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New beginnings, hard goodbyes and Macklemore: The scenes of first-year move-in day

First-year advisory counselors move students' belongings into Giles dorm on Tuesday, move-in day for the Class of 2025.
First-year advisory counselors move students' belongings into Giles dorm on Tuesday, move-in day for the Class of 2025.

Soon Adar Schwarzbach’s college experience will begin. Right now, he’s waiting in a car.

It’s Tuesday: move-in day for the Class of 2025. A line of cars snakes its way around the East Campus quad, from Giles dorm to Baldwin Auditorium and almost back to the Washington Duke statue.

Schwarzbach, a first-year from Palo Alto, Calif., is waiting to move in to Giles. He’s on the wrestling team, and he plans to major in computer science. More than anything, though, he’s looking forward to meeting new people after a senior year of high school that took place online.

He didn’t visit, so this is his first time at Duke. As he and his family wait in the line of cars, he says he’s almost overwhelmed with “how awesome everything seems.”

“It’s almost, like, too much for me to have any emotion,” he says.

Across the quad at the front door of Giles, first-year advisory counselors in pastel shirts pull boxes, bags and suitcases from cars and take them inside. A speaker blasts music: “Peaches” by Justin Bieber, “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. It’s a muggy afternoon, and partly full plastic water bottles litter the ground.

FACs Abigail Ullendorff and Jack Fallon, both sophomores, have been working since 8 a.m. But they’re both having fun. 

“We’re very tired, but we’re powering through,” Fallon says. 

While Ullendorff came to Duke in 2019 and took last year off, Tuesday is Fallon’s first time experiencing a normal move-in day. Last year, first-year move-in was staggered across four days due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were few people around when Fallon got to campus, and he felt almost lonely.

Campus isn’t entirely back to normal. A sign outside Giles makes that clear, reminding the reader that masks are required in campus buildings.

But Duke has rolled back many of its pandemic safety measures, and this year’s move-in day has the traditional celebratory feel. 

“It’s a very welcoming experience,” Fallon says. “And as a FAC, I’m really glad I’m able to do this because I’m able to almost experience it myself too.”

The same scene of hectic excitement plays out across East Campus on Tuesday.

“We need one more!” shouts Head FAC Aria Beasley, a junior, outside Bell Tower. She tells a FAC to grab a container of almond milk from a nearby car.

Almond milk retrieved, the car drives off. Another car pulls in, and FACs descend upon it.

***

Henry Rome crosses the East Campus quad with his father and sister. The first-year’s belongings are already in his room in Blackwell dorm, and the family is on their way to check out West Campus.

Rome, who is from Boston, took a gap year after graduating from high school. He participated in a National Outdoor Leadership School program, spent time as a ski instructor and traveled to Israel.

Now, he’s happy to be at Duke.

“I’m excited to meet a lot of new people and get back into an academic environment,” he says.

For his father, Brett, the day has brought a mix of emotions. 

“We’re sad he’s going to be out of the house and off to his next step, but we’re really, we’re really happy for him,” Brett Rome says. “And we’re happy that it looks like we’re going to have a close-to-normal fall term for everybody, which is great.”

Schwarzbach’s father, David, shared similar feelings as the family sat in line. He’s excited for his son to get to wrestle at Duke, and for Duke’s academics.

“But, you know, there’s also sadness,” David Schwarzbach said, “because our little boy’s growing up and going off to college.”

***

First-years Cia Varelas, Anna Tornatore and Sofia Rodriguez walk back to Gilbert-Addoms to finish moving in, talking about what they plan to major in at Duke. 

Tornatore and Rodriguez met each other in a Snapchat group chat. They met Varelas in line to get COVID-19 entry tests, when Rodriguez complimented her outfit. 

Rodriguez was nervous at first about moving in.

“But then when I got here, everyone was so kind and very helpful,” she says.

She’s excited to be at Duke, and she’s looking forward to basketball games most of all.

Tornatore worries that the Delta variant will disrupt the semester. But Duke is the best place to be during the pandemic, she says, given the way the University has managed COVID-19.

At the nearby Gilbert-Addoms bus stop, first-year students chat in groups. The sun has come out after a brief rain shower, and dragonflies hover in the air.

A.J. Ficara talks to Maya Reeves and Reeves’ parents. The first-years went to the same high school in Weddington, N.C., and started talking on Instagram before coming to Duke. 

Ficara and Reeves chat about the colleges they applied to and the subjects they plan to study. They lament the lack of a Walmart or Target in walking distance.

A bus pulls up, cutting the conversation off. Reeves and her parents get in. The bus pulls away, carrying the students toward the next step of this new beginning.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to denote that residence halls are not exempt from indoor masking requirements. While the original indoor masking policy was that residence halls are exempt, Duke has changed this policy, and members of the community must now wear masks in all public residence hall spaces except their dorms.

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Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin is a Trinity senior and was editor-in-chief for The Chronicle's 116th volume.

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