Last week was full of nervous anticipation. It was the final week of summer break and I knew that the campus would soon be buzzing with the energy of 40,000 students, with 8,000 of them living on campus. I had visited Cougar Village II on Friday and it still looked like a hard hat area. Carpets were being installed, doors and windows were being fixed and large areas were plastered with construction paper.
“Are you sure this place will be ready for move-in?” I asked my vice president. “We cannot afford to NOT open it on time.”
“Don’t worry,” I was told. ”We are on schedule.” I knew that might be an overly optimistic promise.
Last Thursday was the move-in day, and I decided to check out Cougar Village II. As I approached the area, I could hear loud music with a DJ playing the latest hits. Soon, a gray station wagon pulled in and 3-4 volunteers wearing red shirts descended on it. The driver (mom) popped open the trunk and before any of the passengers could get out of the car, the contents from the trunk had been transferred to a waiting trolley. The president of the Faculty Senate greeted the family, shook hands with the student and began to push the trolley toward the front door. Still in shock, the family walked behind the trolley, only to be greeted by another group of volunteers giving them high-fives and “Welcome Home!” cheers. Beaming with joy, the family walked in to the lobby where they were quickly led to the elevators.
No wait, no papers, no signing. It was truly like coming home!
I noticed that in 10 minutes, the family was down again, this time with water bottles and maps in their hands. I walked over to them to introduce myself and to asked them if everything was okay.
“Okay? Oh my gosh! We have never seen anything like this before,” said the dad, shaking his head in disbelief. “We moved our other son to ______ and it was not half as nice. You guys are the tops.”
“I am so jealous of Georgie. I want to come back to school,” said the sister who had graduated 6 years ago from UH.
I turned to the student and asked, “Are you happy? Do you like your suite?”
“I love it. I really do.”
“I am happy for you, I said, ”But do you know what will make me even happier? It is the honor of shaking your hand when you walk across the stage with your degree.” I told his parents, “Thank you for trusting us. We will take good care of him.” They thanked me in return.
This same scene and the same conversation got repeated over and over again during the next two hours that I spent at Cougar Village II.
I was amazed that the building was finished, but I was more amazed that overnight, these staff and student volunteers had made it homey. No amount of training could have ever taught them the passion needed to do that. It was their love for the school and dedication to new students that was on display. Thank you student volunteers, particularly Roxie, Patrick, Rima, Jonathan, Geordie, and Tanzeem. (Yes, I read your name tags!). You all are an awesome team!
I left the campus that day reassured that the campus culture is definitely undergoing an important change, and this transformation had already taken deep roots.