Three years ago, I came to Gettysburg College from Southern California a few days before Move-In Day for a pre-Orientation Ascent trip. Like many of the first-year students now, I was full of nerves but ready to get started.
But going to a college so far from home, I had a lot of people asking me one question: why?
My reasons were pretty typical. I wanted to see something different. Gettysburg has a great alumni network. The campus is beautiful, and it is close to DC—which seemed pretty beneficial as I intended to declare a major in political science.
It seemed like enough to convince others, but I soon realized I was struggling to convince myself. My pre-existing insecurities about going to college got worse with every conversation. I could remember that there was something special about this place, but being 2,000 miles away I couldn’t put my finger on it.
When I heard about Ascent, I knew that was exactly the kind of experience I needed to start my college career. Preparing for the trip was a highlight of my summer, as I bought hiking boots and trained every day by going on morning hikes. But still, as Move-In Day got closer, I continued to question my decision to leave home.
So flash-forward to Ascent Luncheon 2015. I attended by myself and sat at a table surrounded by new faces. Although I was intimidated at first, I opened myself up throughout the day and was comfortable with the other participants before we even set out on the trail.
Kayaks lined up on a lake shore for a GRAB trip. Photo credit: Liz Rose ’19.
Your first semester in college could set the tone for your next four years. Ascent and Orientation is the time to create a new identity, to make new friends, and to find new interests and hobbies. But as you make these connections and build your own experience, I challenge you to try to find your best answer to the question, “Why Gettysburg?” So many of us enter College thinking we already know the answer, but in my experience, my answer has changed many times.
But I can tell you, finding my answer to “Why Gettysburg?” is the reason I became actively involved on campus, and the reason I am so passionate about this school.
Everyone’s answer to that question is different, and at times, it can still be difficult to articulate. What is easier to explain—and perhaps a more common answer shared across all students—is how I found my answer.
I took opportunities when they presented themselves: I signed up for Ascent, became a student leader on the GRAB staff, enrolled in different classes and changed my major, played rugby, attended campus events, joined a Greek organization, and actually visited my professors’ office hours. I fully believe that the connections I made my first year are the reasons why I am excited to come back to campus each fall.
Going to college is tough, but it’s supposed to be. This institution is designed to make you think differently, to push your limits, and to test your dedication. And the rewards are high. Whether it's passing Calculus 3 with a B-, presenting your research at the annual symposium or backpacking across a mountain range, your individual victories will shape not only your experience, but also your perception of Gettysburg.
Sun setting behind a mountain on a GRAB hike. Photo credit: Liz Rose ’19.
You will be provided with the resources to learn and opportunities to grow, but it will not be forced upon you. Gettysburg College is what you make of it.
Not everyone is here for the same reasons, but all of you already share a common link—you saw something in this campus, this community, and this education that inspired you. And in a few days, you will all be arriving on campus ready to start your Orientation week. This is one of your first opportunities to rebrand yourself and ask yourself important questions. Whether you find your answers now or later, I challenge you to keep asking questions, to continue to take risks, and to share your experience with others on campus.
And if you find yourself asking “Why Gettysburg,” I hope that you seek many answers and never quit looking until you are satisfied.
Elizabeth Rose ’19 is a mathematical economics major. She is a student leader with the Gettysburg Recreation Adventure Board, and spent last summer coordinating their pre-Orientation Ascent trips. She is a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma and a radio DJ for WZBT, the student-run radio station.