Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz stood at a podium framed by blue and gold balloons and smiled at the throng of students who had come for the Scholars Bridge Crossing.
“Finally, we’re here together,” he said. “Finally!”
It was a happy acknowledgment of the extraordinary journey taken by not just by the students gathered on the greensward next to the SRE building, but by the full campus community. With a healthy combination of fanfare and care, one of UC Merced’s earliest traditions was back after a one-year absence because of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 1,000 students registered to take part in the university’s 16th Bridge Crossing, organized by UC Merced Alumni Associated. The crossing represents the start of a Bobcat’s academic journey. After a welcome and send-off by Chancellor Muñoz, the students walked up to Scholars Lane, crossed Scholars Bridge, then passed through the silvery arms of the Beginnings sculpture.
In addition to freshmen and transfer students, the marchers included sophomores due to the cancellation of last year’s crossing amid the pandemic.
“Even during the most unprecedented and challenging times, you have each demonstrated incredible bravery, kindness, dexterity, and resiliency: the DNA of this university,” Muñoz said to the students. “We take pride in celebrating the legacy you are now a part of, the legacy you will continue to establish for yourselves, and the path that you will pave for those who will follow. You are the pioneers of today, tomorrow, and our future.”
Many students crossed Scholar Bridge with arms extended, holding phones to record the moments. Faculty and staff lined each side of the bridge to cheer on the new Bobcats. Everyone – students and spectators alike – wore face coverings.
Vernette Doty, director of the Community Engagement Center, said it was a time to celebrate. “It’s just so good to see them,” she said. “I have two years of students who I had never met face to face.”
Staff from the Students First Center rang cowbells as the students walked by on the bridge. Director Lisa Perry said the cowbells also are rung at the center when a student comes in and files an intent to register.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies circulated among the students, posing for selfies, directing traffic and generally having the time of his life.
“I think the role of tradition on a campus is so important,” Nies said. “To have first- and second-year students participate is a great opportunity for them, as well as a great opportunity for the UC Merced community.”
The Bridge Crossing began in 2005, when the campus welcomed its first incoming Bobcats. They wore white UC Merced shirts that read "Launching the Future." This year, the shirts were blue, with “Let the Journey Begin” printed in yellow. After clearing the bridge, they wound down to the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad, where they passed through the Beginnings sculpture. Upon graduation, students walk back through the sculpture in their cap and gown.
Among those beginning the journey was Keith Adams, a freshman from North Hollywood and a psychology major.
“It felt good,” Adams said of the ceremony. “It was cool to be able to look up at the arms of the sculpture and say, ‘I’m here.’”