Joy, excitement, some jitters: Welcoming the Class of 2026
As Michael Milbourn eased his vehicle to a stop in front of Crawford Hall, young men dressed in gray T-shirts approached the passenger-side doors with the expert timing of hotel bellhops.
Denison University football players had been dispatched to the residence halls of first-year students to assist families with the heavy lifting of Move-In Day. Milbourn, whose daughter MacKenzie becomes the sixth member of his family to attend Denison, marveled at the work ethic of the perspiring athletes on a steamy Thursday morning.
“They descended on our car and offered to help, and I said, ‘Have at it,’” Milbourn recalled. “These guys have been carrying boxes up and down the halls since we got here.”
For first-year students and their parents, there is much to unpack. Boxes, suitcases, crates, and a whole range of emotions.
Joy, excitement, and a bit of jitters — it’s all part of what makes the start of August orientation, or Aug-O, and the induction of a new class so memorable.
On Aug. 25, 2022, Denison President Adam Weinberg, members of the administration, and faculty welcomed about 680 incoming students during an evening induction ceremony on Reese~Shackelford Common. The Class of 2026 — among the 22% admitted from the year’s record 12,200 applicants — paraded onto the grassy oval behind Slayter Hall and was met with a warm round of applause from professors and staff draped in academic robes.
In addressing the class, Weinberg asked the first-year students to make academic courses the centerpiece of their Denison experience, to connect with faculty members, and to create bonds with students who might not share their worldview.
The president also discussed the challenges students will face over the next four years and reminded them that they should not fear the occasional rough patch.
“You’re going to have those moments,” Weinberg said. “When those happen, don’t make the mistake of looking around and thinking everybody else is not struggling and you are. It’s not true. Struggling and failure are part of the process. It’s by design, and we’re here to help you work your way through it.”
Associate Professor Heather Pool, chair of the faculty, told students to savor their time on The Hill and to realize the emotional swings they experience aren’t exclusive to college.
“The next four years are going to be a rollercoaster,” Pool said. “Spoiler alert: So is the rest of your life.”
Student Body President Alex Pan ’24 informed first-year students that they had earned the “gift of time.”
“Time to make mistakes, time to be a scholarly explorer, and time to grow into who you are meant to be,” Pan said.
The first day of orientation was filled with words of reassurance and support as students embarked on a four-year journey.
At the Resource Fair on the academic quad, students and parents found answers to everything from on-campus job opportunities to how to install network printers to what career-enhancing programs are available through the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration and Red Frame Lab.
Several hundred parents attended a 45-minute presentation from Student Life leadership at Swasey Chapel on topics dealing with homesickness and forging relationships with roommates.
First-Year Dean Nathan Graves said orientation weekend is a time “meant for connections.” This year’s admitted class boasts students from 42 states and more than 29 countries. The closest, Zooey George, grew up a half mile from campus, while the furthest, Aaron Matthew, a native of Bogor, Indonesia, is 10,024 miles from home. As is tradition, the two carried the Class of 2026 banner into the induction ceremony Thursday evening.
“I knew Denison from the book I read, Atomic Habits, and it turns out that the author (James Clear) is an alumnus,” Matthew said. “I am honored and shocked to be the student that traveled the greatest distance. For me, this honor means that distance should not be a barrier to learning.”
As the induction ceremony ended, students said their goodbyes, hugging parents and loved ones. It was time for the Class of 2026 to spread its wings — while still feeling the natural tug of the nest.
That bittersweet feeling is why the university deploys so many helping hands across campus, like the ones belonging to Denison football kicker Preston Fisk ’25, who lugged MacKenzie Milbourn’s mini fridge up a flight of stairs to her Crawford Hall room.
“We’ve all been through this process as freshmen,” Fisk said. “We know what they are going through and we’re here to help.”