August 29, 2017

Published by the NJ Herald on August 27, 2017 (D. Danzis)

HACKETTSTOWN — Golf carts lined Jefferson Street with eager upperclassmen, faculty and staff ready to help first-year students unload their belongings into Reeves and Smith dormitory halls.

The move-in crews sprang into action for every vehicle that pulled up, quickly moving suitcases, mini-fridges and boxes from the curb to students’ new rooms.

Saturday was move-in day at Centenary University and the first sign that a new school year is officially here.

Parents and students were equally excited about the prospect of new beginnings, although it was not the only emotion for some who were saying goodbye to their children.

“Lot of different emotions,” said Donna Pankowski, whose 18-year-old daughter Julie was starting her first year at Centenary. “Happy, excited, nervous.”

Centenary is not uncharted territory for the Pankowskis. Julie’s father, John, graduated from the school in 2008, jokingly saying it took 28 years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“It’s a great school,” he said. “I went to four different colleges throughout the years and this is my favorite. I thought the academics were as good as any school I’ve gone to in the past and maybe even a little bit better.”

Julie, a biology major and basketball player, was ready for what lies ahead.

“I’m excited to start a new chapter,” she said. “I’ll miss my parents and my dog.”

Upstairs in Smith Hall, Sean Graham, of Washington Township, was already enamored with Centenary.

“I’m really excited to start here,” the secondary education history major said. “I just love the small-school aspect of it. I couldn’t do big schools. I have friends that have classes with like 1,500 people and that just really freaked me out. So, I just love the small class sizes.”

Sean’s father, Pat, was equally impressed with what his son’s new school had to offer.

“Lovin’ it,” Pat Graham said with a smile. “It’s a great campus. It’s like a family here. Every time I visited campus everybody is friendly and happy. Seems like it’s going to be a good fit.”

Susan Graham said she liked her son’s choice because it reminded her of her college years.

“I was the one that made him look here because it just reminded me of the school I went to,” she said. “I went to Moravian College (Bethlehem, Pa.) and the whole campus here just reminded me of what I liked. And when he came here I could just tell from the look in his eye.”

But she, too, was running the gamut of emotions while helping Sean unpack.

“Range of emotions,” she said. “He’s not going to be far from home, so that’s nice.”

Dad, on the other hand, was already making plans with what to do with a now empty room at the family’s home.

“Renting it out,” he said. “No, I’m just kidding. It’s always there for him.”

At the other end of the dorm, Crystal Iannetta, a special education major from Lake Hiawatha, was already settled in. She and her roommate, Jessica Vargas, are soccer players, and two weeks ago they traveled to Costa Rica with the team.

“It’s very thrilling, very exciting,” Iannetta said, “even though we’re all moved in already.”

The two girls were friends in high school and lived on the same street. But they also have another connection: both are foster children. Jessica Vargas’ mother, Jo-ann, said she was happy the girls would be sharing this important time of their lives together.

“I want her to do this, I want her to stay, I want her to get the full experience of being in college,” Jo-ann Vargas said. “I’m not upset or anything because we’re 45 minutes down the road. In fact, she keeps asking me, ‘Are you going to miss me?’ and I’m like, ‘No, because you’re 45 minutes down the road. If I need to see you I’ll meet you at the mall.'”

Classes begin Wednesday.

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