Freshman Retreat: Then and Now

Serving as a peer minister, I reflect on my own experience of freshmen retreat and the growth I’ve experienced that encouraged me to take this role.

Maleah Downton, Web Editor-in-Chief


Submitted by Maleah Downton
THEN: Web Editor-in-Chief senior Maleah Downton poses for a picture with her freshmen peer ministry group “The Bahama Mamas” during her freshman retreat in 2016.
Submitted by Maleah Downton
NOW: Web Editor-in-Chief senior Maleah Downton and her peer ministry group “The Fine Nines” gather for a photo at this year’s freshman retreat Aug. 23. The theme for this year’s retreat was SIS: Sisters in Sion.










As herds of freshmen depart the sunny, yellow buses into the Heartland Retreat Center, I dance to the angelic voice of Khalid while waving a neon pink sign for my peer ministry group number nine: The Fine Nines.

Compared to my freshman year, I have evolved into an entirely new person entering my senior year. Serving as a peer minister, I am now eager and enthused for the various activities scheduled ahead of us for the day. However, this outlook is a complete 180 in comparison to my own freshman retreat.

Freshman year 2016. Shy, quiet and boiling over with fear, I dreaded this supposed day of bonding and “Sion sisterhood.” I had no friends and nobody from my middle school at Sion.

As I entered the building greeted by joyful and screaming seniors, I felt as if I was a lost puppy in desperate need of a home. Doubt invaded my thoughts; I lacked confidence that Sion would be that home for me.

Despite my insecurities, I discovered that I wasn’t the only puppy. We were all puppies seeking out a place within this Sion community. Looking back, I am so grateful that I found that home. My peer ministry group, the self-titled Bahama Mamas, helped in guiding me to that comfortability. 

Past the awkward ice-breakers and short spontaneous breaks in conversation, I did grow to love this tight-knit group of people. My freshman retreat was by no means perfect, but that was the beauty in it all. Those feelings of embarrassment, fear and anxiety were lessened by the fun, laughter and pure joy that encompassed that day. Ever since that transformative experience, I have vowed to myself that I wanted to offer that same compassion and empathy that I received to another generation of freshmen.

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Peer Ministers with the class of 2023!

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With that promise, I applied to be a peer minister and luckily I was accepted. My fellow peer ministers and I traveled up to the retreat center the day before freshman retreat and spent the entire night planning for the next day’s adventure.

That night, as I laid on the bottom bunk of the cabin’s bunk bed surrounded by the unyielding sound of crickets, I was flooded with memories of these past three years at Sion. It has been a long journey. A journey of growth, change, love and so much more that can never be fully expressed in words. I have loved every single second of it and I hope that these incoming freshmen will love it too.

From the talks, meditation, prayer, games and infamous skits, I hope that they absorbed it all because this time together will fly by before they know it. It did for me.