After months of planning, the day had finally arrived; nearly a hundred new Gates scholars were coming to Cambridge, and we had five days worth of activities planned to welcome them into the Gates community. It promised to be five days of early starts, late nights, overwhelming socialisation and lots of hard work. I had been appointed co-director of the Orientation committee, alongside Emma and Harum, the latter not present this weekend as she was away in Boston. We had a wonderful committee to help us out, consisting of Callie, Jake, Max, Brandon, Matt, Pedro, Paulo and Miriam, and all of the Gates Council at our disposal too.
For me, the day began early, meeting at the University Centre before half past eight in the morning. We had rented use of the Cormack Room, on the same floor as the GSCR, for the activities for the day. When I arrived, staff at the University Centre were setting up the tables and chairs, and so I directed them where to go. We had a welcome table set up in the foyer where people would meet the new scholars and distribute their name tags and tote bags. Up on the second floor, we had the entire space of the Cormack room to play with, with seats along the side of the room, and a large empty space in the middle. Most of the committee and the council were there early, and so I spent most of the morning coordinating the set-up. The new scholars started arriving from about ten o’clock, and so were welcomed in and supplied with tea, coffee and other refreshments.
After a few last-minute edits to the powerpoint presentation, we got the formalities started at half past ten. Emma and I welcomed all of the new scholars to Cambridge, and ran through the planned schedule for the next five days. Then we introduced Jim, the programme director at the Trust. Normally, Barry the Provost would speak, but he was away at a conference. Jim introduced the other members of staff at the Trust, who each spoke briefly about what the Trust did.
We then passed over to Pedro and Paulo, who coordinated an hour of ice-breaking activities among the new scholars. They had a few problems being heard over all of the chatter in the smallish room, but we had about an hour of games, which included a bit of speed friending, a game of throw a nametag into the middle and try and find its owner, a game of wander around a room until the music stops and arrange yourselves into groups of a given size, and so on. The result was that people really started to relax and be a little more comfortable talking to strangers. In the meantime, Danny had kindly agreed to take the partners and families upstairs to the Grad Cafe for a small, reception.
At midday, we all marched over to Pembroke College for lunch. I pulled up the stragglers. We were each given vouchers for food, and so I found a place, sat and ate quickly, before sending those who needed to run the next session back early to set up. When we returned, the room had been reconfigured to contain large tables where we could have our Life Admin sessions.
We had a number of Life Admin sessions going. Jake had arranged a bank account opening session with Barclay’s, Matt was running a UK transport session, Alex was running introductions to the NHS, Luisa and Celine from the Trust were handing out maintenance cheques, Krittika and others were helping to set up IT accounts, and the rest were milling about answering general purpose questions. I was talking about buying a bike in Cambridge, and so I had about an a hour and a half of people coming up, asking questions about road rules, helmet laws, where to buy a good bike, how much to pay and so on. This all lasted until about half past two, when we broke for afternoon tea.
After a little technical difficulty with the screen, we all sat around the front of the room for our returning scholars talks. Callie had invited in four speakers; Jerelle, Alex, Asiya and Rachel, each of which shared stories about their personal time in Gates. Jerelle in particular was showing a brave face, her home country of Dominica having recently been devastated by a large hurricane. Afterwards, there was time for a short Q&A, and then we invited all of Council up to the front to explain briefly what each of the roles did, and to get the new scholars slightly more familiar with people’s faces.
In the meantime, Pedro had assembled college contacts, and brought them into the back of the room. In as organised manner as I could, I dispatched the new scholars off with their respective college based contacts, and they all went off to explore the city. The groups were about 5 to 7 large, a few of the less well represented colleges bundled together to make life easier. I met with Sophie, the other Darwin contact, and a number of new Darwin students: Ben, Colleen, Adriano, Atticus, Anna, Rachel, Aïcha and Antranik and his wife. Together, we walked down to the college, just across the river, and headed to the punts.
I had booked out two punts for our large group, and so we collected the poles, paddles and keys and unlocked each of them. Most of our group had never been punting before, so I happily led the way. We punted downstream, past all of the old colleges. In my punt, we rotated through each of the new scholars for a turn punting, some with more success than others. We made it all of the way to Jesus Green, explaining each of colleges on the way. The Clare college tour had also made it out on to the punts, and we saw the Churchill and King’s tours on the riverbank (the latter gave us juice and crisps).
We made it back to Darwin with no casualties, and up into the dining hall just before it closed. We were a large group and so all sat together, still mingling and chatting about what it was like at Darwin. I had to rush off slightly early to go check up on the Gates room. Someone, I wasn’t sure exactly who, had done a pretty good job of restoring it to normal, and I was sincerely thankful to them. I loaded a crate of things needed for Orientation onto my bike, and rode it home, as we wouldn’t have access to the room the next morning.
After five minutes at home, I headed out again, this time to the Cambridge Union, where we were scheduled to host our Old meets New Pub Night. When I got there, I found Emma in a rather worked up state. Apparently, the Union had mixed up our booking and had double booked, and was threatening to not allow us to have our pub night. With a stroke of luck, it turned out that Jim, the programme director for the Trust, had booked a room and was playing with his band that night, and had very kindly agreed to let a hundred new and returning Gates scholars crash his party. From an external perspective, this looked smooth and natural, but it had caused Emma a lot of grief in the few minutes before the event was due to start.
The remainder of the night proceeded smoothly, I took a slight breather and socialised a little bit with the new scholars. There were quite a few who stayed around until near midnight, and I endeavoured to be one of the last ones to leave, just to make sure everyone would get home safe and sound. That wasn’t as bad as it seemed, as many of the new scholars were quite jet lagged, and it eventually reached a point where there were only returning scholars. I gave myself permission to go home, and get some rest, for what promised to be a busy and stressful few days ahead.