Colleen O’Brien ’83 serves as Elon’s ambassador in her community

The Connecticut alumna organized a thoughtful way to welcome graduating high school seniors in her community who had been accepted into Elon.

Colleen O’Brien ’83 delivers a “Welcome to Elon” gift to Mandy Heffernan as part of the Adopt-a-Senior effort organized by a high school in their Connecticut town.

Amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of high school seniors missed out on the celebrations that marked the end of 12 years’ worth of academic accomplishments. In an effort to give seniors a new way to mark their next chapter, a group of parents at Wilton High School in Wilton, Connecticut, launched an Adopt-a-Senior Facebook page. Just an hour outside of New York City, Wilton was hit hard once the pandemic struck, but the community was determined to give graduating seniors the send-offs they deserve.

After finding out that eight students in her small town were attending Elon University in the fall, Colleen O’Brien ’83, a pre-school teacher, decided to adopt the future Elon students to celebrate their journeys and welcome them to the Elon community with gift cups littered with maroon and gold. She bought apparel and memorabilia from Elon’s bookstore and reached out to Cole Hyman ’16, senior coordinator of annual giving at the school, who supplied stickers to accompany the warm welcome given to the seniors.

Wanting to be an ambassador for Elon while also adhering to local social distancing guidelines, O’Brien delivered all of her gifts from a distance with a long-handled picker. “The grabber is a gag,” she says, “but everyone has a good laugh when I show up wearing my PPE and give them their gift via grabber.” She adds the gifts are a way to recognize the seniors’ accomplishments while serving as a symbol of the Elon community’s unrelenting support for one another.

High School senior Izzy Gouveia was among the students Colleen O’Brien ’83 had been talking about Elon for years. Gouveia will be attending Elon in the fall.

O’Brien was delighted to learn a handful of the students she “adopted” were neighbors she had been telling about Elon for years. She wants the incoming students to have a rewarding experience like the one she had as a student and later as an alumna. Her service as a former member of the Elon Alumni Board and current social media ambassador for the university, she said, has allowed her to connect with many people and sustain the lifelong friendships she fostered during her time at Elon. “I just want to give back because Elon has given me so much.”