By ELIZABETH FINTO
Eagle Gathering is one of the most prominent UMW traditions during which the new incoming class is initiated into the Mary Washington community. The night before classes start, upperclassmen, faculty and staff gather on Ball Circle with lit candles as they wait to hear the sound of bagpipes. Once the bagpipes begin to play, the incoming class begins to walk down Campus Walk.
This year on August 26, the incoming class slowly made their way onto Ball Circle with their own unlit candles as bagpipes continued to play. The upperclassmen, faculty and staff stood in a circle with their candles glowing. President Paino took the time to address the crowd about how the UMW community is so excited to welcome the newest class into the UMW family.
Once given the signal, everyone came together to fill any gaps in the circle. Upperclassmen began to spread their light to the freshmen. Finally, as one community, everyone began to sing the Alma Mater, and once everyone sangs the words “So here’s to Mary Washington; Our love will never die,” everyone raised their lit candles to the sky.
Freshmen Ariel Arison and Lauren Westendorf explained their first Eagle Gathering experience as a not only a unique experience but also a bonding experience. Arison and Westendorf explained that when they first walked onto Ball Circle that August night, they were very excited to finally be Eagles but they were surprised to see so many people there to support them in their new journey through college.
“It is something I will never forget,” said Westendorf.
As the light from the candles began to spread, for Arison and Westendorf, there was something particularly special about sharing and receiving their own light from the new friends they had already made and from upperclassmen who they hadn’t met yet. In that moment, it did not matter who was a freshman or who was a senior.
College is a different experience for everyone, and for senior Hannah Backe, it has been a very memorable few years. She attended her fourth Eagle Gathering this year and she said that this year it felt particularly bittersweet.
Eagle Gathering takes place right in front of where everything started for her freshman year as a resident of Virginia Hall. She remembers back to her first Eagle Gathering and about hearing the bagpipes begin to play and being told the next time she would hear those bagpipes would be on graduation day. She remembers holding her unlit candle and being surrounded by the upperclassmen whose candles were already lit and then having a strong feeling of belonging.
“I knew I was going to be okay these next four years and this was going to be my home,” said Backe.
This year, Backe stood on Ball Circle with her candle and holder that said “University of Mary Washington Eagle Gathering 2018, Class of 2019.” This signified the beginning of the end of her journey at UMW. Not only was this a bittersweet experience, but also she felt a sense of comfort knowing that the incoming freshmen would be able to call UMW their home for the next four years like she did three years ago.