SHAWNEE—Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) welcomed new and returning students to campus last week ahead of the start of the fall semester. Upperclassmen Welcome Week Workers began moving in at the beginning of the week, with new students moving in Aug. 5-6. Welcome Week activities then ran through Aug. 9, before classes began Monday, Aug. 10.

OBU welcomes students to campus, begins fall semester - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 2

OBU President Heath A. Thomas shared an inspirational message with new students Saturday night, Aug. 8, at the President’s Vision on the south lawn of Raley Chapel. OBU photos by Heather Hamilton.

Welcome Week is a beloved tradition on Bison Hill, featuring the introduction of OBU traditions to new students, making new friends and embracing what it means to be a Bison. While many of the most treasured aspects of Welcome Week remained in the schedule, the University worked tirelessly to adjust the activities to meet new safety procedures in place due to COVID-19.

All students were given a health screening before moving into on-campus housing. New student move-in took place over two full days, with scheduled appointments from 8 a.m. in the morning to 8 p.m. in the evening, to maintain physical distancing. Students attended new student orientation on the evening they moved in, effectively dividing the group in half and safely reducing the number of students inside Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium.

OBU welcomes students to campus, begins fall semester - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 3

New students take The Walk to the south lawn of Raley Chapel.

Students still enjoyed small groups, with rules in place for physical distancing and wearing facial coverings. On Friday evening, the students were treated to a screening of the Disney Pixar film, “Up,” at Bobby Cox Baseball Field and played on the giant video scoreboard. Saturday evening, OBU President Heath A. Thomas inspired the students as they met on the south lawn of Raley Chapel for the President’s Vision, a beloved component of Welcome Week.

On Sunday evening, the week culminated with The Walk, a cherished OBU tradition. Students, wearing their traditional OBU green and gold beanies, gathered on the Oval and walked in silence to the south lawn of Raley Chapel. The Walk symbolizes the passage of these students into the OBU family. They will take a similar walk one day when they graduate from the University, effectively bookending their time on campus.

OBU welcomes students to campus, begins fall semester - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 1

Welcome Week Steering Committee Co-Chairs Carly Miller, right, and Noah Graves await the arrival of new students at the end of The Walk.

Upperclassmen, faculty, staff, administration, alumni and community members awaited the students in front of the chapel to cheer them on. After inspiring words from Welcome Week Steering Committee Co-Chairs Carly Miller and Noah Graves, the students joined together in a powerful worship service led by a student band on the steps of the chapel.

The week marked the return of students to the campus for the first time since mid-March, when the university transitioned to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, OBU has worked diligently to establish protocols which follow CDC guidance, public health recommendations and best practices to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. All students and employees are subject to daily temperature checks and health screenings at various locations throughout campus before attending class or going to work. Face coverings are required at all times on campus when indoors and also when outdoors where physical distancing is not possible. Likewise, proper hand washing and sanitization are strongly encouraged.

OBU welcomes students to campus, begins fall semester - Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma 4

Students worshiped together following the conclusion of The Walk.

Additional precautionary measures include a transition to online chapel delivery, classroom spaces being adjusted to accommodate physical distancing during classes, limited entry points to most buildings, and additional cleaning cycles for various on-campus services, including the cafeteria and the Recreation and Wellness Center.

To view a photo album of pictures from Welcome Week, visit the OBU Facebook page.

For more information about OBU’s COVID-19 response and safety resources, visit