The invaluable first introduction to the University of Minnesota would be impossible without Welcome Week leaders. The good news is being one means a week filled with community building, leadership strengthening and heaps of Gopher pride.
Do you see yourself as a leader? A year ago, I honestly didn't. How about a Welcome Week leader? A year ago, I definitely didn't. Even so, I relived the whirlwind of Welcome Week as a leader this past summer. When I applied on a whim last spring, I never could have imagined the growth I could experience in one very exhausting, very invigorating week.
I cannot give enough praise to this program, its staff and its volunteers. It's created an environment where everyone is motivated toward change and compassion, which was a gift to be a part of. Receiving a group of 30 remarkable individuals to lead all week, then, was an opportunity to grow this uplifting environment outwards. It was a very special feeling to be a part of the new beginnings of their lives, especially watching them grow confidence and comfort in their new home. Community is an invaluable feeling to hold onto, and Welcome Week taught me how to create it.
As a future educator, I held my time as a WWL as a period of learning. I learned facilitation and how to activate an audience; I learned sensitivity to diverse backgrounds and beliefs; I learned to vulnerably communicate and to conquer a public speaking fear; I learned to love leadership and self improvement; and, most importantly, I learned how to hold a space for everyone.
I’m not going to dismiss the fact that this role is difficult — but it’s difficult in a wonderful way. Growth develops fastest when we’re uncomfortable, and this experience absolutely tested my confidence, responsibility and endurance. Being in leadership mode from sunrise to sunset took a toll on every WWL. Trusting yourself as someone's welcome to their university is stressful and depending on your intuition through uncertainty is integral — but all of this stress was made worth it by an overwhelming sense of community support. Orientation leaders, program coordinators and other WWLs are always willing to help, so I never felt isolated while struggling. Indeed, if your birthday happens over Welcome Week as mine was, prepare yourself for nearly a hundred birthday wishes, hugs and a very happy heart.
As I wrap up my ever-growing list of reasons I loved being a Welcome Week leader, I’ll leave you with one final thought: I feel grateful to sit here today and gush about something that exists in my heart with pure joy. I feel immense gratitude to spread the word of such a transformative program (for everyone involved) and to tell you a success story. Life becomes the depth that we invest into it, as does Welcome Week, so I hope you'll apply in this new decade and give yourself the gift of growth, and new gophers the gift of your encouragement. You’ll be very proud in a year’s time.
Written by Stefanie Amundsen.
This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.