By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blared from the speaker system as academic administrators and student body leaders emerged from the tunnel inside the Health and Sports Center arena.
Chucking T-shirts into the crowd along the way, they fired up the students and family members seated in the bleachers during freshman convocation.
Just like that, all the energy returned to the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
More than 850 incoming freshmen – representing 13 countries, 23 states and 71 Nebraska counties – were officially welcomed to campus during Friday afternoon’s event. Their introduction to Loper life also included performances from the cheer and dance teams and Pride of the Plains Marching Band.
“Today’s just a lot of fun,” said UNK senior Aidan Weidner, an elementary education major from Humphrey. “It scares me that classes are starting soon, but it’s nice to see everybody back and see all the new faces.”
As the student coordinator for Blue and Gold Welcome Week, Weidner served as emcee for convocation. He also helped plan all the other back-to-school events organized by UNK Student Engagement and the Office of Student and Family Transitions.
It’s a lot of work, but the result is well worth the effort.
“I want students to see all the opportunities that are available at UNK,” Weidner said. “I want them to get involved, choose their own adventure and make college what they want it to be.”
There was certainly no shortage of activities and organizations to pick from during Friday evening’s Blue and Gold Showcase, an annual event that connects UNK students with campus and the Kearney community. About 3,500 people attended the celebration, which featured a variety of games and activities, free barbecue and plenty of prizes and giveaways.
A total of 200 exhibitors participated, making it easy for Lopers to learn about local businesses and nonprofits, student organizations, campus resources and academic programs.
UNK freshman Tanner Theis called the event “super crazy.”
“I didn’t really expect there to be this many people. In my hometown, we have some events where there’s not even a fourth the people,” he said while holding two bags of free stuff.
The Superior native will study biology as part of the Health Science Explorers program, which prepares students for health care careers. He’s also a recipient of the full-tuition Board of Regents Scholarship.
His older brother Trenten graduated from UNK in May as a pre-medical student, so Theis already has an idea of what to expect moving forward.
“He said put yourself out there and make the most of it,” said Theis, who’s interested in joining Sigma Phi Epsilon, the same fraternity his brother was a member of.
Theis is a little nervous but also very excited to start classes on Monday.
“Hopefully I got the good professors like my brother told me to,” he said with a smile.
Fellow UNK freshman Payton Muegerl was experiencing the same emotions Friday morning while settling into her room on the fifth floor of the Centennial Towers East residence hall. With help from her parents, younger sister and boyfriend, Muegerl made the move from Elwood to the university she fell in love with as a young girl.
“I went to a different school when I was in elementary and we always toured here and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this just looks so fun. That’s so awesome. I want to go to school here,’” she explained.
Now that she’s a Loper, Muegerl is looking forward to making new friends while studying elementary education. Her mother LeAnn is also excited to see her take the next step in life.
“I like that she picked UNK because it’s still kind of close to home and I feel like it’s a very safe campus and safe community,” she said. “The community of Kearney really caters to the UNK students.”
Muegerl is one of 1,700 students living on campus this semester, and the majority of them moved in this week. On Friday, UNK athletic teams, fraternity and sorority chapters and other student organizations were there to lend a hand.
George Holman, associate vice chancellor for student affairs, even jumped in to assist.
“This is an exciting day for UNK and for our students,” he said. “For many of them, it’s their first day on campus, so there are a lot of mixed emotions – one stage of life is complete and another stage is beginning. Overall, though, there’s been a lot of positivity. I think we’re all happy to have students back on campus, because it’s a little boring when they’re not around.”
PHOTOS BY ERIKA PRITCHARD, UNK COMMUNICATIONS