Student Leaders Reflect on USD First-Year Student Virtual Retreat

Student Leaders Reflect on USD First-Year Student Virtual Retreat

University Ministry’s traditional First-Year Student Retreat took place Sept. 25-27. Typically, a weekend getaway from campus, this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mostly remote learning in place, the retreat took place exclusively online. To reflect on this unique experience, USD News Center asked retreat co-coordinators Meredith Wiggins ’21 (History major/Ethnic Studies minor) and Jessenia Maciel '21 (Marine Ecology major/Biology and Chemistry minors) to provide their perspective, respectively.

Meredith Wiggins

When I was asked to be a student coordinator last year, I was ecstatic. I was looking forward to planning this retreat, getting to know the leadership team, giving my talk up in the mountains of Julian and, most importantly, getting to know the first years. But, in the back of my mind, part of me thought that an in-person retreat might not happen, but I was still hoping for the best.

When I found out the fall semester was going completely online I thought to myself, “Why do I have to coordinate a retreat this year?” For about a day I sulked around my house complaining about how an online retreat was not going be as good as one that was in person. I was looking at it from a selfish point of view. I was only thinking about what I wanted the retreat to look like as a graduating senior. I was not even thinking about the first years and how they might feel.

I had to have a conversation and remind myself that it was not about me. If I had a negative attitude that was going to spread like wildfire to the leadership team even from a computer screen. I am not going to lie, trying to be positive about this retreat at times was challenging but I grew as a result of some of those challenges. There were so many things I had no control over. I had to roll with the punches.

Every Monday morning leading up to the retreat, our two staff coordinators, my co-coordinator and me would meet to plan the leadership meetings. When we first started meeting I was not very enthusiastic because I do not enjoy mornings, but as those two months went along I began to look forward to starting my week with three wonderful people. On Tuesdays, during dead hours our entire student leadership team met. You could feel everyone’s excitement to be on a Zoom call that was not for class. Although we were virtual we were able to form such a strong connection.

I also got to connect with some of the freshmen and get to know them throughout the retreat weekend. They are all amazing and they were present and vulnerable for the entire weekend. I hope I’m able to meet some of them in person before I graduate.

— M.W.

Jessenia Maciel

Coordinating the First-Year Retreat was a dream of mine since I was a first-year retreat attendee, so I was thrilled for the opportunity as a co-coordinator. When we started the planning process in February, we never anticipated we’d be coordinating a virtual retreat during a pandemic. Although it took some extra thinking, like envisioning what a virtual retreat would even look like, as a leadership team we were all very excited to hold this retreat and give the first-year students a sense of community that we’d each found at USD in University Ministry.

Being a student leader for this retreat had its difficulties like trying to ensure we could create a welcoming environment over Zoom, make it a meaningful experience by finding ways to incorporate what we thought were essential items of the retreat, all while trying to keep up the energy for the participants and fellow leaders through a Zoom screen.

I think the challenge for us as leaders actually strengthened our bond as we came together brainstorming ways to bring the retreat to life. Despite our fears that the retreat wouldn’t be as impactful because of the virtual challenge, I think it was a huge success and is definitely one of my highlights for this year.

Witnessing the first years, so willing to open up and share about themselves with each other and the leaders filled my heart with joy. I believe a big reason for this was because of the welcoming atmosphere that our “dream team” of leaders created for them. I felt such an enormous sense of love and community over the weekend. As their vulnerability was displayed, the love and affirmations that came with it were greater and the authentic relationships developed was something I think we can all cherish forever.

The weekend reminded me that being in community with one another is an amazing gift and that the people who make up a community is what makes it special and worth logging back into the Zoom call. My heart is so full of love and gratitude for this retreat and everyone who was a part of it. It reminded me that even through in times of tribulation and uncertainty, there is always a community of people that love and support you and a God who loves us. I know I can always call First-Year Retreat my home.

— J.M.

First-Year Student Retreat senior leaders Jessenia Maciel and Meredith Wiggins participate in a show-and-tell activity with first-year USD students.First-Year Student Retreat senior leaders Jessenia Maciel and Meredith Wiggins participate in a show-and-tell activity with first-year USD students.

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