That, said Alex Gelman, is the sum total of time between tonight and the next time that Monday’s new freshmen and their parents will return together to the NIU Convocation Center.
“You’re going to wear funny gowns and ill-fitting hats, and you’re going to be nervous – not like now, when you’re not nervous at all,” said Gelman, chair of the NIU School of Theatre and Dance and master of ceremonies for the Huskie Family Welcome.
“You have yet to make the friends you’ll have for the rest of your lives. You have yet to have the best three years and nine months of your life.”
Gelman’s wisdom – part professor, part dad – began a hour-long ceremony for thousands of students, parents, grandparents, siblings and other friends and loved ones as they joined the Huskie family.
Students arrived energized by the annual Band Run, a rousing procession through campus behind the heart-pumping street beat of the the Huskie Marching Band.
The snowballing line of students stepped off at Neptune, walked west down Lucinda Avenue past the Student Recreation Center, wound around New Hall and then past the towers to Central Park, where the Marching Band stopped to offer a quick clinic in the Huskie Fight Song.
Liz Cadenas, a freshman forensic psychology major from Chicago, was reminded of the Thanksgiving Day parade.
“This is cool,” Cadenas said as she strode by the Chick Evans Field House. “NIU is the perfect fit for me. It’s not too far from home but not too close, and I had heard that the psychology program is good.”
Zachary Peters, a freshman biology major from Crystal Lake, found the Band Run “a great opportunity for the student to come and be welcomed and to see some of the activities here.”
Inside the Convo, NIU President Doug Baker turned first to the parents.
“About six years ago, my wife and I dropped our oldest daughter off at college,” Baker said. “My wife was almost teary-eyed about it, and she was upset with me because I wasn’t teary-eyed. So, dads: act teary-eyed.”
His advice for the freshmen took a more serious tone, however, as he spoke of his “keystone goal” of student career success. NIU takes care of its students, he said, providing the best education they can get – an education of transformational experiences that someday will enable them to transform the world.
“This is pretty heady stuff. You’re preparing for the rest of your lives,” Baker said. “All the tools are here.”
Joe Frascello, president of the NIU Student Association, told the new Huskies how his life had changed in the three years since he had sat “in one of these seats in this very building listening to the speakers.”
Unsure of what to think or what to expect, he had questions: What kinds of grades would he earn? Would he make friends? Would he graduate and find a job?
“I am the only one who can answer these questions for me,” he said. “Once I had this realization, I took it upon myself to get involved. I joined a fraternity out of curiosity. I joined the Student Association based off of a recommendation from a friend. And now I stand before you as the president of both of those organizations.”
Frascello urged his new classmates to “take charge” of their college experiences.
“You make the decisions that affect you here at Northern Illinois University and beyond. You decide whether or not to join the Huskie family community. You may be drawn to a community service organization, the Greek community, Huskie Athletics or an honors society,” he said.
“But it is you – and only you – that can make the decision to say yes to opportunity.”
Three NIU students who said “yes” during their years on campus spoke of their collaborations with faculty.
Senior Octavio Escalante-Aguirre of Aurora traveled to Naples, Italy, where he worked with scientists on calibration of the experiment’s calorimeters, which measure the energy of particles.
Alexis Lamb, a music education and percussion performance major from Denver, performed a berimbau duet with her professor, Greg Beyer.
Bernard Chestleigh, a senior Bachelor of General Studies major from the South Side of Chicago, offered a spoken word performance of the poem “Gorgeous” by Rives.
“The poem pretty much explains what it means to be gorgeous, and what it really means is to be yourself,” Chestleigh said before the event. “I want students to understand that the hardest thing they’re going to do in their college careers is figure out who they are and how to be themselves every day.”
As the night drew to a close, Gelman offered parting words for students – “Try taking a class that scares you. This is a great place to succeed, and a safe place to fail,” he said – and reassuring ones for parents: NIU cares deeply about each young mind with which it is entrusted.
“They’re ours,” he said, “just like they’re yours.”