As early as 7:30 a.m., the cars, trucks and vans carrying more than 800 first-year students and their treasured belongings began winding their way up South Mountain. Unlike first-year student athletes who were already in training for the fall season and the roughly 350 students who arrived a week earlier to take part in a pre-orientation Prelusion experience, Thursday’s group had to contend with a mid-morning shower and the typical move-in-day traffic.
They did have one advantage: scores of M.O.O.V. (Made Of Our Volunteers) representatives – nearly 750 in total – who jumped in to help unload vehicles, provide directions, aid with registration, direct traffic and welcome the students as they settled into their new home. Among the volunteers were staff, faculty, fellow students and members of the university administration, including Interim President Kevin Clayton
This year’s incoming class hails from 41 U.S. states and 34 international countries and territories. New international countries represented in the Class of 2018 include El Salvador, Mauritius, Pakistan, Palestine, Slovenia, and Zimbabwe. It is also one of the most diverse classes ever admitted to Lehigh, according to Lehigh Director of Admissions Bruce Bunnick.
The first-year students and family members were offered an array of options on Move-In Day, including a luncheon served on the University Center front lawn, a visit to the Campus Bookstore or its auxiliary I Forgot Shop, educational sessions on safety, gender violence prevention and support, academic support and financial aid, a Career Services open house, and a carnival in front of the University Center.
The range of organized activity will continue over the weekend, with schedules and events arranged through the Office of the First-Year Experience
. The students will be offered options that include dinners, residential hall meetings, make-and-take craft sessions, a work-study job fair, open houses, summer reading discussions, a formal convocation, and a first-year student and alumni rally.
On Saturday night, there also will be a series of entertainment options – including live music, a comedian, trivia contest, and a midnight breakfast-- at nearby SteelStacks to introduce students to the Lehigh After Dark
program, which offers alcohol-free social options on weekends.
'It's in my DNA'
The afternoon’s activities began with a “Farewell to Families” event in Grace Hall. Kevin Clayton welcomed his first incoming class as interim president, following the departure of Alice Gast in mid-summer. As a former student, trustee and parent, Clayton told the hundreds assembled that his Lehigh roots are “deep and wide – this place is a part of me, it’s in my DNA.”
But after only his third full week in his new role, Clayton said, “I guess you could say I’m a 52-year-old freshman.”
Clayton recalled his first visit to campus as a young child, accompanying his father, a 1951 graduate. The Clayton family sent three generations of Claytons – 12 in all – to Lehigh.
“From our family to yours, welcome,” Clayton said. “Lehigh is a special place made up of a lot of special people, and you got to meet some of them earlier today—our Lehigh Brown volunteer army of students, staff, and faculty who pitched in to help you unload your vehicles. Move-In Day is one of our great Lehigh traditions, and I hope it helped your sons and daughters to feel at home. “
Clayton spoke of his own undergraduate experience, arriving at Lehigh nearly 34 years to the day. “I was in the same position as your sons and daughters—a wide-eyed, excited, and yes, somewhat nervous 18-year-old, all set to begin my college experience.”
He also recalled his son’s first day of Lehigh in 2009.
“I remember what it was like to be sitting out there where you are sitting,” he said. “Like you,
my wife and I had some anxieties. Was our son really ready for all this? Would he be safe here? After all, we wouldn’t be right alongside him anymore, ready at a moment’s notice to bail him out of a jam. Would he make the right social decisions? Would all this be worth it? Would he get a good job after graduation?”
Clayton assured the families that their children will be well-served by Lehigh.
“There are a lot of things we do very well here at Lehigh, things we pride ourselves on,” he said. “Safety is at the top of our list. … We will do our part. At the same time, we need students to do their part by using good judgment and making smart decisions, particularly with regard to their social life. “
Incoming Lehigh students also will find themselves immersed in an inclusive, equitable living and learning environment that celebrates diversity, and embraces academic, cultural, economic and physical differences.
“We respect one another, look out for one another, and help one another succeed,” he said. “The Principles (of an Equitable Community) are not just words on paper; they are what we believe in and what we expect of our entire campus community. “
He noted the Lehigh commitment to student success, and expressed his hope that the incoming students will take advantage of the breadth of opportunities for engagement here on campus, and the support and encouragement readily available through a network of more than 70,000 “fiercely loyal alumni.”
His father, he said, had an intense love of Lehigh and used to say that something special happens on South Mountain. That, he said, was his testimonial to his alma mater.
“I’ll say it this way: By the time your child leaves Lehigh, they will have received a first-rate education and forged some of the strongest relationships of their lives,” he said. “It could be their roommate, a teammate, a lab partner, a professor, a member of the support staff—or quite possibly, all of the above. But these relationships will be enduring and, I guarantee you, they will be special.”
Clayton was preceded by Allison Gulati, associate dean of students and director of strategic initiatives, and Provost Pat Farrell, who both spoke about programs and resources available to support first-year students in their transition to college.