By Claire Moncla
Welcome Week is just around the corner, and Baylor’s New Student Programs department is busy preparing events and activities for the incoming Class of 2014. The fun begins on August 19 with move in during the day. That evening, new students and parents can mingle with the Baylor family during the president’s picnic on Burleson Quadrangle.
The next three days are packed full of activity and interaction as freshmen attend the academic convocation, a spirit rally, and a service agency and church fair. Karen Hall ’05, coordinator of New Student Programs (NSP), is excited about these events. “I was involved with Welcome Week as a Baylor student and have helped out every year since then,” she said. “My favorite part is seeing the new students make connections and become a part of the Baylor family.”
One unique feature of Welcome Week is small groups. According to Houston junior Daniel Haddad—who is a member of Baylor’s Chamber of Commerce and an intern for NSP—putting these small groups together is a lot of work. Current students must apply to be small group leaders and go through an interview process. If they make it, Haddad and other NSP staff members pair the leaders together and assign sixteen to twenty freshmen to the partners. “The students are divided into groups based on their University 1000 section,” Hall said. University 1000 is a six-week new student course where freshmen discuss academics and values with a Baylor staff member. Small groups meet throughout Welcome Week and attend events together.
One party small groups will attend is Big Event, where freshmen can dance, hear a live band, and enjoy free food. The Baylor Activities Council plans and runs the event for NSP. “This year’s theme is ‘Neon Lights,’” Haddad said. “They will be turning the Ferrell Center into a huge black-light dance party.”
The Baylor family has not always welcomed its incoming students with church fairs and dance parties. Over the years, Baylor’s Welcome Week has included other traditions. Begun in 1946, Welcome Week was originally called the Pre-School Retreat. It was sponsored by the Baptist Student Union and held annually at Latham Springs Camp and Retreat Center in Aquilla. Students took bus rides into the country to stay in camp lodges and worship at an outdoor tabernacle. The freshmen assembled on a cliff top for vesper services, listened to inspirational speakers during the worship program, and gathered in the evenings around campfires.
In 1978, the university merged its orientation programs with the Pre-School Retreat to form Welcome Week. Beginning in 1979, upperclassmen annually welcomed freshmen on campus and participated with them in a field day, pep rally, and church camp.
Although Welcome Week festivities have changed, the love of tradition has remained. One such Baylor tradition is the Candlelight Ceremony. “Freshmen join with small group leaders and spend time worshipping with spiritual life leader Ryan Richardson,” Haddad explained. “It is amazing to see so many people from different backgrounds all praising God together in the Ferrell Center.” After the service, students take their candles—and like a trail of fire—file out to the Baylor Marina to spend time with their small groups.
Perhaps Welcome Week is not so different from past retreats that seem antiquated when compared to today’s campus activities and big events. Instead of traveling dusty roads to a remote camp and worshipping under the stars, Baylor students now walk solemnly across campus with candles—clutched in thousands of hands—held up to the dark sky.