Reflections on Family Weekend

My name is Ben Palmer, and I am a sophomore and an Orientation Leadership Team member within the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services at George Mason University. Part of my role on the Leadership Team is to aid in all the activities that Mason families partake in through Orientation, Family Weekend, Siblings Weekend, and various other initiatives throughout the year. With Family Weekend approaching, I can’t help but reminisce about my unexpected and strange path to where I am today.

I became a part of the Mason Family at age 15, when my older sister Julie enrolled as a freshman at Mason. Moving Julie into President’s Park was a surreal experience, as I was losing my best friend to a distant and new environment, hundreds of miles from our home in Chicago. I wouldn’t get to see her again until months later at our first Family Weekend, when I would get a taste of the place she called home.

The time between dropping her off and seeing her again zoomed by as my high school experience tended to do, and soon I was back on campus and with her again. Of course there were dozens of activities planned, and there was never a moment when we had nothing to do. But at the end of the day, it was really about spending time together as a family again. We even skipped that year’s comedy performance (Wayne Brady) because Julie insisted that we wait three hours to eat at P.F. Chang’s. But it didn’t matter, because we were together.

After that weekend I visited Julie at least four or five more times during her freshman year, and another two or three times the following year. Each time, whether Family Weekend was involved or not, I got a better and better idea of how much Mason had to offer. I became friends with her friends, went to drag shows, went to the Health and Fitness Expo, and participated in numerous events I now know to be Mason traditions. Slowly but surely I was becoming more attached to Mason, and I already felt like a part of the Mason Family by the time Junior year came around and I started seriously looking into colleges.

After years visiting the school it became my own home in 2012 when I enrolled as a freshman. A few short months later, Julie and I greeted our parents at my first Family Weekend from the other side. Suddenly I was the one giving the tours, and the one being dropped off at my residence hall to a teary-eyed goodbye. By this time, my sister had worked in the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services for almost two years, and after seeing how much fun she had working not only my Orientation but also my first Family Weekend as a student, I decided to apply to be a Patriot Leader.

Well, I got the job. After an amazing summer of Orientations and falling in love with the office, I was hungry for more, and I applied for a position on the Orientation Leadership Team. Eventually I received an offer for a position that works with family programming and outreach, and I suddenly found myself in the same place my sister had been in just two years earlier.

Why tell this story? Well, I think it’s a perfect example of how diverse and dynamic the Mason Family is. I’ve been a part of the Mason Family for over four years, and in that time I went from a visiting family member, to a student, and now additionally a staff member. Through it all, I’ve also gone from Family Weekend guest to Family Weekend host and finally to Family Weekend planner.

Unfortunately, although neither my parents nor my sister will be present for this year’s Family Weekend, my years in the Mason Family have taught me that being a part of this community is truly like being a part of a huge family. It excites me to think that this year I’ll be one of the members of the community who helps to shape the experience of those present at Family Weekend. More than that, it excites me to think that I can shape what it means to be a part of the Mason Family.

It is my hope that all family members who come to campus feel as connected to the institution as I have, from visitor to student to Orientation Leadership Team member. Family Weekend was my first introduction to what Mason offered its students and members of the Mason Family. This year’s Family Weekend is sure to do the same. We look forward to welcoming thousands more to our campus on October 18-20, and more importantly, welcoming thousands more to our home!

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