Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011...10:48 am

An Era of Pathways

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By Matt Sparacino

I remember, vividly, my first experiences at William & Mary. Unlike many freshmen, they had nothing to do with on-campus orientation. Instead, my memories are of late nights spent talking around a campfire, rock climbing on the banks of the James in downtown Richmond, laughing at the misspelled sign above the Grocries store near Bridgewater, chicken fights in a beautiful mountain lake, and a dance party on a mountain top under a full sky of stars.

Going into William & Mary, I had no idea what I was interested in, academically. I knew that I loved the outdoors, but that’s about all I was sure of. Luckily, I spotted the link on the Rec Center’s website to a new, pre-orientation program – something called “Pathways.” There was a climbing option. Rocks are cool, right? Climbing and camping outdoors sounded like a great way to prolong the summer for a few days before college, so I signed up.

As it turns out, we didn’t do much climbing, but we did a whole lot of bonding. Three days spent in the woods with a small group has that effect on people. Pathways transformed us timid freshmen into a riotous group of close friends. I learned a lot about some people, and I learned even more about the College. The trip also piqued my interest in climbing; enough that my new friends and I vowed to become regulars in the school’s Climbing Club. At the first club practice, I met an upper classman who ultimately became my closest friend, climbing partner, and the reason I am now Geology major.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I loved climbing. The group of climbers on campus is pretty small, and most of them also staff the Rec Center’s rock wall. After sophomore year, I jumped at an opportunity to work at the wall, with the hope of leading a Pathways trip of my own. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to lead two years of trips in the rapidly growing program, which now enables about 100 lucky freshmen to participate each year. This past August, I co-led the climbing trip with a good friend, who I first met while leading his Pathways trip.

There is a certain magic that surrounds Pathways. My experience as a freshman has since grown into a cherished memory. I am passionate about leading trips, and I strive to set the stage for creating great memories each year. Experiences like Reddish Knob, which were entirely improvisational on my trip, have become Pathways traditions.

Our shared passion as trip leaders was reflected more than ever in the friendships that were formed this past August. Many participants climb regularly at the wall, which has enabled me to happily watch as friendships have grown throughout the semester. To this day, my closest friends remain the people I met on my first Pathways trip, as well as fellow trip leaders and freshman from the latest round of trips.

Three years after my first Pathways experience, I am staring at the rapidly approaching end to my last fall semester in Williamsburg. It’s a bit scary thinking about life after college, but when I leave William & Mary, it will be with a deep love for the outdoors, a passion for Geology, a group of amazing friends, and a handful of unforgettable memories. It is no exaggeration to say that Pathways started a chain of events that will affect the rest of my life.

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