In the midst of an eventful start to their second semester in San Francisco, Minerva’s Class of 2020 opened the doors of their residence hall to prospective students for the Class of 2021. The First Ascent Weekend of 2017 took place from Friday, January 27 to Sunday, January 29 2017; admitted students’ first real introduction to Minerva. The weekend was a busy, sometimes stressful, but most of all a fun way to connect with the Ascentees (prospective students) from all over the world and engage with the city in new ways.
You can put three assignments around one weekend, that’s fine. We’ve been there. If you want to stretch it, you can also put Foundation Year’s most important City Immersion conference on that Friday, where we are supposed to find partners and challenges for our final projects of the semester. Challenging, yes, but we can do it.
Then there’s overkill: you invite 49 amazing, incredible, inspiring young students who might become Minerva freshman in September to visit us that weekend; ask us to introduce them to our passions, our community and our city. I realise Minerva chose us for being “#extraordinary” but this might just be too much.
Preparation: The week before
I’m not too excited when I realise on Monday, January 23, that the week will be the most active and draining of our experience at Minerva thus far. On top of that, I’m just starting to settle into my second semester. It’s still a period of redefining connections with peers and the city around me, and shaping the experience I want to have in the four months left in the fabulous Bay Area. Even after the practice of the fall semester, I haven’t figured out all my priorities. Now, you want me to show the city to another German after I’ve just left Germany and started to find my place away from home again? Challenge accepted (begrudgingly).
Preparation is key. Luckily, as hosts of Ascentees we get an extension for some of our assignments. I have no idea how I would have showed him anything otherwise. Civitas, the conference to meet Civic Partners from San Francisco, is less of a challenge. After all, talking to community leaders about how to improve the city is what all the location-based assignments, co-curriculars, and city exploration have been about since the start of the year at Minerva. The actual Ascent preparation is easy: blowing up a mattress and clearing out the room a bit. All set. Let’s go.
Day 1: Thursday, January 26
The morning before the Ascentees are set to arrive I get a text: “My flight is late”.So the first night becomes a waiting game as many others are already actively showing their Ascentees around. It’s not like there isn’t work to distract myself, but still, I am relieved when the amazing welcome crew at the slightly hidden entrance of the residence hall calls me down. I pass the now traditional (second year in a row, that counts!) cork world map on the wall where the yellow pins of 2021 prospects already fill up the incredible distribution of white 2020 student pins (what a community)! My Ascentee–despite jetlag and hunger–marvels at the board with me.
We follow up tired, awkward first words with a bit of much-needed microwave college food, whereby I smoothly dodge questions about kitchen arrangements, a constant source of contention at 1412. As we wander around the residence passing other excited Ascentees and exhausted 2020 students in the grips of last-ditch efforts to submit assignments, the true Minerva mix engulfs me as well: there is an incredible story behind each person, and yet the routine makes everyone just another student trying to get through freshman year. To distract from the stress, we make a small exploration up to Corona Heights and a group of around 15 Ascentees get their first view of the beauty of San Francisco. More inspiring stories abound until the night drives us all back to cozy-ish beds and/or less-than-cozy air mattresses.
Day 2: Friday, January 27
Civitas rips me out of the hosting spirit. I replace magnanimity and laissez-faire with seriousness and a careerist vision. The conversations are always fantastic when Minervans pick up a topic and throw their variety of layers from unique experiences and ideas onto it. I’m surprised to hear after that Ascentees were not as enthusiastic about the experience–confused maybe? It’s hard to think outside of our bubble by now; surrounded by idealists and change makers.It’s a moment for us, current Minerva students, to realise that it isn’t normal at all. Neither us nor the Ascentees get much time to reflect on that as the schedule moves on frantically.
Friday night, we compress the wide variety of Minerva community activities into one exciting and packed evening of connecting and sharing. The Brazilians host a ’10:01′ cultural-culinary sensation of their native food delights with some background info. Class of 2020’s most active MiCo: FIIT, leads the already tired newcomers in probably the most exhausting Fast Interval Intensity Training in Minerva history. In a typical representation of our values, students from both classes come together for a Supper Club, which does not actually necessarily involve food, but more open conversations about who we are and where we see ourselves in our community. This, apparently, has a strong impact as the 2021 prospects later convened to form their own little talking round, shutting off 2020 students completely and sparking the first inter-class tension moment. They’re living it!
Day 3: Saturday, January 28
Saturday is all learning, in the Minerva way, of course! The Ascentees start with a co-curricular diving into the scary but fascinating future of San Francisco as a city surrounded by rising seas. Alongside data discussions, they draw cartoons of the potential impacts of inherent and needed innovations. I see them coming back with glowing eyes of inspiration as they get thrown into the next adventure: classes on the Active Learning Forum. Current students assist and watch over the prospective 2021s’ first experience with online seminars, breakout groups and Shift-3s (an agreeing snap emoticon). With very minor tech issues–a sigh of relief for the Product Team–the class goes ahead and a sense of general admiration sets in, mixed with the natural levels of confusion about everything being online, that we face every day but that have come to live with and appreciate.
The day of intellectual exploration culminates in the Feast, a deliciousness overload with accompanying entertainment from Class of 2020 students. Students masterfully scrambled together a talent show in a few days before the event. It is a celebration of our ability to make fun of ourselves but also the unique talents that go beyond the pure ‘here’s how I’ll change the world’- stereotype of Minerva students. It’s a lot of fun and laughter for both classes and creates community memories that the Ascentees will hopefully hold on to–whether they enroll or not, although this should have provided a powerful nudge towards the former.
Day 4: Sunday, January 29
After all this bonding, the last day of Ascent is more individual about exploration–it is, afterall, an individual choice to enroll. My Ascentee gets a chance to speak to our founder, Ben Nelson and other important staff on the senior team. Then we depart on a journey to the top of San Francisco: Coit Tower. Passing through the exotic, unique, original Chinatown and the flowery and authentic flair of Little Italy (also known as North Beach) we talk school, politics, and personal stories until we get the views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the symbol of truly arriving in this great city.
As we walk uphill, I believe my Ascentee is also getting closer and closer to joining us and I enjoy my time connecting with a new member of the community in the now familiar neighbourhoods. Showing the city to others makes me realise how much I see it as a home now–a manifest to the city as a campus values, but even more the happiness of realising I have arrived again in this city for my second semester here. It took showing others to show me that I belong here. I hope many of the Ascentees have gotten enough to feel this with the experiences they had, and I look forward to seeing them proceed as fellow Minervans come September. It’s been a blast, an unexpected and consequently surprising one.