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A Purple Parade Celebrates Wildcat Welcome

Class of 2019 starts off with March Through the Arch and high hopes

  • First-year students take first formal steps in a Northwestern Direction
  • Northwestern Marching Band leads procession to cheers and applause
  • Schapiro: You are ‘tremendously successful, inside the classroom and out.’
  • Students and parents bid farewell at “Kiss ‘n’ Bye” on Deering Meadow

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Members of the Northwestern University Class of 2019 took the first formal steps of their college journey this week, parading in a purple procession for March Through the Weber Arch as Wildcat Welcome went into full swing.

Cheered on by parents and friends, the 2,029-member class surged through the Weber Arch at the corner of Sheridan Road and Chicago Avenue Sunday afternoon (Sept. 13), marking the traditional start of their time at the University.

Led by the Northwestern University Marching Band and clad in purple T-shirts, first-year and transfer students marched to Deering Meadow to hear advice from President Morton Schapiro, to pose for their class photo and take some final selfies with their families.

“Welcome to Northwestern,” President Schapiro said, standing on the sun-drenched steps of Deering Library as thousands assembled moments before students would say their goodbyes to parents, siblings and friends.

“I have a request for you,” he added. “When your loved ones hug you, or text you, or call you, and they tell you they’re proud of you and say they love you, say the same thing to them.”

It was an emotional day for many parents and students, but the beautiful late summer weather and the support of families, friends and more than 200 peer advisors took some of the sting out of parting at the “Kiss ‘n’ Bye” on Deering Meadow.

Sponsored by the office of New Student and Family Programs, the 10-day Wildcat Welcome program is packed with events to keep new students busy, help them navigate the transition and give them an unforgettable orientation to their new school.

Following Move-in Day on Friday, the students ran in the Wildcat Dash across Ryan Field Saturday before the Northwestern football game against Eastern Illinois University. Later, they had an exclusive night for first-year students only at the Field Museum of Natural History. 

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Montgomery “Monty” Nelson, 18, a first-year student from West Orange, New Jersey, standing on Deering Meadow Sunday as show tunes blared from loudspeakers and parents were taking their leave. “The march here makes you finally feel like you’re part of this group. 

“A lot of schools don’t have this kind of an orientation,” said Nelson, an aspiring art history major interested in contemporary art. “Other schools do it in two days. We get 10 days of it. We’re lucky. It helps you get acclimated to the Northwestern life.”

Her parents had already dropped her off, she said, adding, “It was sad, but bittersweet.”

Earlier Sunday, parents were lining up at midday waiting patiently along Sheridan Road for March Through the Arch to begin and to cheer their students on as they embarked on their path to taking a Northwestern Direction.

“Northwestern will never be the same, because Jessica Saffold is here,” exclaimed Monica Saffold, wearing a Northwestern shirt and walking with her camera held high taking video of the event as she looked for her 18-year-old in the crowd.

“She’s going to blow this place up. She’s been given this opportunity, and she’s going to light this place up,” said the proud mother, a Chicago native who grew up in Chicago Heights but now lives in Aurora, Colorado, with her husband, James.

She listed some of daughter Jessica’s high school accomplishments -- including homecoming queen, class VP, United Nations work and track captain -- but then she noted another important one for a parent: “She’s my baby and only girl.”

President Schapiro, Mimi Schapiro and Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, greeted new students as they crossed Sheridan Road on their way to the Arch, led by peer advisors holding up signs for each advising group from 1 to 185.

“This is just a tremendous start to what will be a fantastic school year,” declared an exuberant Todd Adams, dean of students, observing the scene as the march geared up.

“We have had lots of comments from parents and others on the high level of organization for Wildcat Welcome and how we are showcasing the spirit of the campus,” he observed. “We have more international students than ever before, and this class is the most diverse class in history of the University.”

Then the band started playing and marched by, followed by the first groups of students, some of them breaking into a run as they headed past the Rock, which was already painted with purple lettering that said, “Welcome home #NU2019, #transferstudents.”

When the students arrived at Deering Meadow, they were greeted by Northwestern fight songs, a rousing performance by Northwestern cheerleaders and the welcoming antics of mascot Willie the Wildcat.

As they spread out in a sea of purple over the green slope in front of Deering Library, President Schapiro spoke and delighted the throngs, telling them, “Not only are you tremendously successful, inside the classroom and out, but you set a new record for the run at Ryan Field of 5 minutes and 45 seconds.” Cheers erupted. 

After the class photo, as the crowd started to thin, first-year student Moriah Lavey, 17, of Tampa, Florida, said she was excited to have been part of March Through the Arch, a relatively new tradition that started in recent years at the University.

“I think it’s really nice. It brings out the school spirit,” said Lavey, who hopes to study environmental sociology. “I look forward to years from now, when this has become a long-held tradition, to saying that I was among one of the first classes to do it.”

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