For Nadia Stefanik, this basic word has much more significance than it appears to have on the surface.
Among the many rich traditions at Springfield College, the simple act of greeting others on campus, which was once prominent, has begun to swiftly drift away. The role of technology, including cell phones and MP3 players, along with more closely-knit groups of friends and cliques have led to students and faculty passing by on campus, failing to say hello to each other on a regular basis.
However, Stefanik has initiated a movement that will seek to restore this tradition and increase the overall sense of belonging at Springfield College.
Stefanik, a sixth-year student majoring in Exercise Science, has observed her share of experiences at SC. Over the years, she noticed a decline in the amount of friendliness exhibited by students and faculty to others that they do not know.
“I’d like to bring back the tradition of everyone greeting each other on campus,” said Stefanik. “There are so many cliques and selective people who don’t try to go outside of their comfort zone to get to know other people. I don’t think we have that full spirit that we used to have.
“Saying hello, especially to someone you don’t know, creates a sense of acknowledgement. I don’t consider myself very religious, but I think I’m spiritual and I think that’s the simplest connection you can make with someone.”
Brandon Drinkwater, a junior at SC, noted how much of a disconnect there is between students and faculty who do not personally know each other.
“I see students with headphones in their ears and others who just zone out,” said Drinkwater. “I even do it myself sometimes. It’s something that you don’t really think about, though. It’s unfortunate that there are not a lot of interactions between people you’re not familiar with.”
Stefanik’s simple idea for the “Say Hey” campaign was inspired by two recent key events that took place this February. The first one happened at a YMCA Leadership retreat camp, called Y-LEAD, which took place at East Campus. During the retreat, there was a guided meditation session where participants were asked to envision something that they wanted to see more of in the world.
“All of a sudden, in my head, I saw people walking around on campus saying hi to each other and giving out high-fives,” said Stefanik. “It just came to me in a meditation. I had thought of that a little before, but I never really took any action.”
The other event was a four-day workshop called Yes+ that focused on enlightening individuals. Yes+ is a project of the Arts and Living Foundation, which is an educational nonprofit organization. During this workshop, one of the first activities entailed everyone hugging each other and saying, “I belong to you.” For Stefanik, this concept of belonging was something that she thought was imperative to convey to others.
“Many times, people do not feel like they ‘belong’ in certain situations. I feel like, in my life, I try to make people feel like they belong. I like to know people and meet as many as I can.”
While Stefanik’s idea to bring back the tradition of greeting has been floating around in her head for some time, it has exploded into a fully-initialized campaign within the past month. It began when she created a Facebook group to increase awareness about “Say Hey.” Currently, it has surpassed 1,600 members.
Moreover, on Friday, April 20, the campus will be ignited with an urge for students to say hello to everyone they see. Volunteers from several school clubs and the “Say Hey” Facebook group will be handing out name tags for students and faculty to wear to encourage conversation. There are also T-shirts to be distributed that have the message, “Everybody Say Hey!” on the front and “Reviving the Tradition Today and Everyday” on the back. Members of the Facebook group will be given these shirts, and they will hand them out only to people they don’t know. Sunglasses with “Hey” on the sides will also be distributed.
Through Stefanik’s efforts, the “Say Hey” idea has truly come to life. David McMahon, director of the Spiritual Life Center, commented on Stefanik’s relentless quest.
“One of the great joys of getting to work with students is watching them grow into their potential,” said McMahon. “Nadia has always been good at making connections with others, with making her peers feel comfortable and welcome. It was no surprise to me that she should decide to press ahead with bringing this plan to fruition.”
Although Stefanik has been working tirelessly to plan and organize the “Say Hey” campaign, she has had tremendous support from many of the clubs on campus. The Leadership Training Conference (LTC) is funding the 1,000 name tags to be distributed and Spiritual Life is funding the sunglasses. In addition, there has been support from the Student Government Association, the Graduate Student Organization, the Student Society for Bridging Differences, Fellowship of the Christian Athletes and Students Against Violence Everywhere, just to name a few.
“The support just continues to keep coming,” said Stefanik. “I can’t thank them enough for how they’re sharing this cause. It’s taken a lot of my time, but it’s been so fun.”
McMahon has a tremendous amount of respect and support for Stefanik’s cause.
“I am quite impressed with Nadia’s commitment to the ‘Say Hey’ program and the great competence she has shown in organizing it,” said McMahon. “It began as a rather simple idea to build a greater sense of connection and community around campus.”
More importantly, McMahon commented on the challenges of implementing an idea and bringing it to life.
“Often, I think that our greatest challenge when trying to bring an idea, a dream, to life is the fear of failure. We’re afraid the idea may seem silly to others or just be too difficult to implement. This isn’t simply a challenge for students; it’s a challenge for humans. Yet, trying is what is most important.”
Although the official “Say Hey” day may be on April 20, Stefanik’s goal is for it to have a lasting effect upon students and faculty and help to restore the long-lost tradition of greeting everyone on campus.
“I’m trying to make sure that this isn’t just something that happens for a day and then gets forgotten,” said Stefanik. “It’s a tradition on campus, and we should be doing it every day. Traditions create a sense of unity because if you’re all doing them together, then you’re a part of the community.”
Matt Vaghi may be reached at email@example.com