Back to ‘normal’: Freshmen, sophomores and transfers participate in Wildcat Welcome traditions


Madison Smith/Daily Senior Staffer

An observer records the class of 2025 as they march through The Arch. Orientation programs resumed in person this fall, and both first and second year students were invited to take part.

Hannah Feuer, Assistant Campus Editor

Wildcat Welcome traditions, like the class trip to Six Flags, Norris at Night, class photo and March Through the Arch, made a comeback last week — with twice the number of people as usual. 

As part of “Wildcat Welcome Back,” the class of 2024 was invited to participate in new student orientation programming along with the class of 2025 and transfers. While many students said they were excited to be in-person and felt the programming was engaging, some expressed discomfort at the large crowds. 

“It’s nice to have a little bit more normalcy,” Weinberg sophomore Kate Austin said. “But it also makes me kind of nervous to be around so many people. Especially waiting for Six Flags buses — we were literally shoulder to shoulder.”

But the annual traditions were still modified to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. True Northwestern Dialogues — discussions focused on topics like inclusion, wellness and sexual health — were streamed virtually to individual Peer Advisor groups rather than the whole class in one auditorium. Director for New Student Experience Josh McKenzie said this change also created a more intimate setting for open discussions.

Other changes from previous years included a daily two-hour wellness break, more socialization across PA groups and in residential areas. This year also featured the debut of a new event called “Rock the Lake,” in which student groups performed on the Lakefill. 

Weinberg junior Eleanor Pope served as a peer adviser, a mentor to a small group of freshmen during Wildcat Welcome, both this year and last year. She said it was easier for students to make connections this year because of increased opportunities for informal social interactions. 

“You have time where you’re walking to meals or walking back to your dorm from an event or so on and so forth,” Pope said. “Whereas online, you don’t really have a lot of those informal spaces.”

Weinberg junior Rahul Devathu was a PA this year and participated in Wildcat Welcome virtually as a transfer student last year. He said he was excited not only to give other students a “normal” welcome week, but also to experience an in-person orientation for the first time himself.

“We were able to find a great balance where everybody was able to stay nice and safe, while at the same time being able to interact face-to-face and build some community that way,” Devathu said.

Weinberg sophomore Sam Keimweiss said he felt like he wasn’t getting the full Wildcat Welcome experience last year with all-virtual programming. He was glad his class finally got the opportunity to participate in the traditions they missed out on last year, though he said some of them felt forced because they took place a full year into his NU experience. 

Like Keimweiss, Weinberg sophomore Kate Austin said she was excited to go to Six Flags, but she didn’t see much meaning in marching through The Arch as a sophomore. 

“I’ve already walked through (The Arch) so many times,” Austin said. “It kind of lost its symbolism a little bit to some people, since that’s not how they started their four years here.”

Students who were uncomfortable attending in-person events worked with their PA to make sure they could still participate, McKenzie said. For students who tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined, many events were recorded and posted online. 

McKenzie also emphasized the importance of the role student leaders played in making in-person Wildcat Welcome a reality during uncertain times. 

“The past 20 months have been confusing and frustrating,” McKenzie said. “Our student leaders have navigated a nuance of things in their roles, and I just think they have done this really beautifully to the best of their abilities.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @hannah_feuer

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Members of the Class of 2024 and transfers recap their Wildcat Welcome experience