On Aug. 26, I arrived in Riverside, Calif. — my home for the next year. Cars whipped past me, all bearing California license plates. Palm trees loomed before me. And, mountains towered behind me.
I was not in Tennessee anymore. Along with hundreds of other students, I was about to begin my fall semester at California Baptist University.
First-year Orientation and Christian University Success began Aug. 30. However, I entered the double doors of the Van Dyne Gym for orientation kickoff slightly skeptical. I was not a freshman like the hundreds of others around me. Rather, I was a senior transfer student straight out of farmlands near the Mississippi River. While new to the state, I knew college life and how to study unlike the wide-eyed students fresh out of high school. So what could I get out of FOCUS?
“My favorite day is commencement,” said Dr. Ronald L. Ellis, university president, during the orientation kickoff session.
While excited at the prospect of exploring a completely new region of the country, I could not have agreed more with Ellis as I sat in a folding chair watching a gaggle of freshman women hold hands and exchange long looks with potential male counterparts.
This year, my fourth as a college student, was still solely focused on graduating. However, I understood the others’ utter excitement. I remember being in their shoes. Everything was new and different. The possibilities were endless. Their college years were finally upon them. No longer was it some distant goal.
It was not until I was walking down a plush red carpet toward the 10,000-pound granite ball sitting in the Ronald L. and Jane Dowden Ellis Great Commission Plaza with dozens of families, upperclassmen, faculty and staff cheering on either side of me that my mindset changed.
The annual Kugel Walk Ceremony officially inducted me into the Lancer community. It was then as professors high-fived me and random families smiled toward me that I realized FOCUS is about more than just learning where classrooms are and how to take notes.
It is about becoming a part of the camaraderie that is completely unique to a university campus. Yes, I am a senior transfer student. But nevertheless, after running my fingers across the Kugel, I am officially part of CBU forever.
I am a Lancer.
So for the rest of my orientation experience I attempted to take it all in while endearingly answering more than a few questions about my Southern twang and turquoise cowboy boots.
At the academic school orientations I spoke with a freshman about all the places a journalism degree could take her and encouraged another to not fret about still being undecided.
During a dinner, I bonded with other transfer students over Chick-Fil-A and which Hunger Games book they liked best. And I smiled while the freshmen quickly hid their uncertain faces as their parents officially left them for perhaps the first time in their lives after the student and parent closing session.
Initiating the new semester and year, orientation is fueled by pure energy, something clearly evident at the 10th Annual Official Unofficial World’s Largest BUNKO Game. I was deafened while the FOCUS leaders and CBU Crazies screamed, chanted and high-fived for 22 straight minutes as new students entered the Alumni Dining Commons.
While voices were sure to be strained the next day, their enthusiasm did not go unnoticed. Those around me laughed and grew excited. None of us had any clue how to play BUNKO. But the utter cheerfulness of our leaders enthralled us and built the anticipation.
Who won the game? No one cared. More important is the memory of anxiously throwing dice, praying for all three to land on the same number and meeting new people while the leaders ran around cheering, blowing horns and banging on tables.
However, everything changed for me again on Saturday, Sept. 1, during the first FOCUS theme session. Based around Ephesians 2:10, this year’s new student orientation theme was all about identity.
“Who are you?” asked John Montgomery, dean of Spiritual Life at CBU.
That was a good question. I was a Southern girl who’d just days before traded in her family, friends and dogs for the Californian sunshine and beaches. No longer was I in the safety net of people who’d known me my whole life and seen the fruits of my labor during the three years of my college career. I was a blank slate to the people surrounding me.
By the end of the session I knew that was not true, though. Regardless of what state I was in, I was still and forever a daughter of Christ. No other factor was more important in defining me as a person than that fact. It was the very core of my identity. The theme was relevant not only for me but also for the hundreds of freshman grasping to find their identity away from home and high school. In that way, we were all connected.
All in all, I ended my orientation experience thankful for the opportunity. I had eaten cupcakes with new friends, bowled in ridiculous clothes, learned to play BUNKO, avoided what was clearly not the Memphis BBQ I was teethed on and worshipped God during an amazing concert by Phil Wickham and Travis Ryan.
I laid in my bed the night orientation ended knowing that while I had transferred to CBU to wrap up my college education, I’d gotten more than I had bargained for. The 30-hour drive across the country gave me not only another state to explore but also another group of people intent on making me a part of their community — a community buzzing with a unique love for Christ.