Good afternoon. My name is Anna Baldasarre, and I am a member of the Class of 2014 and this year’s Orientation Coordinator. I am from Hagerstown, MD and am pursuing a double major in English and Sociology. It is both frightening and exciting for me to be standing before you today; frightening because the past three years have passed by so quickly and I am about to embark on the final year of my college career, but exciting because my position here is the culmination of all the parts of my Gettysburg experience.
When I was a first-year, I set some goals for myself: to figure out my academic path, to study abroad, to serve on the executive board of the Campus Activities Board, or CAB, and to spend a summer in Gettysburg. Today, three years later, I am on track to graduate in May with two majors, I spent the Fall 2012 semester in South Africa, I have been elected to three different leadership positions in CAB, and I spent the past three months here on campus preparing for your arrival.
Much of my college experience has gone according to plan, but a lot has also changed since those days spent in Paul Hall. I grew apart from the first friends I met during Orientation, and I discovered new academic interests. I did not think that Greek life was for me, but in my sophomore year I joined a sorority. I lived abroad for four and a half months and spent the first six weeks terribly homesick, wondering if I had made the right decision in leaving Gettysburg for the semester.
Yet none of these things--planned or unplanned--would have happened without the opportunities offered to me by Gettysburg and the people I have met here.
I clearly remember my own Move-In Day: August 25, 2010. Every time I drive home I remember the exact place where my parents and I got stuck behind a construction crew as we headed to Gettysburg. I had been anxiously awaiting the start of college for months; I had attended a small high school, and I was ready for a bigger and better adventure. Yet when I was sitting in the seats where you are right now, I simply felt overwhelmed: would my roommate and I get along? What would I do after my parents left? How would I make friends?
I took things one day at a time, and it all worked out. My first year roommate is still one of my closest friends. We’ve been through a lot together, from doing craft projects and watching bad TV together in our room to spending our entire junior year apart while on opposite semesters abroad, but if I could do it all over I would happily share that little dorm room with her again. I met some of my favorite people because they lived on the floor below mine, because we joined the same sorority, because we were in the same class or club. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself first or join an organization where you don’t know anyone; if you don’t you might miss out on great friendships. I wouldn’t have made it through the last three years--or at least wouldn’t have had near as much fun--without these people I call my best friends; people who started out as strangers but whom I now can’t imagine my life without. They have taught me that people are more than what they first appear and to challenge everything I thought I knew; we have studied, lived, traveled, played, and even fought together.
My first year seminar, “The World’s Children,” was taught by Professor Kathy Cain of the Psychology department. Despite our differences the sixteen young women in the class quickly bonded over a shared enthusiasm for the subject material, and Professor Cain quickly became our “mom away from home.” We even gave her a joint Mother’s Day card in the spring. After I declared my majors in the spring semester, Professor Cain was no longer my academic advisor, but she remains one of my most trusted mentors, and I even had lunch with her a few weeks ago just to chat and catch up.
I met another one of my favorite professors in my first year. I signed up for her “Gender Inequalities” course partly because I was interested in the topic but mostly because the Sociology department suggests that majors take an inequalities course following the intro class, and Gender Inequalities was the only one open when I was registering for classes. At first I was intimidated by Professor Sandra Gill, but then I learned that she teaches yoga and her research is based on her personal experiences growing up in Birmingham, AL in the 1960s, and I began to see her in a more human light; that intimidation quickly grew to respect and admiration. I remember shyly taking my major declaration form to class one day and asking her to be my advisor. I took another class with her just last semester, and she remains one of the most inspiring, enjoyable faculty members that I have encountered. If you get to know your professors both in and out of class you will find that they have a lot to teach you, and it doesn’t all come from books.
When I joined CAB, I was one of only two first-years at the club meeting, but I stuck with it and in my sophomore year I was elected vice president of the Attic. CAB is a student-run organization which plans weekend social programming for the entire campus, and we like to the call the Attic our “on-campus nightclub”--it hosts many different types of events: dance parties, live music, banquets. My position entailed working in the Office of Student Activities & First Year Programs, planning CAB events for the Attic and working with other campus groups and organizations on their events. My involvement in this organization has offered me wonderful friendships, unparalleled leadership opportunities, and meaningful relationships with my supervisors Morgan and Keira, who have guided me through personal and professional growth.
The skills that I learned in that job--self-confidence, flexibility, and working with others--definitely helped me when I went abroad. The day I left for South Africa was one of the hardest of my life, and I cried saying goodbye to my family in the airport. But if I hadn’t gotten on that plane to Johannesburg, I would not have met Joy, an anthropology professor who taught me that differences can sometimes bring people together more than similarities. Joy had a nontraditional teaching style--we rarely followed the syllabus; we practiced laughing and communicated with our classmates using only our eyes; one day we even spent the entire class period trying to pass our energy around in a circle. It sounds a little crazy, and at first I thought she was--every day I grew a little more uncomfortable, never knowing what awaited me when I entered the lecture hall. Finally one day I asked to meet with her during her office hours; she immediately said no and countered with an offer to get coffee off campus. We spent an hour talking about our goals, our strengths and weaknesses, and our personal experiences; after that, her class was one I looked forward to every day. I only regret that it took me so long to take the steps to talk to her.
You may have noticed the t-shirts that the orientation staff is wearing today, which have a Steve Jobs quote on them, stating that, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. Here at Gettysburg, we take our motto, the charge to “do great work,” seriously. I have learned so much by doing the things that I love, both inside and outside the classroom. Our alumni and students have made significant contributions to social justice, the arts, politics, science, and more, both on campus and around the world. You are entering a community which has a strong history of hard work, integrity, and creativity; it is now your turn to uphold the traditions and expectations of our school. Gettysburg offers you the tools to do anything you want, but it is up to you to make the most of those opportunities. Maybe that will be joining a club or pulling your first all-nighter to finish a paper. You might do research with a professor or travel to another country; apply for an internship or score the winning goal. You have four years here to find your own great work, or maybe even to let it find you. Challenge yourself. Get involved. Do something that scares you, something that you never imagined you would be able to do. Doing great work means encouraging yourself to be better and do better.
Starting today, your Gettysburg experience begins, and you can do anything you want with it. Influence your world, inspire the people around you, but most importantly, improve yourself. Welcome to Gettysburg, Class of 2017. Now go out and do great work.
It is now my great pleasure to introduce Alumna Janet Morgan Riggs, the fourteenth president of our college.