Everyone in San Luis Obispo knows it. It’s the shiniest jewel on the Cal Poly crown – the unforgettable highlight of many of our students’ college careers – and one of the most well thought out and over-the-top orientation programs in the nation. Week Of Welcome (WOW), nationally ranked and rightfully so, epitomizes the idealized Cal Poly college experience in a matter of five action-packed days.

Students walk away from this event with a variety of impressions, from “Those were the best five days of my life!” to “What the hell just happened?” Regardless, in the aftermath, one consensus is undeniably clear: WOW is an experience that nobody would want to miss.

Of course, in regards to COVID-19 and the lockdown, every class feels like they got the short end of the stick in their own individual (and undoubtedly valid) way. The pandemic took something away from each of us, and while every class has lost something, for the purpose of this piece I will be shedding light on my own lived experience as a member of the class of 2024.

In many ways, the class of 2024 has lived through a simultaneously unifying and soul-crushing collective experience this past year. From the loss of closing high school milestones to a virtual freshman year, each second year feels as though something has been unjustly taken from them. This is a result of the pandemic memories that we all grieve as we face the reality that these are moments that we will never get back. 

Few deprivations leave as prominent of a gaping hole in our spirits, as the glorified event that is Cal Poly’s Week Of Welcome. Like older siblings that never enjoyed privileges that a younger sibling was awarded without a second thought, our university’s second years carry a feeling of envy, neglect and even some resentment towards the class that was granted the very experience that we so sorely missed.

In consequence, a fascinating new campus dynamic is born. Sophomores endure the overwhelming novelty and confusion that is our first year of college, but without a proper introduction to our college years. Meanwhile, our freshman counterparts undergo in essence the same thing, only with the more legitimate label of “first years” and a meticulously planned orientation program to their advantage. 

A new layer of exasperation then comes into play when we consider the affliction of second-year WOW leaders. There is a bitter irony to giving campus tours for classrooms and lecture halls that they never had a chance to step foot in. Then, facilitating lively, in-person freshman activities that they themselves missed out on entirely feels like a very disheartening slap in the face. 

These sophomores were left with a fleeting taste of the excitement of WOW – and a dream-like hint of a real freshman year. As Week Of Welcome drew to a close, second-year leaders felt like overbearing parents or chaperones overstaying their welcome as the ugly realization gradually set in. While the experience in itself was rewarding and enjoyable, it simply was not their fun to have.

Knowing that the class of 2024 was deprived of any semblance of a campus welcome, Cal Poly leadership attempted to compensate with their version of a reconciliation: the Second Year Experience. However, with limited spots and other planning blunders, this effort paled in comparison to WOW, serving more as a demoralizing reminder that we will never have the real thing.

The absence of WOW is one of the many missing pieces in the mosaic that is our college experience. As the sophomore class contemplates whether we will ever be wholly integrated into Cal Poly’s campus environment, this mosaic remains in the back of our minds. It sits alongside a longing for these absent pieces – the missing experiences that may leave our mosaic feeling forever incomplete.

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