KEENE — Move-in day at Keene State College on Wednesday was a mix of emotions for parents of freshmen, running the gamut from happiness to sadness.
The freshmen, though, were just excited.
In the parking lot outside Fiske Hall, a freshman dorm, cars continually pulled up and people unloaded boxes, televisions, suitcases, refrigerators, pillows and stuffed animals.
Matthew O'Rourke, 18, of Hooksett and Tim English, 17, of Manchester managed to carry a refrigerator into their dorm room, where their parents and O'Rourke's sister were helping them move in. The freshman roommates were friends at Manchester West High School and planned to spend the rest of the day in orientation activities.
“We're excited for them,” mom Denise O'Rourke said.
“It's bittersweet,” mom Adena English said. “Actually it's not too bad right now, because everybody is just so happy and it's a nice college. It's good, it's a nice beginning.” Though, “There'll be tears in my Dunkin' Donuts cup on my way home.”
Michael Kane of New York State, who was dropping off his daughter Jackie, said it was a great day, but it would end on a sad note.
“She's my last child and my only daughter so it's going to be emotional,” he said.
Jackie Kane, 17, said the day is exciting for her and not sad.
An orientation for parents and students was held in the Young Student Center. Both groups got basic advice.
“Get connected” and “don't miss classes,” said College Provost Melinda Treadwell in advising the students on how to start college and finish within four years.
Throughout the campus, highly visible because of their red shirts, the orientation staff was on hand to help families unload cars, answer questions and lead the afternoon and evening orientation activities and meetings.
A group of the orientation staff in Fiske Quad, made up of juniors and seniors, also had advice for the incoming freshmen.
“Get involved. Try hard. College is what you make it,” they said.
And in this shifting and uncertain economy, college may not be for you, some of the students said.
“Don't feel like you necessarily have to go to college,” 21-year-old senior Renee Giles said. “And if you do, don't think you have to go to the well-known, big-name colleges.”
Giles and others said a public liberal arts college like Keene State is the best choice for undergraduates. The credits are transferable to other colleges and students are able to create their own majors, if they choose.
“Public schools are just the way to go these days,” Giles said.
Twenty-year-old senior Garrett Beltis, of Putnam, Conn., did just that, creating an individualized visual media major for himself.
He said he designed the major to be flexible so that he could land a job in the certain world of graphic design careers or in the less-certain film industry.
“I wanted something that I would have security,” Beltis said. “Thousands and thousands major in film and don't do anything with it.”
He is currently working as a freelance film editor for Ken Burns' Florentine Films in Walpole, he said.
The thought of his student loans terrify him, he said, but it also drives him to work hard and pursue a high paying career when he leaves school.
“I know that I am going to have to pay an absurd amount of debt after I graduate. I'm going to be in debt up to my eyeballs that just fuels my ambition,” Beltis said.
Though happy to be back at school, returning students echoed Beltis' concerns.
“I'm scared. I'm not going to lie. Thinking about what I'm going to school for and the possible jobs I'm going to have after. I'm kind of scared when I get that bill when I graduate, hoping I'll have a job and a house and all those things,” said 20-year-old junior and psychology and communications major Yana Riendeau.
Giles said she also fears her debt.
“I try to think of it as an investment. Of course I'm so scared. I just try to think of all the thousands of people that graduate every year … and how it will be OK,” Giles said.
She knows she can move back home and that she will have to live practically, Giles said, but adds her father dropped out of college to start a successful plumbing business and plans to steer her children towards trade school.
“I'm going to encourage my kids to go into the trades,” Giles said. “We are just told we have to go to college, no matter what.”
In her years at Keene State, Giles said she has met plenty of people who, if they had lived in a previous generation, would have blossomed in a vocational or trade school.
“I don't think everybody belongs in a classroom,” Giles said. “Other than high school, I think everybody needs another form of education, but I don't think it's a diploma, necessarily.”
No one is going to ask you what your GPA is in a job interview, she said. Like high school, it's the activities you participate in that will help you later in life, the students said.
The students said the student loan system should be reformed so that college is more affordable.
Bridget Love, a 21-year-old senior, said making college more affordable, like it is in the Europe, is vital for the United States.
“This is not working. A lot of people that want to go to college can't or take a lot of time off,” she said. “I think that they should really figure something else out.”
Love said she would like to purse a master's degree, but will take a few years away from school to work and pay down her student loans.
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Meghan Pierce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.