Before I became a Crusader, I was a student for two years at the small Saint Joseph’s College in rural Rensselaer, Ind. The name of the school itself may sound familiar if you’ve been listening in on conversations around campus these past couple of weeks. This is because Saint Joe’s announced it would be suspending all academic operations once the spring 2017 semester came to an end. All of the students who weren’t graduating had to find a new school, and many of us, including myself, made the decision to come to Valpo.

On paper, the reason behind my school’s closing didn’t seem that complicated; we were around $100 million in debt. However, in reality, that debt caused more than just a 125-year-old school to shut down. It caused broken hearts, torn friendships and the loss of what many considered to be their home.

The closing hasn’t been an easy process for any Puma, a common nickname given to those at our school. I remember the day it was announced like it was yesterday. I can replay it in my mind as if I’m recalling a scene from a movie I’ve watched time and time again since childhood.

Ten days prior to the announcement, we were told the college was in serious financial trouble and the board of trustees would be meeting over the course of two days to determine the school’s future. On Friday, February 3, almost the entire school packed into the main lecture hall on campus to hear the result of those meetings.

“We will not be accepting new students in the fall of 2017,” was all I remember hearing before bursting into tears and hugging one of my best friends who was there with me. I eventually looked up and saw her fiance, who is also a very good friend of mine, with a grim expression on his face and sadness in his eyes. I spent the rest of the night eating comfort food and being surrounded by my closest friends, who, not surprisingly, felt the same as I did.

Saint Joseph’s College became a very special place for anyone who was lucky enough to set foot on its campus. My favorite aspect of the school was its family-like atmosphere. With just around 1,200 students total on campus, it was pretty much impossible not to see a friendly face while walking around outside. I was able to meet my closest friends during my time at Saint Joe -- friends who helped shape who I am now and friends I’d be lost without.

Another benefit of Saint Joe that I enjoyed was the relationships fostered with professors. Almost everyone was on a first name basis with professors, both in and outside of our majors. They weren’t just our teachers, but our mentors and friends as well. The close bond that everyone on campus had was what made my time there worthwhile. When I look back at my first two years of college, I only remember happy memories filled with great people.

While looking for a new school, I was trying to find one that had a similar feel to Saint Joe. I applied to and visited a handful of schools, but Valpo was always sitting at the top of my list. I’ve actually been living in Valpo for almost ten years, so I’m very familiar with the area. This is my hometown, and I wanted to go to a school that felt like home. Valpo’s also on the smaller side of colleges, and that definitely appealed to me. The deciding factor, though, was proximity. I’m able to live at home and go to school, which means my parents and I don’t have to worry about the financial burden of paying for room and board.

The transition for myself, as well as other Pumas, is a slow, ongoing process. Many of us during our first week here spent time thinking about the differences between Valpo and at Saint Joe’s.

While Valpo’s considered a small school, to us, it’s still pretty big. I remember back at Saint Joe, the longest walk to class was about seven minutes. Now, 15 minutes is barely enough time for me to walk all the way across campus from one class to the next.

One struggle a friend of mine noticed about being a transfer was constantly being referred to as a freshman. While sitting in the chapel for convocation, President Heckler and other speakers referred to every student in attendance as the Class of 2021.

“It’s moments like these when I miss Saint Joe the most,” said sophomore Emily Flynn. “We had served our time. However, that doesn't matter. We sat through that whole ceremony and were referred to as 'Valparaiso's Class of 2021,' though we knew this wasn't right.”

Despite the setbacks, it’s getting easier as each day goes on. One of the first things I noticed about Valpo was that everyone has been very welcoming and friendly, and those actions aren’t going unappreciated. Many professors are also doing their best to accommodate us and make us feel like we have a place here.

Valparaiso University isn’t quite Saint Joseph’s College, but it’s not far behind. I can easily see myself and other Pumas calling this school home in the near future. Just have patience and give us some time to completely adjust. Soon, we’ll all have our own experiences at Valpo to look back on with nothing but smiles and warm hearts.

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