Cheered on by a crowd of St. Thomas supporters, hundreds of first-year students marched through the Arches onto campus on May 14. The inaugural in-person gathering of this class took place nearly a year after they became Tommies.

This time-honored tradition, delayed due to the pandemic, took place ahead of finals, rather than Welcome Week at the start of the school year. Karen Lange, vice president of student affairs, said she noticed how much more confidently the students walked through the Arches, knowing they had successfully navigated an unprecedented first year of college.

“The March Through the Arches is always such a rewarding experience because it celebrates the hopes and dreams of our students in the next four years and beyond,” said Lange, who started the tradition in 2009. “This year was especially meaningful because these students persevered through their first year of college during a global pandemic, adapting to online or hybrid classrooms and the ever-changing expectations of life on campus.”

St. Thomas’ fall 2021 cohort of 1,396 students had a 3.69 average high school GPA.  In the cohort, 22% were in the top 10% of their high school class. Students of color make up 20% of the class, with 3% of students international and 22% out-of-state. 

With the benefit of having had the class at St. Thomas already for a full year, President Julie Sullivan acknowledged the ways these students had become integral to the community.

“This year is unlike any other year in so many ways. Each of you has been a critical member of the rich academic community and robust learning tradition for a full year at this point, and our community is all the better for it,” Sullivan said. “You’ve been a great class of Tommies.”

Braeden Kuehn, a first-year student majoring in actuarial science, said the experience was important and memorable.

“I was saddened when I realized that we weren’t going to have the Arches ceremony at the beginning of the year, so I was ecstatic that we were still going to have it, even if it was delayed by eight months,” Kuehn said. “I’ll always remember high-fiving Tommie the Tomcat!”

Lynda and Paul Kuehn, Braeden’s parents, who were among those cheering the class, said they were thrilled to be able to watch their son march through the Arches.

“We are grateful they were given the opportunity to experience this memorable and meaningful milestone,” Lynda said. “As parents, we love that St. Thomas truly cares about its students and is doing everything they can to give them a traditional first-year experience, despite the pandemic.”

“I felt that the first-year students earned every step of this walk. It was an amazing, complex and challenging year,” said Shanan Custer, an adjunct faculty member who teaches theater.

“I’m glad that we get to march through the Arches. I actually didn’t expect that we would be able to, considering COVID-19. I think it’s nice that the university is still providing us the opportunity,” said Sydney Flack, a first-year student majoring in business law and compliance.

“This was not the year any of us had anticipated,” Michael Sullivan ’21, Undergraduate Student Government president, said to the class. “We all wish that it would have looked a little different, but I’m thankful that we’re all here today. … Take what you learned this year into your future years at St. Thomas and beyond to advance the common good.”

“In such an odd year, I’m thankful that the university was able keep the March Through the Arches tradition going, even if we had to wait until the last day of class,” said Branson Skogrand, a first-year student majoring in chemistry.

“Just getting the opportunity to march through the Arches this year is special, considering everything that has been happening,” said Grace Johnston, a first-year student majoring in criminal justice.

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