A day of firsts

Rice welcomes new freshmen for move-in and matriculation

It was a day of firsts for more than 900 new Rice University freshmen who descended on campus Aug. 17 for Move-In Day. For Lovett College freshman Michael Chen, it was a day of multiple firsts. Not only is Chen the first person in his family to attend Rice, he also was the very first freshman to arrive at his residential college.

(From left) Identical twins Aston and Austin Walter, new freshmen football players at Lovett College, celebrated their 18th birthday on Move-In Day./Photo credit: Tommy Lavergne

Chen noted that it was also his first time to receive such a warm, personalized welcome – the type of greeting that has become a hallmark of the Rice Move-In Day celebration.

“It’s been pretty cool,” he said. “I liked the welcome; it was pretty rambunctious!”

Move-in Day marked the beginning of O-Week, the weeklong orientation program designed to familiarize incoming first-year, transfer and foreign exchange students with their new campus, residential colleges and classmates. Across campus, cheers and laughter filled the air as O-Week advisers rushed to arriving cars to greet students by chanting their names and helping unload their belongings. Members of the Rice football team joined in moving the new students’ belongings into the residential colleges to give parents a chance to say goodbye to their children.

For Baker College freshman Ethan Tan, his first day as a new student also marked his very first visit to campus.

“I still can’t believe I’m here,” Tan said. “It’s so beautiful, and it’s more than what I expected. I think I’ll like it here.”

Mikaela Juzswik, a freshman at Will Rice College, joins her sister, Jones College senior Jade, as a Rice student.

McMurtry College freshman Shani Rainey hugs her brother goodbye as her mother, Faye, looks on./Photo credit: Tommy Lavergne

“I’m just really excited,” she said. “And everyone is really happy to see me, which is great.”

Faye Rainey, mother of McMurtry College freshman Shani Rainey, called the experience “exciting,” despite the nervousness she felt as her first and only daughter leaves for college.

“She’s never been away from home for a long period of time, but she’s excited,” Rainey said. “She said it feels like home.”

But O-Week was not just a new experience for the incoming students and parents – it was a first for the new masters at Hanszen, Lovett and Sid Richardson Colleges.

“The students have been wonderful and have done a terrific job of organizing O-Week,” said new Hanszen master Paul Brace, the Clarence L. Carter Professor of Political Science. “Everyone seems to be having a great time.”

Ken Whitmire, the new master at Sid Richardson College and associate dean for academic affairs in the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, agreed.

“It’s very fun; there’s just so much going on,” he said. “But it’s all coming together beautifully, and the students are great – we have a wonderful bunch to work with, and they put everything together really nicely.”

Jose Onuchic, the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Chair of Physics, said he is very happy to be a master at Lovett.

“I think it’s going to be a great complementary experience to be a professor, a researcher and a master,” he said. “That’s the best of three worlds, and only Rice can offer it.”

First-time O-Week coordinator Marie Hoeger, a junior at Sid Richardson College, was also enthusiastic about Move-In Day.

Rice President David Leebron and University Representative Y. Ping Sun pose for a picture with Will Rice O-Week advisers./Photo credit: Tommy Lavergne

“(Yesterday) just felt like Christmas Eve,” she said. “Everyone was putting up their posters and making buttons. We’ve been waiting for this for so long; it’s just exciting to see it all come together.”

Rice President David Leebron said there are a few things that make Rice’s Move-In Day so special.

“First, it’s the beginning of a new year, with a new and exciting group of students, and it’s also a day that really reflects what’s really special about Rice – just the way that people are welcomed onto this campus; people know their names before they get here. It’s really a unique experience,” Leebron said.

Brown College RAs Amber and Jordan Szymczyk dressed up to celebrate their college's O-Week theme, "A Long Time AgO-Week."/Photo credit: Tommy Lavergne

One incoming student who can expect an especially unique Rice experience is Brown College resident adviser (RA) Jordan Szymczyk, who will be pulling double duty during this year’s O-Week activities. Szymczyk is a Rice transfer student and will be spending the next four years completing a degree in computer science and a minor in business while fulfilling his duties as RA with his wife, Amber, associate director for secondary science education in Rice’s Office of STEM Engagement.

“As a student, I’ll be participating in the academic O-Week activities, and during the social activities I’ll be involved as an RA,” he said.

Rice President David Leebron addresses the Class of 2018 at matriculation./Photo credit: Jeff Fitlow

After saying goodbye to their parents and enjoying a day of activities with their new classmates, the freshmen were greeted by university leaders at the annual matriculation ceremony, followed by a celebratory display of fireworks over the Academic Quad.

Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson warmly welcomed the new freshmen before introducing Leebron, who called matriculation “one of the most exciting days of the year.”

“This evening celebrates not just the beginning of your education here, but rather, your becoming a member of this community,” Leebron said.

Rice Student Association President Ravi Sheth, a senior at Martel College, encouraged his fellow students to embrace the opportunities available to them during their four years at Rice.

“Each and everyone one of you have so many opportunities, so many possibilities in front of you; it is almost dizzying to consider,” he said. “You have no idea where the people you meet or the connections you make at Rice will lead to.”

Donald Bowers ’91, president of the Association of Rice Alumni and a Hanszen College alum, also addressed the new students.

“It’s a privilege to be here this evening, to welcome not only the Hanszenites, but all of you who represent the Class of 2018 to the Rice family,” he said.

Bowers noted that Rice’s alumni association has grown dramatically since the university’s founding.

“Today, Rice alumni are as diverse and unconventional as Rice students – over 50,000 strong, located in 107 countries around the world – and occasionally, you’ll find one or two of us in space,” Bowers laughed.

Upperclassmen greet new freshmen as they enter the Academic Quad./Photo credit: Jeff Fitlow

After the conclusion of the matriculation ceremony, students exited Tudor Fieldhouse and walked along a candlelit inner loop toward the Sallyport, the arched passageway in Lovett Hall that leads into the Academic Quad. As each college approached the entryway, a hush fell over the crowd waiting on the other side; then the waiting crowd erupted in screams and cheers for the freshmen as each group of students marched through.

According to Rice tradition, students should not pass back through the Sallyport in the direction of Founder’s Court until their day of graduation – otherwise, they won’t graduate on time.

Lovett College freshman Jaecey Parham joked that she will not tempt fate and will not walk the opposite direction through the Sallyport until her graduation day.

“I’m not going to risk it,” she laughed.

Chris Chivetta, another freshman from Lovett College, said he’s really looking forward to the next four years.

“(Tonight has been) such a powerful event, walking through when everybody is screaming and welcoming you,” he said. “You want to honor that tradition and make sure that you keep up with the Rice standards and make sure that you’re part of this family as well.”

Duncan College freshman Jacob Behling said “there are no words” to describe the experience of walking through the Sallyport and being greeted by fireworks and the cheers of his classmates.

“We definitely started college with a bang,” he laughed. “It’s what you come to college for, that moment, and we still have four more years of it!”

About Amy Hodges

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.