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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Freshman Move-In Day Means a Range of Emotions for Students and Parents

By Harry Minium

Phyllis Owens knew months ago that she would cry Friday.

That was when she - along with thousands of other teary parents - left their incoming freshman children at Old Dominion University's campus after move-in day. Owens and her son, Xavier, came from Waldorf on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"No matter how old he is, he'll always be my baby," she said.

"It's a bittersweet experience. It's sweet because this is exactly what we raised him up to do. But it's bitter because I do have to leave him and won't get to see his face every day."

It could have been worse, she said. Xavier was also accepted into the mechanical engineering programs at Arizona and Arizona State, where he lived as a child and where his grandmother lives.

"What attracted me here was the campus life, all the programs they have here," he said. "I've been up here three other times, and I've loved it every time I've been here."

The incoming class of 3,100 is the largest freshman class in ODU's history, and about 75 percent of them are residential students. Yet parents and students said the two-day process of orientation and move-in was efficient.

Adriane Lott, a financial budget manager for recreation and wellness, was among many employees who helped students get registered and moved in. She loves the energy she feels from the students.

"This was really a great day," she said Friday.

After orientation Thursday, parents and students came to the Constant Center to register, then moved into residential halls.

The process at The Ted was largely seamless. Family photographs were taken as parents and students walked into the entrance. Two copies per family popped out of a machine within seconds.

Then students were shuttled to the Big Blue Room, where tables filled with people awaited them. Signs listed every residential hall by name.

President John R. Broderick and Ellen Neufeldt, vice president for student engagement and enrollment services, spent part of their day mingling with students there and in and around residential halls.

In the back of the Big Blue Room were T-shirts for parents.

"Dad you're embarrassing me," one female student said as he donned a shirt. He just beamed.

Phil Russell walked into The Ted wearing an "ODU DAD" shirt. His son, Christopher, is the second child of Phil and wife Kim to enroll at ODU.

"It's five years old," he said of the shirt.

The Russell family made the short drive from Virginia Beach. Like many students from Hampton Roads, Christopher will live in the residential halls. He wants to gain the full college experience while he pursues a degree in cybersecurity.

"I've got some friends who go here," he said when asked why he chose ODU. "And I really liked the cybersecurity program."

He took cybersecurity classes at Tidewater Community College while attending First Colonial High and is already certified to begin working in the field.

But a four-year degree, he said, should land him a higher-paying job in a field where there are more jobs than people to fill them.

ODU was the only school he applied to. "It's the only place I wanted to go," he said.

A number of Christopher's family members have graduated from college, but not so for Jose Varahona, who came to America from El Salvador 26 years ago. He's made a living as a cook in Washington, D.C.

"It's hard work," he said, noting that his arms often get burned. He said he didn't want that kind of life for his daughters.

His eldest daughter graduated from Trinity College, not far from where they live. His youngest daughter, Tiffany, chose ODU to major in mechanical engineering.

"I'm a little upset," he said. "I'm going to miss her so much.

"But coming here with her this weekend makes me feel better. I know she's going to like going to school here. It's a great place. She will be safe here."

Tiffany said she was initially attracted to ODU because it offered more financial aid than other schools.

"It was about the money at first," she said. "But then when I started to look into it, it wasn't about the money. I loved the campus. People told me good things about it. I can't wait to get started."

After registration, students began moving into residential halls. Many were eager for parents to leave so they could begin exploring their new campus home.

However, hundreds of parents stayed for a farewell dinner Friday night on Kaufman Mall.

Many events for students were scheduled for the weekend and beyond. There was an outdoor showing of "Avengers: Infinity War" at the Quad on Friday night after parents departed.

Saturday afternoon, hundreds of athletes heard an inspirational speech from Chamique Holdsclaw, the former University of Tennessee women's basketball star who struggled with mental illness while in college.

Upperclassmen moved in Saturday, and there was even an event for commuter students. That night, a Fan Fest was held at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium during a football team scrimmage.

Every day through this weekend (schedule link here https://www.odu.edu/life/gettinginvolved/programming/welcome),

events will also be held for international students, out-of-state students, transfers and some of the more than 350 student groups.

Jacobe Wills plans to attend some of those events. He drove into Norfolk on Thursday with his parents from Colorado Springs, Colorado. They had already left for home Friday afternoon as he was walking across campus, map in hand, looking for the financial aid office.

"My parents told me to keep tidy and carry a map with me," he said with a smile.

He came to ODU in large part because he was recruited.

"I got an email from Old Dominion saying I would be a perfect fit here," he said. Intrigued, he took a trip here with his parents and liked what he saw.

"I got a merit scholarship, and that's what really got me interested," he said. "But it wasn't just the scholarship. The atmosphere here is homey. Everyone here is friendly. That's what made me want to come here."

Wills will major in English - two of his favorite authors are Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft.

The realization that he was on his own came quickly.

"It really didn't set in with me until after they left," he said shortly after his parents departed. "But then they called and texted me, so it feels like they're here with me.

"I'm going to like it here. I feel like this is my new home."

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