Beth Kay B.S.N. '81, who grew up in Cincinnati, remembers attending a "matriculation party" thrown for entering Duke first-years by a local Duke alumnus the summer after she graduated from high school. "It made me feel less nervous" about leaving for college, she says. One young woman she met at the party ended up living down the hall from her. She would frequently see another attendee on flights to and from Durham over the next four years.
In those days, such events were rare, at Duke and elsewhere. Kay, who serves as the alumni admissions advisory committee chair for Chicago, says that she doesn't remember any of her friends from high school attending similar parties. Now, however, summer "send-off parties," where alumni gather to greet incoming first-year students and send them off to school, are the norm for Duke and other colleges and universities.
The Duke Alumni Association began coordinating the send-off parties five years ago and, this year, held parties in forty-five cities around the world, ranging from Portland to New York City to Shanghai. In July, Kay, whose daughter Hannah entered Duke this fall, hosted her third Chicago send-off party in six years. (She hosted one on her own before the DAA stepped in.)
As in Kay's case, the parties, while overseen by DAA staff members, are often hosted by local alumni, many of whom are parents of incoming first-year students. Attendance ranges from about twenty-five in smaller cities, to more than 100 in places like Boston and Charlotte, and nearly 200 at the Triangle-area party held on campus. The events are open not just to incoming students, but also to their parents, other local alumni, and current Duke students. "What I'm seeing each year is a real growth in the attendance numbers of current students and recent graduates," who serve as a resource for curious first-years, as well as their parents, says Chris O'Neill '95, assistant director of regional programs for DAA.
"There's excitement, but there's also some trepidation" on the part of the parents, O'Neill says. "The current students really help with that. Parents can see that these are upperclassmen who've come and been successful and are happy."
These days, of course, it may be the parents who need the parties as much as the students. Kay, Hannah's mother, found that by the time the July and August parties rolled around, her daughter and many of the other students had long since connected with other soon-to-be Blue Devils who live nearby via Facebook, which is searchable by college and hometown.
As of June, her daughter and some of her new classmates had already gathered for meals around town three times. Parents who attended the reception, on the other hand, were more likely to be having their first face-to-face contact with Duke since their children were accepted, and, says Kay, "parents often have questions that their kids don't even think about."
October 1, 2007