In every culture across time, rituals and symbols have endured because they help us to bond with each other and give meaning to our shared experiences. On college campuses and locations, these welcoming traditions bring the old and the new together with the former passing on the baton of cherished memories, legacy and kinship to the latter.
ASU Local, Arizona State University’s newest college experience located in Los Angeles among other locations, held its own welcome ritual for new and returning students at Grand Park in downtown LA on Aug. 13. ASU Local's hybrid model allows students to take advantage of in-person college and career success coaching and programming with the flexibility of completing coursework online.
The welcoming ritual, called "Sun Devil Social," brought excited incoming students together with returning students who were reunited with peers and mentors after months of being apart due to COVID-19-related restrictions.
Outfitted in ASU Local shirts and with plenty of water and cookies, students gathered in circles with their coaches to participate in a “commencement” ritual, reclaiming a word that most colleges and universities often associate with graduation and conclusions. Instead, it dug deeper into the word’s original meaning – “the act of starting.”
The ritual celebrated new beginnings, ignited new friendships and rekindled ones from the previous year. Students participated in a ceremony during the ritual — rose, bud and thorn — designed to help them connect to each other and get a deeper understanding of the anxieties and hopes that they hold in common for the upcoming academic year in order to release them. A rose was an experience to be proud of or grateful for. A bud represented the uncertain outcome of a plan or goal that has the potential to either bloom or wither. And a thorn stood for a challenging or problematic situation.
The ritual encouraged students to “break bread” together both symbolically and literally. Working in small cohorts, they shared their rose and bud revelations, congratulating and supporting each other throughout the process. Finally, students released their unwanted thorn experiences, holding onto the ones listed as rose and bud ones, to commence a new and optimistic academic year.
"We were able to feel that community and that warmth that we all have to bring to this safe space," said Carolina Dominguez, an ASU Local student who participated in the event. "The students were able to feel it. And I think everybody here, even the staff, was able to know that this is a safe space where we want to reach new levels of intellect and just try to grow as people."
The pandemic showed us that it is possible to learn in a completely virtual space. But as head of ASU Local, Martha Juarez says that a big part of the academic and student experience involves coming together in person to collaborate and share ideas.
“ASU Local’s hybrid university experience not only focuses on students being successful and getting that college degree, but also on building communities and relationships — and building the self-awareness and skills they need to succeed and thrive in life,” Juarez said.
The hybrid model gives students the flexibility to complete their coursework online, while also having the opportunity to learn and interact on site with other ASU students and professionals.
The newly opened ASU California Center serves as the backdrop for the ASU Local experience, blending modern and historical architecture in the vibrant downtown Los Angeles community.
Top photo: ASU Local-Los Angeles students take part in a fall commencement ritual at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 13. Photo by DDMA