"Welcome to Samford!" rang out repeatedly as entering freshmen rolled onto the university campus Friday, Aug. 23, to begin their inaugural semester and bask in a little record-setting limelight.
The 757-member Class of 2017 is the largest freshman class in Samford history, say school officials.
In the space of a few hours, almost all had moved into residence hall rooms. Some were meeting roommates for the first time. Others had already met and had coordinated, down to towel style, their room décor. For many, attending Samford is a tradition begun by parents or grandparents.
Meriwether Burrell, daughter of 1989 Cumberland law graduate Mike Burrell and 1988 graduate Laura Powell Burrell, moved into Vail Hall, where her mother had once lived. "I'm excited, and looking forward to my first year at Samford," said Meriwether, from Anderson, S.C.
Roommates Dabney Chitwood of Brentwood, Tenn., and Kristen Sturdivant of Cross Plains, Tenn., were also setting up room-keeping. While mom Carol Chitwood expertly hemmed drapes and accessories on a sewing machine she had set up in a Vail lobby, mom Dianne Sturdivant helped in the room. Dads Bill Chitwood and David Sturdivant installed drapery hardware and assembled a tiered shoe rack.
"It's really exciting and also stressful, trying to fit all our stuff in here," said Kristen. "And trying to decide what to unpack first," chimed in Dabney. They had collaborated on a pleasant color scheme of "pool turquoise" with accents of green and yellow.
Next door in Smith Hall residence for first-year men, where color selections seemed less important, Rob Johnston was unpacking and waiting to meet his roommate for the first time. Rob had traveled a shorter distance than most: he and his parents, Bill and Janet Johnston, live just down Lakeshore Drive from the campus. "I wanted to move onto campus so I could get involved and be with everyone," said Rob, reasoning that, "At home, I would be more isolated."
Rob's paternal grandparents, Jean Baker Johnston and the late Robert "Bob" Johnston both graduated from Samford 50 years ago in 1963. Rob plans to be a minister like his granddad. "I feel God's calling to the ministry, and I know there is a good religion department here," said Rob, a pre-ministerial scholar.
Hunter Grantland of Hartselle, Ala., had help from mom Eva Foote and dad Jeff Grantland as well as younger siblings Hawken and Holland. The journalism major looks forward to his Samford experience. "It will be different from high school. I come from a small town, and Birmingham is much larger," said Hunter, who had been impressed with Samford's strong journalism and mass communication program. The high school runner, who will also run track at Samford, wants a career in which he can "spread news and information to the community."
Outside Smith, First Baptist Church of Birmingham members Adam Loudermilk and Grace Cook offered cold water and homemade cookies to anyone needing a lift. "We just wanted to help the students, those helping them move in, and the staff, too," said Loudermilk. The two had taken the day off work and also wanted to make the students aware of their church, which is the closest one to campus. Inside each cookie bag, tagged "Sweet Fellowship," was a church schedule.
Groups from 13 area churches and about 150 Samford volunteers helped lift, tote, fetch, and assist in many ways. Samford football team members took two-hour shifts helping, although it was reported that they seemed most eager to help at the women's residences.
Freshman Allison Jones and her mom, Janice Jones of Columbus, Ga., were surprised to discover that the helper who pulled a large suitcase and another item up a staircase and down a long hall was Samford president Dr. Andrew Westmoreland. "No," they said in unison when asked if they had immediately recognized the school leader. "It was very helpful of him," said Mrs. Jones.
Allison said she chose Samford because she wants to major in speech pathology, a curriculum that the university will roll out as part of its new College of Health Sciences.
Meanwhile, Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland was helping new student Stancey Smith's family unload the car they had driven from Fort Worth, Texas. "It was fabulous" of Samford's first lady to help, said mom Michele Smith. "She carried the second heaviest thing in the car."
Stancey, who comes from a line of Baylor University graduates, is the first in the family to attend Samford. The nursing major enjoyed move-in support from her "Aunt Barb", Barbara Silva, who traveled from San Diego, Calif.
Holly Adkins and her mom Michelle Adkins arrived at Samford from Twinsburg, Ohio. "I had looked at several large state schools in the north, but the size of Samford is just perfect for me," said Holly, who has known about Samford all her life Her grandparents, Mike and Carolyn Yeager Robinson, who live in Alabaster, Ala., are among the school's most loyal alumni. "I've heard them talk about Samford constantly," said the architecture and design major. On move-in day, Mike Robinson was also a loyal granddad, helping Holly move into her Pittman Hall room.
Staff members from across campus assisted in many ways. Some helped load three 40-yard-long "roll-offs" with many pounds of cardboard from discarded moving boxes. The material will be taken to a recycling center. Bookstore personnel set up a tent where hammers and cleaning supplies were popular items.
At an afternoon gathering of students and families in Wright Center, Samford Connections leaders, residence life, orientation and admission staff members received heartfelt applause for their efforts.
President Westmoreland asked veteran Samford parents Drs. Greg and Nancy Mula of Mandeville, La., to share advice gleaned from experience. This move-in day was their third. A big difference, joked Nancy, was that this time it was a son and not one of their two older daughters. "It was easier. Fewer things," she said.
More seriously, the couple suggested that parents resist constant calls to their students, limit visits if possible until Family Weekend and give them space. "We let them be, and they matured and developed responsibility," said Nancy.
Westmoreland told the freshmen that in some ways they are like a ball point pen, which is much more complex than it appears. And as part of God's creation, they are just as complex.
"My prayer is that you will bring all those complexities to bear and use them to make this broken world a better place," he said.
Freshman activities continue through the weekend, as returning students also arrive. Fall semester classes begin on Monday. A record total enrollment of about 4,900 is expected.