Depending on the university, there’s a good chance that undergraduate students have been or will be moving back to campus this week. This is exactly the case for more than 5000 first year University of Guelph students who will begin moving into residence tomorrow. While move-in has been orchestrated in such a way as to eliminate as many fears and stresses that parents and students might have, I have no doubt that the excitement and anxiety of the day will be palpable.
And it makes me think about my first day at the University of Guelph – 25 years ago this coming labour day. After returning home from a weekend cottage adventure with friends, my parents and I loaded the car with my belongings and then we began our trek to Guelph. It was a clear and cool evening, and I remember sitting in the backseat of the car feeling particularly anxious as my dad drove down the Hanlon. Turning right onto College Ave, my stomach began to knot. Would the University of Guelph be the right decision for me? While I had done well in high school academically speaking, I worried how I’d fare in university level courses. Would I like my roommates? Would I like living in Mills Hall1? I was a weird ball of nervous excitement; the same nervous ball I expect many students will be feeling tomorrow.
Campus was different then. There were fewer students. The Science Complex, the Biodiversity Institute, and the Pathobiology Building didn’t exist. The Bullring, Boo Bar, and the Keg were the on campus bars of choice. Rozanski was a president before the name became synonymous with the hall. The Alexander Building was the Axelrod Building. Neither the Begging Bear or the Gryphon statue had found their home on campus. And Bob’s Dogs was located just outside the north doors of the University Centre.
But campus was also very much the same. The Orientation Volunteers made move in and orientation week fun and easy. They and the Residence Assistants kept us involved and engaged, helping us to build fast and strong relationships with new friends, and instilling in us a sense of pride for our new home. More than that, they helped define and build a community – one that to this day continues to give back, to encourage the best in the students, staff, and faculty who call this university home.
It wasn’t long before the questions I’d asked on that first day were answered. And while my original plans and goals have morphed through the years, I can say without a doubt that the University of Guelph was the right decision for me. I have spent the better part of my life on campus. I have lived, and learned, and loved here, and I have laughed and cried here. I have shared so much with the friends that I have made here, that I feel that I’ve lived the experiences of several lifetimes.
Most importantly, I have become the person I am today due in great part to the experiences, opportunities, and friendships that have defined my University of Guelph journey. And I am one very lucky man for that.
To those students beginning their life as a University of Guelph Gryphon tomorrow, welcome to Guelph. Embrace your nervous energy and excitement, and the opportunities that being a Gryphon brings. The next four or five years of your life will bring academic and personal challenges, but also an incredible amount of successes and joys. Enjoy your time here. Make friends. Get involved. Talk to your professors. Explore your community. Make yourself proud. And use the resources that the University of Guelph and the City of Guelph offer to become the best version of you that you can.
Honestly, it’s hard to believe that 25 years have flown by already. While I’ve been told many times that I probably should have gone to other universities for my graduate degrees, I don’t regret my decision to stay in any way. Guelph has given me a home for the majority of my life, it has given me a career that I love, and it has given me the opportunity to grow and learn each and every day. I couldn’t be happier to have spent the last quarter century as a Gryphon.
1 At the time, Mills was an all male residence. Being the gay but not out, nerdy, and not-so-interested in sports type, I feared that I wouldn’t fit in. Fortunately I was very wrong.