Together again, students move in for a new school year

They came back masked, clutching pillows and pulling mini-fridges, excited energy as ubiquitous as the sweat trickling down backs in the August heat. Two shifts of juniors arrived for move-in on Friday to join a handful of senior leadership students already on campus; the rest of the seniors arrived Sunday. By the end of the weekend, the full measure of the youthful energy that has for more than 40 years fueled NCSSM had finally returned to NCSSM for the first time since March of 2020.

Not since the pandemic had emptied NCSSM’s halls for months had laughter sounded out across campus in full like birdsong. Masked indoors and more than 91 percent vaccinated, such spirit in the face of a resurgent pandemic is yet another example of NCSSM’s student body rising to the school’s motto: Accept the Greater Challenge.

For incoming juniors, move-in marked the very beginning of their NCSSM adventure. Linden James, from Durham School of the Arts, spent the entirety of their sophomore year at DSA learning remotely. “I’m very excited, but it’s also a little overwhelming,” they said. “We’re in this world now where everyone is on campus and I get to meet all these interesting people that I’ve only known online.”

For returning seniors like Amy Budzichowski from Charlotte Catholic High School, move-in marked the first day of what many had always hoped NCSSM might look like. “I have never experienced full density before,” she said, having completed her first year at NCSSM in a low-density cohort model divided between remote learning and on-campus instruction with a limited number of her classmates. “Already I feel like the energy is there.”

COVID-19 continues to complicate a total return to pre-pandemic life, but NCSSM’s chancellor, Dr. Todd Roberts, is confident the Unicorn community will continue to pull together as it has for the past year and a half. Clad in shorts and a “Team NCSSM” T-shirt, he had spent the early hours greeting students and parents and helping unload vehicles.

“It’s been a great day watching everybody move back in,” he said during a lull between Friday’s morning and afternoon shifts. “We’re really excited, all of us who work here at NCSSM, to have them all back together because we know how important that is for them.”