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Saint Mary’s student leaders prioritize unity

and | Friday, August 18, 2017

Members of the incoming Saint Mary’s class of 2021 may stroll down The Avenue this weekend to engage in the annual Belles Beginnings orientation program, but they have no idea what lies on the road ahead.

Senior Stephanie Stapleton welcomes incoming Belles to campus by displaying posters with uplifting  messages and by transporting members of the class of 2021 to various campus destinations in golf carts.Kathryne Robinson | The Observer

Senior Stephanie Stapleton welcomes incoming Belles to campus by displaying posters with uplifting messages and by transporting members of the class of 2021 to various campus destinations in golf carts.

Student body vice president Lydia Lorenc said her administration will consistently strive to create a welcoming atmosphere and to adequately prepare all new students for life in college.

“I’m hoping the first year Belles feel like they are coming home,” she said. “They’re on a journey to becoming more independent, and they are more than likely going to face obstacles that will help them mature and find their own identity. Saint Mary’s has been the perfect place for me to feel adventurous enough to step out of my comfort zone, and I want the first years to feel the same way.”

As participants engage in bonding opportunities, listen to speeches on campus safety and foster open discussions with peer mentors, they will grow in familiarity with the College and deepen their relationships with one another, Lorenc said.

“Orientation is always the perfect opportunity to find new friends,” she said. “All first years are gathered together. … I hope as the weekend goes on they feel more and more comfortable with their new classmates and are excited to take on the next four years with them.”

Student body president Bailey Oppman said the weekend will culminate in a traditional event known as Closing the Circle, in which new students hold hands and gather in a circle to demonstrate unity.

“[Student Government Association] plans the Closing of the Circle ceremony, which is the last major event students have with their parents before they part ways,” Oppman said. “All the words spoken at the ceremony come from students who are now seniors. This is a neat way for the upperclassmen to connect with the first years and vice versa.”

Experiencing this particular bonding moment as a first year, Lorenc said, confirmed her love for the College.

“I left that ceremony knowing that I made the right decision in coming to Saint Mary’s,” Lorenc said. “I hope [new students] get the same tingly feeling knowing they’re finally home.”

Oppman said a Saint Mary’s education guarantees both intellectual development and personal growth.

“My hopes for the class of 2021 would be the same for any class at Saint Mary’s, and that is that these girls transform over the next four years,” she said. “I hope they discover their passions and follow them.”

Though Belles Beginnings will end, bright futures at Saint Mary’s will begin, Oppman said.

“As far as first year programming, we really focus on Big Belle, Little Belle, which is a mentorship program where a first year student is paired with an existing junior,” she said. “From there, events are planned every month and the pair can attend together and build a relationship. It’s another way for the first years to get acclimated and feel a part of the campus community.”

Lorenc said she hopes transfer students — who also participate in orientation weekend — feel embraced and appreciated.

I think it might be a little different for transfers because they have some experience with college already,” Lorenc said. “But I’m sure the feelings of butterflies and anticipation are still with them. I know they are for me each time I drive up The Avenue to begin a new school year.”

All incoming students should recognize that they have an integral, valuable role to play in the success of the institution, Lorenc said.

They’re now a part of a rich history of empowered women, and I want them to embrace that,” she said. “We’re such a diverse campus with so many clubs and organizations.”

The lessons learned and friendships established throughout Belles Beginnings will provide new students with their first glimpse of the College, Oppman said.

“We want this first experience to be an extremely positive one, as it sets the tone for the upcoming semester,” Oppman said. “[First years and transfers] should feel wanted and accepted just as anyone would in their own homes. We want that same familiar feeling to overcome students as they arrive on campus.”

Lorenc said she hopes SGA can help first year students acclimate to life at Saint Mary’s and guide them in finding their niches at the College.

“We want all students to feel respected,” Lorenc said. “We’re continuing with [College] President [Jan] Cervelli’s theme of inclusivity by offering a Big Belle-Little Belle mentorship program and monthly mingles for open discussion with other students. We’re really hoping that our first years dive into all that is offered at Saint Mary’s.”

According to Oppman, SGA planned Belles Beginnings with the hope of making the weekend special for the incoming class.

“I think this first experience sets the tone for their outlook on the upcoming semester,” Oppman said. “If we can be as welcoming and helpful as possible in these first moments and continue to be open stewards of service as the semester continues, then I think that makes all the difference as they transition.”

No changes have been made to the structure of SGA this year, but Oppman said she has assembled a great team.

“My goal for the term is really just to make an impact on our campus, whether that’s in a small or large way,” Oppman said. “If I can leave the office knowing I made someone or something better for those I’m leaving behind, I’ll consider my term a success.”

Lorenc, who, along with Oppman, will serve as a student liaison between the student body and the College’s administration, said she hopes to have a positive impact on the campus community.

“I have a sincere love for Saint Mary’s, and I want to share that with the rest of the student body,” she said. “Bailey and I are working closely … to enhance some current policies and also introduce new initiatives. We’re working towards becoming a more sustainable campus, and we feel this is a very attainable goal for Saint Mary’s.”

Though Oppman said it has been difficult for this administration to begin implementing new projects over the summer, Oppman hopes to start initiatives once school is back in session. She said her administration will work as closely with Cervelli as possible, but will also make an effort to be visible for the student body through office hours and regular SGA reports.

Lorenc said she is honored to serve her community and is looking forward to Belles Beginnings.

“I’m excited for the class of 2021 to arrive on campus,” she said. “I value Saint Mary’s so much, and I love everything our campus has to offer.

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

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About Nicole Caratas

Nicole is a senior English Writing and Humanistic Studies double major at Saint Mary's College. Now a senior news writer, she previously served as the Saint Mary's Editor. She was born in real Chicago but grew up in the suburbs, and she currently lives in Opus Hall.

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