Home on the Hill for the holidays

By Aleece DeWald, Admissions Officer

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To echo my colleagues’ previous posts, I also experienced the thrill of admissions fall travel season. As the admissions officer for all of Wisconsin, I spent my fall exploring one the Midwest’s hidden gems. I was captivated by the finest fall colors in Wausau, indulged in tasty burgers and cheese curds in La Crosse, and interviewed numerous intelligent and engaging prospective students in Appleton, Madison, and Milwaukee.

While it was bittersweet to say goodbye to the adventures of travel season, I can’t help but agree with Judy Garland’s statement at the end of The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”

My statement may sound a bit cliché. I’m certainly not the first recent graduate to refer to her alma mater as home. But it’s hard for me to think of St. Olaf as anything different. The sense of community and conversation resonate with me as much as the rigorous academics and valuable opportunities – which are great benefits too.

St. Olaf felt most like home to me this past weekend, when the campus celebrated its annual Christmas Festival. For those unfamiliar, Christmas Fest is a four-day musical event that invites all St. Olaf students, faculty, staff, alumni, and guests to celebrate the joy and the spirit of Christmas.

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A couple of things come to mind when I think of Christmas Fest. Unsurprisingly, the first of these is the music. The weekend revolves around the large festival concert, which features the 500 talented student musicians, who participate in the orchestra and various choirs. Each year, I am awestruck by the talent of our students, who produce such beautiful and inspiring sounds. Even more shocking is when I remember that most of them do not even major in music. About one third of St. Olaf students participate in music; however, only one third of our musicians are music majors. If you have the opportunity to attend Christmas Fest or any St. Olaf music event in the future, I encourage you to read through the list of student majors in the concert program. You’ll see everything from music performance to physics, to nursing, to English, to environmental studies to even our most popular first-year major, Undecided.

In Admissions, we believe that aspect to be a special feature of St. Olaf. My colleagues and I love meeting prospective students with multiple interests—who find the time to participate in multiple extracurricular activities, such as music. Because extracurricular involvement is vital for students in high school, we believe it’s just as important for them to continue developing their interests in college—even if they don’t plan to make a career out of them. If you’d like to learn more about music at St. Olaf, I invite you to visit the website. You’ll find great information about our ensembles and music scholarships, which are open to students of any major.

Now, let’s talk about my second favorite element of Christmas Fest: tradition. Christmas Fest is one of the oldest musical celebrations in the United States. Over the last 102 years, thousands have flocked to St. Olaf College to experience the joy of being part of such a musical tradition that has lasted throughout generations.

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This year’s festival theme was The Word Renewed with Love Divine, which I found especially poignant when thinking about the magnitude of the Christmas Fest tradition. I attended the concert this past Friday. While preparing for the performance to begin, I flipped through the pages of the festival program and stopped on the first page. Inside the front cover was text describing different types of circles. The image stuck with me throughout the performance as I imagined how, like circles, the Christmas Fest tradition seems never ending. The celebration is renewed each year with a new group of first-year musicians, who fill the spots of graduated seniors. I’m already looking forward to next Christmas Fest, when I look to the Viking Chorus and Manitou Singers, the first-year choirs, and see the faces of the students whom I am meeting this year. I cannot wait to welcome them into this special community.

Mostly, the tradition reminds me of home. It’s unique and real, and there’s nothing quite like it. A few months ago, I was speaking with prospective student who was applying to St. Olaf for Early Decision 1. (By the way, here’s a link to our application deadlines. If you think St. Olaf might be your top choice, there’s still time to apply for Early Decision 2.) During our conversation, I asked what it was about St. Olaf that stuck out to her. She replied that St. Olaf is a school with a “real personality.” In addition to Christmas Fest, several parts of the school – the students, the architecture, the traditions, the fight song – contribute to St. Olaf, giving it a unique identity among the hundreds of colleges in the United States. And, as the holiday season progresses, I can’t think of a better place to be than home.