By Sara Jane Kachelman
On Aug. 11, I joined 105 other freshmen as the premiere class of Finding Your Place. We showed up with diverse expectations based on the University website’s ambiguously inspirational course description. I remember reading the nice phrases: “enhance their first-year experience,” “feel at home at Sewanee sooner,” “enlarge their intellectual and existential understanding.” And I remember skimming through the less attractive phrases: “semester-long academic component,” “rigorous program,” “serious academic endeavor.” How threatening could a freshman program be? I signed up immediately. I was more afraid of losing the ten-day advantage over the other kids than I was a few pesky essays.
I don’t think any of us knew exactly what an academic course at Sewanee entailed. Half of the semester’s work was condensed into our first ten days of class, and our days were scheduled meticulously. We were herded from Convocation to class to McClurg. Long were interspersed with class discussions in the field. And “the field” was not always flat and grassy. Kids got attacked by swarms of yellow jackets, followed their professors into thickets of poison ivy, had to push a van in knee-deep mud, got trapped in Abbo’s Alley during the nastiest thunderstorm I’ve seen here so far — and by nightfall we all settled into a long night of highlighting our course packet and writing blogs to prepare for the next day.
We’ve been told that Finding Your Place students know more about Sewanee’s history and its relationship to Grundy County and the rest of the Plateau than most upperclassmen here, and that our knowledge of that community will serve as a context for the rest of our time here. I wonder how many of you have been to the site of the Highlander Folk School, or researched the graves in the University Cemetery. Have you ever read the memoirs of Ely Green? Or toured the cottages at Beersheba Springs? Or crawled into the coalmines at Shakerag Hollow? How often do you leave the University gates and sit down with the people who have been here forever? Maybe hanging in Convocation Hall or plaques in All Saints, but they have formed this place as much as anyone else.
Now school has started, and we are scrambling to apply our new knowledge in the context of being a regular student here. It was a big transition. I didn’t know anything about college schedules at Sewanee or elsewhere. I faintly remembered reading that the FYP group would continue meeting throughout the semester. I didn’t know that FYP would account for one fourth of our classes this year.
But aside from my incorrect expectations, would I do it again?
The foundational benefits were wonderful. We got to know our academic advisors on a personal and academic
level. We were so attached to our FYP groups and to our dorm families that PRE felt like an awkward vacation
with stepparents. And when it was time to convene for orientation, we looked around at the bright-eyed versions
of ourselves from two weeks prior and released a collective sigh. “Freshmen.” Been there, done that. We’d already found our place.