At New Student Convocation, incoming Highlanders receive warm welcome from ‘freshman’ president
Hundreds and hundreds of young Highlanders, now sampling the first days of their first year at college, filled Bondurant Auditorium on Aug. 19 for a meeting with another important freshman: Radford University President Bret Danilowicz, Ph.D., who’s just two months into his term.
As the president’s New Student Convocation got underway that evening, Danilowicz, casually clad in a gray RU golf shirt, mingled cheerfully in the crowds before taking the podium to offer everyone an overview of their class and a preview of things to come.
"We're starting our journey together, me as president and you as students," Danilowicz told them. "In four years, I want you to be crossing the stage to the cheers of your family and friends as you receive your degree from me, because you are the Class of 2026. Welcome!"
All told, Radford University has 1,151 freshmen this semester, according to Housing and Residential Life.
While most of those hail from Virginia, Danilowicz said, some 28 states are represented by the incoming class, which also includes new students from Canada, Hungary, Japan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the United Kingdom.
“All of you are welcome. You make us better as an institution, and you also help bring a global perspective to our conversations in the classroom,” he explained.
About 38% of the freshmen – approximately 435 – are first-generation college students, while another 137 are legacy Highlanders, with a parent or grandparent who previously graduated from Radford.
The new president asked members of both groups to stand up and be recognized and sparked ripples of laughter by encouraging the legacies in the audience to reach out and place their hand on the shoulder of a nearby student whom they hadn’t yet met.
“By the end of this evening’s events, I want you to introduce yourself to that student,” he suggested. “I want you to explain why you’re a legacy and why you came to Radford. You can help them understand why Radford University is such an excellent place to be.”
Danilowicz’s address actually did some of that work for them, as it walked them through a number of the institution’s virtues, including the school’s many athletic programs; the hundreds of clubs and organizations on campus, which he said will be featured during the Fall Club Fair on Aug. 26; the easy availability of part-time jobs for students via the Handshake platform; and the First Year Float, happening Aug. 28, during which freshmen and new transfers together will drift on inner tubes about one mile down the New River.
“Next weekend,” Danilowicz told them. “You’re going to have a great bonding experience with both your fellow students and the wonderful environment that you’re surrounded by.”
Toward the end of his speech, he singled out the faculty and staff members as allies and resources.
“They believe in you as a learner, and they believe in you as a person,” Danilowicz promised the group. “You will love the experience of getting to know these individuals, and you will accomplish incredible things at Radford University.
Radford Men’s Basketball head coach Darris Nichols, Student Government Association President Justine McLaughlin and Radford University Carilion resident assistant Misheel Urtnasah also spoke briefly, urging the freshmen to make the most of their academic experience, seek out connections with others and support the school.
Afterward, the president and the Class of 2026 gathered on Heth Lawn and collectively formed a letter “R” for this year’s group photo, cheering up into the air at a drone camera that hovered some 252 feet above campus to capture not just them, but Muse Hall and the valley of the river beyond.
The freshman class then headed to McConnell Library Lawn for a picnic at dusk, with cookout food and yard games.
The convocation had been scheduled to take place outside the library as well, but it was moved indoors at the last minute because of afternoon rainstorms.
Those bursts of bad weather aside, this year’s student move-in was largely a laid-back affair, sunny but with unseasonably mild temperatures, and staggered neatly across three days – school officials said about half of the students returned on Aug. 18, which allowed the remaining numbers more elbow room and parking spaces when they arrived the next day and into the weekend.
One new feature to this year’s move-in was particularly popular. The school rented 200 full-sized Sam’s Club shopping carts and parked them outside residence halls, where they got a lot of use.
“This really came in handy,” Stacy Smith of Roanoke, Virginia, said of one cart as she helped her daughter, Ashley Smith, move into Muse Hall. “It’s a very organized process. It looks like it’s going to go smoothly.”
“We may reach the weight capacity for the room,” joked another mother, towing two carts behind her as she followed her daughter, who was pushing a third.
All across campus, the shopping carts and other conveyances ferried pillows and rolls of paper towels, Rubbermaid plastic tubs and guitar cases. Stacks of Capri Sun and Gatorade, microwave popcorn and Chef Boyardee. Luggage and laundry baskets. Box fans and full-length mirrors and lots and lots of rolled-up rugs.
Elsewhere, elder students pitched in to help out.
On Aug. 18, the first day of move-in, seniors Libby Rehkemper, Margaret Gleason and Ilana Tall and junior Josie Helpard donned fluorescent yellow vests outside Heth to help with traffic control.
“We’re all on the [women’s] lacrosse team, and our whole team is going to be out here this morning and tomorrow,” said Rehkemper. “We’re answering questions and directing traffic.”
Those team members and others worked four-hour shifts for two days.
Classes resumed on schedule on Aug. 22, and the campus settled back into its busy rhythms.
Gone were the carts, the traffic cones, the check-in shelters and parents. The only sign a recent influx had just occurred was bagged or stacked in dumpsters and garbage containers – mostly flattened cartons that once held new lamps and microwaves, shelving units and mini-fridges, appliances now being put to use.
Before long in the day, those traces vanished as well, and the fall 2022 semester was underway.