It happened last year and the year before that, and will happen again next year: move-in day, the unofficial start of the academic year. While it doesn’t hold a candle to the to the gravitas of commencement, move-in day is a sweet tradition because it’s filled with newness, anticipation and lessons yet to be learned.
Following the Presidential Convocation, first-year students touch the Victory Bell as they leave McAlister Auditorium. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)
For first-year students and their parents, this particular move-in day (Saturday, Aug. 24) offers a tutorial in local meteorology. They learn that a large, slow-moving mass of gnarly weather just off the coast is not necessarily a hurricane or even a tropical storm. They also learn that that doesn’t mean it won’t rain frequently and unexpectedly.
Still, this stretch of McAlister Place, in the heart of the uptown campus, is as busy as ever, with folks of all ages milling up and down, carrying bags and boxes, rolling suitcases through puddles or just looking around, taking it all in.
Inside McAlister Auditorium, the Tulane Marching Band is occupying the balcony and rehearsing for the Presidential Convocation for first-year students that will take place in about an hour. For the band, move-in day means a large and captive audience, and they intend to make the most of it.
Soon, the initial wave of students begins to filter in. First a line of young men, fresh from moving into Monroe Hall, followed by a group of women directly from Sharp Hall. More will follow in short order.
Out in the auditorium’s lobby, Michael White is just finishing warming up his clarinet. His Original Liberty Jazz Band has led the convocation’s processional for more than a decade. For him, the ceremony is a chance to bring together his full band, with all its pieces — something he doesn’t often get to do.
And for those first-year students, more than 1,600 strong, the convocation is their first opportunity to gather as a body — to come together as something other, greater than the motley group of high school graduates that they have, until this moment, been.
Before the lights dim and the welcoming speeches begin, one student turns to another.
“Hi, I’m George,” he says. “I’m from Newark.”
“Hi,” says the young man to his right. “I’m Chris, from Chicago.”
And so it goes.
As the ceremony progresses, Tulane President Scott Cowen takes his turn at the lectern
. For him, this year’s convocation marks the first in a series of lasts. In May, President Cowen announced his retirement
after 16 years.
He doesn’t mention this to his young audience, but he does counsel them on the trickiness of time.
“The time between the hello and the goodbye will go like a flash,” he says. “But these lightning years are the ones that will play a significant role in not only what you will do with your life, but who you will become.”
Outside, the clouds have thickened and it’s started to sprinkle again. The class of 2017 emerges from the auditorium, greeted by their families, raindrops and a future that is already upon them.