SCHENECTADY The cheers of 592 fresh-faced freshmen echoed through the vaulted ceilings of Union College Memorial Chapel on Sunday afternoon.
“Welcome to Union College,” was all Dean of First Year Students Kate Schurick had to say to set off the tumult.
Kids from 26 states and 13 countries crowded the polished wooden benches. From jocks to history majors, all glowed with the optimism and exuberance of youth.
Cam Duval sat with a group of new friends he met at the Lake George three-day pre-orientation camp.
“The kind of freedom they give you here,” he said. “We got back last night and thought, what do we do now?”
Buddy Pollack, an engineering major, leaned across a few acquaintances.
“Man,” he said. “They aren’t giving us freedom, we’re just free.”
They had good reason to be happy. Leaving for college is a right of passage by any measure, but for the class of 2016, it was an accomplishment just to get in.
This year’s 592 new students were chosen from a pool of 5,565 applications, making this the most competitive year of the college’s long history.
“It’s the most applications we have ever received,” said Vice President of Admissions Matthew Malatesta, “and we’ve been counting since 1795.”
According to Malatesta, choosing each student is a holistic process.
“We look at high school transcripts,” he said. “We do interviews. We’re looking for kids with academic passion, leaders.”
The result of this year’s competition was a room full of some of the best and brightest. The grinning youths had an average ACT score of 30, making Duval and his friends a pretty smart group.
“Back in the 1830s, Union was neck and neck with Yale and Harvard,” Duval said, demonstrating the skill set that brought him to his history major.
A few speakers doled out some condensed advice: Get enough sleep. Get involved. Don’t be afraid of your professors.
“Do not let college just happen to you,” said Union President Stephen C. Ainlay. “Don’t wait until your junior or sophomore year to get involved. Take advantage of all we offer from day one.”
It was all good stuff, but it’s safe to say very few will remember what was said. The freshmen were far too excited to listen thoughtfully, and their parents were preoccupied.
“We’ve sent two sons off to college before this,” said Carol LeFebvre, “but it’s different with your daughter.”
Shauna LeFebvre applied to nine colleges, was accepted by five and chose Union for its physics program.
“I’m nervous and excited at the same time,” she said, “if that makes sense.”
There were plenty of moist eyes as the crowd filed out into the sun, including Shauna’s father, Peter, but not all the parents were so mournful.
“I think my dad bought himself a big celebratory cigar,” said biology major Josh Cantor. “He’s lighting it up right now on his way home.”
The students will attend their first classes after the holiday and a few days of orientation.