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Incoming Freshmen Bring Campus to Life

August 17th, 2010

By David Halbrook and Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

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New student Sarah Davis (left) with parents Connie and Dave

As is usual in the latter days of August, the PHC campus springs back to life from its summer repose; parking lots fill with SUVs and vans bearing license plates from states like Texas, California, Colorado, Washington, North Carolina, Massachusetts (among many others); and sad-eyed parents enter the final, bittersweet stages of letting go. It is orientation week at Patrick Henry College, and incoming freshmen from across the nation make their way through registration lines and photo ID stations, meet new roommates in dorm rooms lined with unopened luggage, and tread lightly through the awkward first steps of a grand adventure.

For many families, orientation week melts into a mix of hugs and tears and joyful anticipation. For most, it is a bold, faith-filled step into the unknown. Such is the case for the Davis family from the Daytona-area of Florida. Dropping daughter Sarah off this week at PHC represents the realization of a dream they almost didn’t dare to pursue.

“I was almost afraid to encourage Sarah to reach for the stars,” said her mother Connie. “But I prayed and felt (the Lord) telling me that what He has already given us (in Jesus), is so much more than I could ever ask. So we just kept moving forward one step at a time.”

From the day this past fall when she visited PHC for a campus tour, Sarah said she knew it was where she belonged.

“The moment my feet stepped down, I just loved the feel of the campus,” she recalled, “and I could sense the people I met were in the same place as I was. I visited the classrooms and heard great, stimulating discussions, and I just felt this was a college where God was being glorified. I’m so happy to be here.”

For her parents Connie and Dave, the latter a Florida construction contractor who has weathered hard seasons in the troubled economy, the dream of sending their daughter off to a school like PHC seemed well beyond reach.

Admissions staff meets and greets parents and incoming freshmen during check-in at PHC's Town Hall

“Quite frankly, I could never have afforded it,” he said, “but we’ve seen God open one door after another through scholarships and HSLDA, and through the incredible support and generosity of our local church. I knew the Lord would have to move a mountain to send Sarah to this college, and He has moved so many. God obviously wanted Sarah to be here, and He is so faithful. We appreciate this day so much more as a result.”

After her summer of getting acquainted with PHC students through time spent with her sister, Dominique, the College’s Resident Director for women, Ly Deming is most excited about being able to eat and socialize with her fellow students this fall in the Dining Commons. A little older than her fellow freshmen at age 22, Ly wants one day to be a mechanic. Meanwhile, she is majoring in Government.

“I already have a good sense of the material world. Now I want to learn about the immaterial,” she grins.

Parent Jennifer Griesemer disclosed that what most impressed their family about PHC was “the students.” Daughter Kayla, an incoming freshman, participated in NCFCA and played tennis back in Tennessee. She applied to one other college, but along the way “all signposts confirmed that PHC was the way to go.” And the community ethos certainly helped.

“When Kayla was visiting, four girls stopped her in the hallway and asked her if she was visiting, and if they could help,” says Griesemer. “At the other colleges we visited, students walked along with heads down, immersed in their own lives.”

Moving into the dorms

New Jersey native Benjamin Svendsen stood watching the other freshmen register. He had arrived several days before for pre-semester soccer training, so he had already completed the check-in process. He came to PHC, he says, because he is “interested in politics, and this seemed like a good school for that.” One day he might like to run for public office, he offers, though not, he laughs, for the office of President.

“I might like to work in a state legislature,” he says. And then he grins and jokes, “Besides, where else than PHC could I get on the soccer team?”

Sitting with her daughters in front of the Barbara Hodel Center, Indianapolis’s LeeAnn Barta, mother of recent PHC graduate James Barta, now preparing to enter Georgetown Law School on scholarship, quietly prepared to bid her next son, David, a reluctant farewell.

“David spent the last year taking distance learning classes from PHC,” she said, “and he very patiently waited for his time to arrive. He is a strong personality and has a heart for Eastern Europe, and through his DL courses he really came to appreciate PHC’s strategic intelligence program, taught from a biblical worldview. David saw what a great education and preparation his brother James got at PHC, and he just decided there was no other school that offered that kind of foundation. It is hard to let go, but I’m blessed he decided to come to Patrick Henry College.”