Just like every fall, thousands of first-year students at Arizona State University gathered on Tuesday to kick off their college experience — but this year they did so virtually, with members of the Class of 2024 logging in to watch the annual Sun Devil Welcome and get excited for the start of their educational journey.
The show included some of the same elements of a typical Sun Devil Welcome, usually held at Desert Financial Arena, such as high-energy music, greetings from campus celebrities including football Coach Herm Edwards, and spirit-pumping videos of students learning, working and having fun across all ASU locations. Freshmen were exhorted to show their support for their own colleges — but instead of screaming and waving college swag, they posted on social media with the #ASUWelcome hashtag.
ASU's incoming first-year campus immersion class is the second-largest ever at nearly 13,000, behind only last year's in size. They are part of a community of 127,000 new and returning students, the largest in ASU history.
Jacqueline Palmer, student body president of the Tempe campus, told the freshmen that ASU is a place of firsts.
“This can be your first time living away from home, your first research project or your first time meeting lifelong friends,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to mess up. You’ll continue to grow in the process.”
The event acknowledged the unusual circumstances driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has suspended all athletic events until 2021. Frank Darby, a member of the Sun Devil football team, told the incoming students: “We can’t wait to run out of the tunnel to you all.”
Students also learned about giving back. The welcome event featured Julia Jackman, a senior majoring in biochemistry and global health, with a minor in civic and economic thought and leadership.
Jackman said that three years ago, she attended Sun Devil Welcome as a freshman and heard ASU President Michael Crow talk about how ASU lives by its charter to serve the community. Last year, when she saw the dire circumstances of African refugees during her internship in Israel, she knew that she could find an answer to the crisis at ASU.
“I came back and thought for a few weeks about how I could improve this, and I kept coming back to one idea: ASU already has a robust online education program,” she said.
“For lack of a better idea, I went straight to the top. I emailed President Crow.”
Crow responded and put her in touch with Education for Humanity, ASU’s initiative to offer postsecondary courses to people affected by displacement around the world. After a year of hard work with Education for Humanity, Jackman saw the results on July 12.
“It was a day in which 50 refugees finally had access to higher education through ASU Online,” Jackman said.
She urged the first-year students to think about how they can have an impact on their communities.
“Know that you’ll have an army around you to support you on your way,” she said.
Crow participated in a question-and-answer session, saying that ASU is ready for the new academic year.
“I’m feeling cautious in the sense that we’re not certain of everything around us. But we built the testing, we built the health check app, we put Zoom technology into a thousand classrooms, so I feel good that we’re ready to take what comes,” he said.
“I’m also feeling good that students really want to be here. They want to be with their friends, they want to be working and we’re trying to create that opportunity.”
He encouraged students to visualize where they want to be in 10 years.
“Pick this day, 10 years out, in 2030. Where do you want to be living, and what do you want to be doing?” he said.
“Keep thinking about what you want your life to mean. If you concentrate on what you want your life to mean, even if you don’t know yet, you’ll be able to focus your energy,” he said.
He also asked students to develop empathy.
“Since there are so many new students from so many family backgrounds, and we’ve been under COVID pressure for so many months, be empathetic,” he said.
“Know that everyone’s experience is not the same as yours. Life is so much easier when you actually try to understand another person’s position.”
Crow finished his talk the same way he has at the previous Sun Devil Welcome events:
“If you need something, raise your hand,” he said. “And if you can’t get an answer, email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Top photo: Sparky reminds students to wear gold on Fridays at the virtual Sun Devil Welcome on Aug. 18. The annual pep rally introduces all incoming first-year students to the university's 15 schools and colleges, its four campuses and what it means to be a Sun Devil. Screen grab by Charlie Leight/ASU Now
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