As I step out of the car on move-in day and take a deep breath, my senses are immediately overwhelmed. The rush and bustle of students lugging cardboard boxes and abundant Bed Bath & Beyond supplies to their new addresses. The heat of a sunny August day. The excited, nervous chatter of what feels like millions of new classmates. Before I know it, I’m next in line to fill out the I9 information form, but my mind is someplace else entirely. I’m looking around, and beyond the excitement, beyond the heat, beyond the nervous chatter, one thing stands out. In every new face, I see a story.

I came into New Student Orientation this past week with my own story. Like all other freshmen, I come from a home quite different from my new one. Our past experiences can often define what we are looking for in our future, and so I knew what I hoped to find in our Wesleyan community. When I pictured life at Wesleyan, there was so much that I was excited about, from the incredible academic opportunities to the vibrant arts scene. But there was something in particular that I was seeking, something so exciting to me that I simply couldn’t get it out of my head. I craved the qualities of acceptance and open-mindedness that were almost tangible to me each time I visited this campus.

Like the typical over-excited freshman, I created a sort of fantasyland in my mind, a magical oasis where acceptance was as natural as breathing. They say that reality can never truly live up to our expectations. But after five tiring, enlightening days here on campus, I’ve found all that I was looking for.

This didn’t happen by chance. This year’s New Student Orientation centered on a theme: access and inclusion. As we slowly adjusted to Wesleyan life, orientation programs promoting these ideas instilled in us a mindset of tolerance that would be invaluable as we began to get to know our diverse class. The Freshman Common Moment creatively demonstrated our ability to thrive as a united community, a sum of the unique parts that were our individual identities. “In The Company of Others” provided a powerful opportunity for student-to-student dialogue, with current Wesleyan students bravely disclosing their unique identities, and their vulnerability, in front of their peers.

I left these events nearly overwhelmed with pride; I felt privileged to be a part of the Wesleyan community and all that it represents. As I turned to my classmates, I nervously wondered if they would feel the same. But as we filed out of Crowell Concert Hall, I was overjoyed to find that the conversations around me were filled with awe and amazement instead of cynicism or laughter.

The University’s dedication to educating new students about the values of acceptance and inclusion was strongly reinforced by the students’ drive to practice these values amongst themselves. The Class of 2017 was obviously inspired by orientation events, so much so that discussions amongst students about individual identities, lifestyles and opinions became a common occurrence during our first busy days on campus. The frequency of these discussions indicates that we’re off to a great start. But that’s what it is: a start. The themes of orientation provided the ideal mindset for new members of the Wesleyan community, but now it is our job to uphold it.

I was craving an environment of acceptance here at Wesleyan, and once I found it, I realized just how daunting it can be to maintain such an atmosphere. But that’s a risk that we all need to take. Orientation was the stepping off point, and a wonderfully impactful one at that, but the rest is up to us. To take the conversation beyond, “What dorm do you live in?,” or “What classes are you taking?” To move beyond “Where’s your hometown?” and start to figure out where we are each really coming from and where we plan on going.

Each of us has arrived on this campus with a story. This unique opportunity that we have to share our stories with one another doesn’t change them or weaken them. In fact, it strengthens our own stories and gives them the power to impact those around us in ways that we may not even anticipate. It’s up to us to uphold the values that our orientation has instilled. It’s up to us to create a tapestry of our stories, however many and however varied they happen to be.

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