At the Spotswood residence hall, freshman Alpha Mansaray is hoisting boxes and crates filled with his personal belongings. Packed inside are his school supplies, bed sheets and clothes, including a Muslim prayer outfit from his home country of Sierra Leone.
At the age of 6, militia fighters unexpectedly attacked the village where Mansaray and his family lived, sending them into exile until they were able to return to Sierra Leone then finally escape to America. Now, Mansaray finds himself about to make another new start.
“I feel great being here at William & Mary, and I’m excited,” he said as he hauled his remaining items into his dorm room.
The young student who endured so much during his early life was one of some 1,500 freshmen in the Class of 2016, transfer students and their families who were welcomed to campus Friday as part of freshmen move-in day.
President Taylor Reveley made his normal rounds around campus to welcome students and parents. While speaking with the newest members of the Tribe, he was asked his opinion of what makes freshmen move-in day so special.
“The whole point of a school is students,” he replied, smiling. “And they’ve arrived.”
Reveley did not meet Mansaray on Friday, but he would undoubtedly find his story riveting.
Once the civil war started, Mansaray spent a year fleeing from village to village with his uncle to escape the civil war that had erupted in his country, how he continued to move from country to country in West Africa while his mother worked to bring her family to America, how the family finally made it to American soil. Mansaray ‘s family settled in Richmond, where they started a non-profit organization that focuses on helping women and children in Sierra Leone.
Mansaray’s roommate Matthew Nelli also is from Richmond, and the two spent some time together this summer focusing on the future and preparing for move-in day.
“It was nice to meet him and coordinate items we wanted to bring so we didn’t have duplicates,” said Nelli, adding, “especially since we’re sharing a small space.
“I brought the mini-fridge and he brought the window (air-conditioning) unit. It worked out well for us.”
Orientation Aides – also known as OAs – sporting bright green T-shirts eagerly helped students move boxes and the freshman “must haves” into their dorm rooms. Items topping this year’s list included shower shoes, laptops and mini-fridges.
As the OAs at Botetourt Complex sang chants such as
“Botetourt is hot” and “I’ve got Tribe Pride, how ‘bout you?” parent T.J.
Marshall from Appalachia, Va., took a break from helping his son, Nate, move
into his dorm room.
The duo drove seven hours to get to William & Mary, and T.J. said he had simple parting words for his son.
“I’m just going to tell him I love him and good luck, and if he needs me, he has my number,” he said.
Volunteer Logan Alitzer, who’s also Botetourt’s head resident assistant, said he was on campus at 7 a.m. to prepare for the flood of students and parents expected to check in when the dorms opened at 8.
“We’re all working really hard to help with check-in and make sure the process is smooth and that our new students and their parents have a great day,” he said. The Botetourt Complex alone houses some 500 freshmen, and the goal was to have them moved in by noon, said Alitzer.
Mission accomplished. By 11 a.m., the buzz of move-in activities started to come to a close.
Parent Kyle Williams, 52, of Woodbridge, Va., said the unloading process was “perfect.”
“We pulled up and everyone was so friendly and in such good spirits; it was awesome,” said Williams, whose daughter Karyne was moving in. “We brought two smaller cars, and they had us unloaded in five minutes.”
Volunteers wearing shirts with the slogan “Sweating for You!!!” helped as freshman Jessica Mindrum from Oak Park, Ill., walked into her dorm carrying a box while her mother trailed behind her.
“To be honest, I have spent most of the summer being apprehensive and nervous about this day,” admitted Mindrum. “But I’m getting exited now.
“It never felt like real before. I got an early decision, so I’ve been waiting a while. It was a lot of kind of building it up in my mind and never feeling that it would actually come. It’s August 24th and I’ve been preparing for August 24th since December 1st, so it’s kind of surreal.”
Jim Ducibella contributed to this story.