One freshman looks into the fire while toasting his marshmallow. Credit: Mia-Isobel Craig / Mustang News

Grace Schweitzer is a psychology junior and opinion columnist for Mustang News. The views expressed in this piece don’t necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

Two years ago, my fellow incoming first years and I found ourselves sitting behind computer screens, either stuck at home or sitting alone in their dorm rooms far from home during their Week of Welcome (WOW).

What was supposed to be a week of excitement and community-building soon became a sad reminder of the state of the world and a reminder of the online, solitary year to come. The memory of the week remains vague in the minds of the now third years — for there was no true opportunity to make strong connections with those in our group.

The pandemic forced incoming first years to endure a week of virtual introductions that no other Cal Poly students had ever experienced since the start of this tradition. Some students decided this would not be the end of their WOW journey and volunteered as future leaders. 

As a new WOW for the incoming freshmen took place, wowies were finally able to be fully in-person during the long-held tradition of WOW that, for over 60 years, incoming students got to be a part of. For older students who had already moved in, excitement could be heard on the streets of San Luis Obispo. Soon, as social media was taken over by the excitement of WOW, many third years found themselves reflecting back on the week that was taken from them along with the connections they never got to make their first week of their first quarter.

This year, a handful of third years took it upon themselves to gain back this experience they never got by becoming WOW leaders.

Many emotions fueled this choice: a sense of having lost out, a desire for community building and excitement, and maybe even a little jealousy. These third years finally got back what they and others missed out on, a week of sightseeing and all the great memories we never got to make those two years ago. 

With the incoming freshmen, some third-year Cal Poly students joined in on the true experience that is the Week of Welcome. Although their reasons for becoming WOW leaders differ, the impacts of being a critical part of WOW were quite similar. 

Brandon Nowak was one of these few third years who joined in on the excitement of WOW this year by leading a group of 25 incoming freshmen. 

“It was really cool to have a WOW experience — I never had a WOW experience,” Nowak said. “I gave wowies the experience that I would’ve wanted.”

For Nowak, the desire to “show the incoming freshmen the places and the experiences” he didn’t get, drove him to become a WOW leader. This year, Nowak was able to see first hand what the long standing tradition of WOW was meant to look like. Even though his experience was one of a leader, he got to partake in the community building and fun that he and many others were deprived of two years ago. 

Each year, incoming freshmen get to explore campus and the city of San Luis Obispo during a week packed with different activities, people and opportunities that help them feel like true college students for the first time since moving onto campus. 

WOW is meant to not only introduce the campus to freshmen and transfers, but also help them create bonds with those that share interests and majors. This means during the first week of school students already have connections throughout campus when they need support or just a good laugh. 

Without this first week of being introduced to peers and the city that will be our homes for the next four to five years, incoming students two years ago were forced to seek their own connections and learn about their new homes on their own while still adjusting to being away. 

With the fears of the pandemic and the uncertainty of the year ahead, the WOW experience that was offered two years ago did little to provide a stable and safe space for incoming first years. And for those who decided staying home was the best option, those needed first year connections were almost never established.

The third years who injected themselves into the experience of WOW this year were finally able to see what the 60+ year long tradition at Cal Poly was supposed to give us. The energy and memories may have been made two years later, but they now exist in the minds and hearts of these third years.