By 9:30 a.m. on the Wednesday of Welcome Week, Alex Abston has been sitting through talent show auditions for an hour and a half, watching everything from musical performances to wacky tricks. Judging from her bubbly attitude and gracious “Thank you” to each auditioning freshman, one might never guess Abston is running on less-than-average sleep.
Abston, student director for Welcome Week and Passport, is one of the four student directors that have been meticulously preparing since January for the beloved tradition that is Welcome Week.
She cheerily describes her duties of the past 24 hours, the candlelight devotional being the crowning moment.
“I got up at 4:50 a.m. yesterday,” she said. “We got doughnuts and kolaches, and with the help of my beautiful 27 Campus Crew members and Steering Committee, we started laying tarp.”
Abston said that by 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, she was laying out 250 bricks to set up for the devotional that night.
“My job is really focused on this week,” she said. “I have a lot of prep work, but mostly it’s just executing the activities.”
The junior pre-law and communications major from the Woodlands posted an impressive list of responsibilities for the week, including Mentor Group Olympics, corralling Campus Crew volunteers, Sunrise Devotional and setting up a giant game of Twister in Moody.
Abston said the traditions of Welcome Week are what make all the hard work pay off.
“I have such fond memories of Welcome Week,” Abston said. “Just getting to relive the moments, it brings back such a joyful season for me.”
With an hour left until lunch at noon, Abston rushes from talent show auditions to meet up with the other student directors at the freshman worship event, Moody Morning.
At a table set up right inside the doors of Moody Coliseum, Lauren Pratt, senior psychology major from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, happily hands out daily newsletters at Welcome Week Central to group leaders while directing lost freshmen to their respective places.
Pratt’s major responsibility as a student director was overseeing Mentor Groups. In the spring, she began interviews for mentor and peer leaders with the goal of making each group diverse.
“That means there is someone from each of the classes in each group, we make sure we have guys and girls, I tried to mix up social clubs,” Pratt said. “It was a long process getting them in groups and trying to make them different.”
Pratt, along with the rest of the student directors, spent the summer preparing for the fated insanity of Welcome Week. The moment it was time for freshmen to arrive, she was ready to implement the ideas they worked on for so long.
“We’ve gotten all the paperwork done, we’ve gotten all the work done,” Pratt said. “We just have to execute the work that we’ve been planning for the whole time.”
One of those ideas Pratt spent countless hours planning out was the Service Project. Staying true to Welcome Week’s past, this years’ service project was a canned food drive in which all students went door to door collecting cans, giving them a unified class experience.
“They’re all going to have their own different and unique experiences,” Pratt said. “But this is a way to put them in a similar situation.”
Pratt, along with her three fellow directors, also created the “Awake” theme of Welcome Week.
“We got together with a panel of faculty and staff at ACU,” Pratt said. “We talked about it and prayed about it and picked out a theme that really resonated with all of us.”
Pratt pointed out that the irony of the “Awake” theme is that she and the other student directors were on the go so much that sleeping during Welcome Week wasn’t an option.
“We have a running group text that goes on from about 6 o’clock in the morning until 2 o’clock in the morning,” she said.
However, for Pratt, the sleepless nights and hectic days are worth it when she remembers her own Welcome Week experience.
“Coming to ACU changed my life and Welcome Week was the start of that,” Pratt said.
Nearby, Caroline Gafford, also a student director, chirpily leads three international students into Moody before worship begins.
Gafford, senior biochemistry major from Dallas, was the international director for Welcome Week, as well as a self-proclaimed Welcome Week fanatic.
“I’m seriously obsessed with Welcome Week,” Gafford said. “I just love interacting one-on-one with the freshmen.”
Gafford said her main job was picking up international students from the airport in the van she named “Big Bertha” and helping them settle in to their dorms. Much of her time was spent helping students shop for college necessities at Walmart, locate their dorms and grow close to their ESL groups.
Gafford said she had quite a few students to keep up with, and along with that, quite a few lists to help keep up with those students.
“I have a list that tells me their flight schedule, I have a list that tells me which ones are in ESL, I have a list of international students and where they are from, and then I have a list of pickup times,” Gafford said.
Along with caring for the international students, Gafford also planned a service project that would fit her students.
“The service project for the others students is going door to door collecting cans,” Gafford said. “There’s an English barrier and that would be uncomfortable for the international students.”
Instead, Gafford and her students visited Christian Village, an assisted living home, and played games with the residents.
Even through her numerous airport trips and Walmart runs, Gafford was still able to smile because she said she knows the importance of freshman year.
“I really cherished my time at ACU because I’m much different than I was freshman year,” Gafford said. “It’s just a time to wake up and realize you’re an adult now.”
As Moody fills with the chatter of anxious freshmen, Eric Schinske grabs the microphone to greet the crowd of freshmen and prepare them for morning worship.
Schinske, social work graduate student from Argyle, was the student director in charge of transfers and worship. He said much of his job was giving the transfer students activities they could enjoy that were different from those of the freshmen.
“There’s some events that transfer students wouldn’t really care for because they’ve already gone through an orientation process,” Schinske said.
For example, during the Mentor Olympics, Schinske took his transfer students to Nikki’s Frozen Yogurt.
Schinske’s other main job was preparing for the worship events at Welcome Week. He organized all the worship leaders, their songs and their slideshows.
A big struggle in his job was finding the time to complete everything, without being three places at once.
“When you have 15 minutes to put all the center pieces out in Teague and you also have to set up all of Moody, and you have to read your script and you realize you have to speak at Moody, it can get pretty stressful,” he said.
Even though Schinske seemed to be stretched thin during the week, he said the relationships he formed with the other student directors was worth the stress.
“We have such different personalities but get along so well and work well together,” Schinske said. “It’s such a blessing.”
And seeing the difference the four of them could make was just a plus, he said.
“Seeing how well it works, seeing these relationships form and seeing these people so happy to be introduced to this amazing community, I think that’s what I love about it,” Schinske said.
As the praise team sang out, signifying the start of Moody Morning, the four exhausted directors, who spent their mornings running in four different directions to run one of the biggest weeks of the year, finally joined together in the midst of their creation and the relationships they helped spark, reminded of their one purpose: to welcome new freshmen to the next four years of their lives.