New students, families greeted with disco, car washes, open arms

UC Santa Cruz is no place for a generic, run-of-the-mill move-in weekend

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Move-in volunteer Angela Luo helps welcome new students to campus.
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Chancellor Blumenthal was on hand over the weekend to welcome students and help unload vehicles. (Photos by Carolyn Lagattuta)
For just a nanosecond, the mother behind the wheel of the Honda Pilot 4WD looked startled and beside herself as she pulled up to College Ten.

She had just driven up to help her child, an incoming first-year, unload some belongings. Suddenly a large group of smiling, disco-dancing, identically dressed College Ten students appeared from nowhere. Why were they clapping, shimmying, and boogie-ing around her vehicle?

"Welcome to college, bay-beeeeeee!" one student helper called out in an Austin Powers accent. The bass line from a Kool and the Gang song made the whole quad vibrate. Someone offered to wash the mom's car free of charge.

When the mom figured out that this was the College Ten move-in welcome wagon, she started laughing and clapping. After unloading the woman's car, the student group waited for the next arrival. When another car pulled up, someone shouted "Incoming!" and the process began all over again.

"We want them to feel comfortable around here, to feel welcome," explained one of the greeters, Angela Luo, 18, a health sciences/community studies major. "They are part of a family now."

In some parts of America, college move-in week is a generic affair. You drive up with your children and a bunch of bedding and electronic equipment stuffed in your car. You say good-bye and drive away. But this is UC Santa Cruz, where there is no place for generic behavior or doing anything in a boring, run-of-the-mill way.

The emphasis was on informality and just-folks friendliness. That explains why new Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway was spotted at College Nine unloading a small box with a comforter squished inside it while Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" rumbled in the background.

Move-in is a major event at UCSC, where an estimated 4,525 new undergraduate students are expected when classes kick off for the year on September 23. Most of them drove up and moved in during one busy five-day period that ended on September 19, with the help of coordinators and student volunteers.

The coordinators managed to make move-in relatively free of complications by using a permit system in which parents were given designated time periods to unload belongings. That is no mean feat, considering that a large number of those student volunteers were directing traffic, giving pedestrians directions, and dancing simultaneously.

By 11 a.m. on Friday, students had washed 163 cars that had arrived to unload at College Ten. In many cases, those cars badly needed that wash. Some families traveled a long way to get there. In the East Remote parking lot, cars had plates that said Utah, Wisconsin, Washington, Nebraska, and Nevada. One red Ford Explorer was so stuffed to the gills that someone had lashed an igloo-shaped, bamboo-framed lounge chair to the roof with a bungee cord.

Chancellor George Blumenthal blended in with his Slug ballcap when he went up to greet people and unload students' belongings in the College Nine and Ten complex.

On his way up to campus, a student volunteer, who did not recognize him, stopped the vehicle and asked Blumenthal, "Do you work here?"

Blumenthal replied, "Yes," and was waved ahead.

Returning student volunteers worked hard to keep the atmosphere festive and friendly. Still, it was a moment of truth for many families--especially those with children who were the first to leave town for a four-year university.

Walter Bonilla, 19, was on campus to say goodbye to his little brother, Edwin, an incoming Stevenson first-year. The family drove up from Bakersfield in a van. Edwin and his siblings are first-generation Americans; their parents are from El Salvador.

"We want to let him know he's got a lot of support," Walter Bonilla said. "It's a big step for him. And I do feel protective of him."

"It's the biggest thing I've done," said Edwin Bonilla, who is considering a health sciences/biological sciences major. "I want to be an inspiration for my (9-year-old) sister. I want her to know that she can leave and be successful and not have to stay home. I feel like I'm paving the way."

Elaine Saffan of La Verne, near Pasadena, was waiting in the same line. She was there to help out her daughter, Gina Saffan, an 18-year-old Stevenson first-year.

"She's my one and only," Elaine Saffan said, "but I know she's going to do great."  She planned to help Gina unload their packed SUV. It was a busy day. They would have to move quickly.

"At 3 p.m. there will be an ice cream social," said Elaine Saffan. "And then, the parents are told to leave. At that point, it's goodbye."