Washington University in St. Louis welcomed 1,780 new students — from 50 states and 25 nations — on Aug. 25. They spent the day unpacking linens, meeting floormates and learning the traditions of their residential colleges.
“This will be an excellent class because they will have excellent vision,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton joked about the class of 2020 during an early-morning pep rally for student volunteers at the South 40 clock tower.
The class of 2020 was chosen among a field of 29,200 applicants and represents the largest class in Washington University’s 163-year history. It is also the most diverse, with 231 students — 13 percent — eligible for Pell grants, and 123 who are the first in their families to attend college.
Two members of the class of 2020 are Jon Smith, of Schenectady, N.Y., and Katharine Smith, of Westport, Conn. They share more than a surname. Both are living in Beaumont Residential College, ran track in high school and are excited to explore St. Louis. And they share the same aspiration: to find a community of friends and scholars at Washington University.
Katharine Smith is well on her way after participating in the Connect 4 program, one of 16 pre-orientation programs that drew some 800 first-year students.
“It was so incredible to meet other people who care about the things I do, but also who have interests I didn’t know existed,” she said. “I feel like I’m starting school already having some good friends.”
Katharine Smith is enrolled in the College of Arts & Sciences and will be studying psychology, physics and climate change this semester. She is one of a handful of students from her high school who chose Washington University.
“It’s been a popular choice for years,” she said. “Of course, anyone who sees the campus falls in love, but for me, I knew it was the right choice when I saw the course catalog and all of the courses I want to take.”
Jon Smith, in contrast, had never heard of Washington University until a brochure arrived in the mail. He is majoring in mechanical engineering in School of Engineering & Applied Science and wants to work in the aerospace industry.
“I was about to recycle it along with the rest of the college mail when my mom said, ‘Wait. I’ve heard that is supposed to be a really good school,’ ” Smith said.
Both Smiths are ready to immerse themselves in campus life. Katharine Smith, who knows how to keep bees and make honey, would like to tend hives here and join a running club.
Jon Smith, who plays clarinet, alto sax, writes 8-bit computerized music and sings bass, hopes to perform with one of the university’s many a cappella groups and play intramural sports. And who knows what else.
“That’s what I like about WashU,” he said. “In my high school, the kids in physics class would joke about the athletes, who would joke about the kids who were into theater. At WashU, it won’t be weird to be the person who loves sports and music and studying really hard because that describes so many people here.”