With added flair, fireworks and a slate of service activities, Welcome Week 2015 ushered some 5,000 first-year students and some 24,000 returning students into their new home among the hills at West Virginia University.

Campus officials enhanced the annual welcoming weekend by adding more activities such as Saturday Night Lights, Mountaineer Midway, FoodFest and Days of Service.

This re-imagined Welcome Week also underlined the ongoing transformation of campus culture – an appeal to the student body to not just “work smart” but to “play smart,” said WVU President Gordon Gee.

At Sunday’s (Aug. 16) Mountaineer Welcome at the WVU Coliseum, Gee and a host of other speakers showered the incoming class with encouragement, advice, sing-alongs and top 10 lists.

“You may not realize it now, but you have made a bold, life-altering decision by committing to the gold-and-blue movement,” Gee told the class after emerging from a smoke-filled entrance complete with gold-and-blue carpet and “Also sprach Zarathustra” blaring into the crowd.

“We are all now one cohesive university. We are one Mountaineer nation. We take care of one another. We inspire one another. And we cherish one another. As president of this institution, we welcome you with open arms and we will help give you wings to your triumphs.”

One new underclassman, Victor Williams, of Rochester, New York, found that out quickly.

Williams and his family were driving into Morgantown for orientation when a motorcyclist sped around a bend and crashed into their car.

Williams, an undecided major, posted about the experience on Reddit.

“Right after the motorcycle hit my door, I got out of the car to see if the man was alright, and in mere seconds so did a few other random citizens,” he wrote.

Emergency responders arrived quickly and strangers stuck around to help. Williams’ father and the motorcyclist were transported to the hospital, though no one suffered serious injuries other than some scrapes and bruises.

Williams wound up being three hours late for orientation, but what he learned in that time was much more valuable to him as a person: He was blown away by the compassion and concern from folks in the Morgantown and WVU community.

A nurse showed Williams how to hop onto the PRT to get to the Mountainlair. Along the way, he encountered Cate Johnson, program coordinator for the ASPIRE Office, and Nichelle Sowers, coordinator for the Pre-Health Professional Development department, who both took him to get registered for classes. They even treated a hungry Williams to lunch at the Mountainlair.

“This may sound like it was quick but they actually spent a couple of hours with me,” Williams said. “They gave great advice and actually helped me decide on some classes to pick.

“If not for the kindness of the people in Morgantown I don’t know what I would have done. To the emergency responders, random people at the accident, hospital staff, WVU staff and students that helped, thank you so much.”

Men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins shared with the Mountaineer Welcome crowd a similar sentiment for the people of WVU.

“A great thing about this place is you can get a great education,” Huggins said. “But the greatest thing is the people.”

Huggins recalled returning to WVU in 2007. It had been nearly 30 years since he last served at WVU in any official capacity. Yet everyone welcomed “Huggy Bear” back home as if he never left, including professors he had in class many years earlier.

“This is not a transient university,” Huggins said. “This is where people fall in love with the University and the people, and they stay.”

Also speaking at Sunday’s Mountaineer Welcome were Provost Joyce McConnell, Student Government Association President George Capel and Mountaineer Mascot Michael Garcia. Capping off the event was a rendition of the John Denver song “Country Roads” – one foolproof way to bring all true Mountaineers together.

Saturday Night Lights
The previous night, new students were treated to the inaugural addition to Welcome Week known as Saturday Night Lights, held at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field.

There, students watched fireworks, belted out cheers with the mascot and helped President Gee—clad in a pair of decorated bow-tie pants—unofficially crush “The Rock’s” selfie world record. For Gee’s selfie challenge, 132 students posed for ultra quick iPhone portraits with the bow-tied president in three minutes.

Women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown addressed the audience, as did football coach Dana Holgorsen via a videotaped message to encourage the group to show school spirit and support the WVU athletic teams.

One of the highlights of the night came when the 3,500 students in attendance spilled out of the stadium into an outline of the state of West Virginia made by the Pride of West Virginia, who welcomed WVU’s Class of 2019 with a pregame performance.

“This is such a cool, new tradition,” said Ed McMahon, chair of the Southern New Jersey Parents Club, about the class photo. “Liking it to the great state of West Virginia is embodying them for the next four years.”

Earlier in the day, a First-Year Academy focused attention on making the transition from high school to college and what it takes to be academically successful.

Playing smart: Sunday activities
The weekend also introduced students to local culture, as Sunday afternoon’s FoodFest brought more than 6,500 students to Woodburn Circle to try local culinary tastes from a variety of Morgantown restaurants. Lines spanned across the length of the lawn as students eagerly waited to taste a unique blend of burgers, tacos, gyros, comfort food, juices, appetizers and desserts.

Across campus at the Student Recreation Center fields, students had the opportunity to play smart and channel their inner-child at Mountaineer Midway, where they raced, jumped and zipped via inflatable toys, zorb balls and mobile zip lines.

The students closed their first weekend in their new home by attending FallFest. This year’s line-up introduced students to the sounds of the Eli Young Band, ScHoolBoy Q and The Chainsmokers. WVU alumna and West Virginia 2015 Chelsea Malone joined the Eli Young Band on the stage for a special version of “Country Roads.”

A new charge for a new year
While President Gee spent the weekend encouraging personal pride, school spirit and academic success, he wanted every Mountaineer to start their college career understanding that there is nothing more important than being yourself – and that each and every one of this year’s incoming students will have the opportunity to find their place at WVU.

“Be yourself,” said Gee. “This University is a mosaic of individuals.”

Students are encouraged to share their photos and experiences from Welcome Week via social media using the hashtags #GoFirst and #WVU19.

For more information on Welcome Week and to view the class of 2019 photo, visit the Welcome Week website at: http://welcomeweek.wvu.edu.



CONTACT: University Relations/News

Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.