the students arrive on campus. It marks the beginning of our year and the rebirth of the university community.
While we celebrate the arrival of new professors on campus, nothing compares to the arrival of new students. While the professors often stay for decades, the students stay only three or four years and as they graduate a new cohort arrives. This automatic rejuvenation of the community is a vital component of university life.
Along with the new students come the returning students — usually just in time for the first lectures. To say that they arrive on campus more experienced and mature than they did as frosh is an understatement. Gone is the tentativeness and confusion of the first-year student, replaced with a degree of confidence based on an understanding of both the university and the community.
They often even dress differently than the first-year students. Over the years I have enjoyed observing that foreign students tend to dress as North Americans when they first arrive on campus. Only in their second and third years do they gain the confidence to proudly dress as they would in their own country.
When I arrived as a freshman 50 years ago this fall, dress was not an issue on campus. Women dressed in skirts and sweaters and men in slacks, shirt, jacket and tie! Until the mid-sixties this was the on-campus outfit.
Then, there was no frosh week. We just showed up to register and get to the first lectures on time. It was virtually unheard of to have parents accompany the students and help them settle in. Goodbyes were said at the hometown railway stations and the students were sent off to fend for themselves.
Today, parents go with their children on visits to choose which university to attend and then deliver them for the first-year reception. We even have a parents' tent at the freshman reception where parents can help make the arrangements that in yesteryear students made themselves.
Parents have difficulty leaving – much to the embarrassment of the students. This final cutting of the "umbilical cord" is often so difficult that a gentle push can help. A few years ago I was approached by parents whose daughter had spent the night with them in their hotel room before moving into residence. They were very concerned since they had determined that their daughter had had a few beers at the party before returning to the hotel. "What can we do?" they inquired. Perhaps too quickly I responded, "It's time to give her a big hug, say good-bye, get in your car and go home." After a moment's hesitation, the mother gave me the hug and said they would follow my advice!
Frosh week, the First Year Office and all the effort that goes into welcoming first -year students are a tremendous improvement over how we were welcomed in the fifties. Our sole reception was a speech to the incoming class in the McConnell Arena by then principal F. Cyril James. He asked us to look at the student on our right, then the student on our left and told us that only one of us would graduate in the normal length of time. Anticipating this, I had carefully placed myself between two old friends from out-of-town who were intent on immersing themselves in the university's social rather than academic life, and Principal James proved to be correct!
To all my colleagues, to returning students, to the first-year students, to the entire university community, "Happy New Year" — and may it be a great one.
Derek Drummond is Interim Director of Athletics and Macdonald Emeritus Professor of Architecture.