WESTERVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – Otterbein University hopes starting the 2021-2022 school year with several traditions will set the tone for a relative return to normal.

“If you remember a year ago, we still weren’t exactly sure how the virus moved and what was going to work and not work and there was no such thing as a vaccine yet,” said Otterbein University President Dr. John Comerford. “This year we know a lot more and that vaccine is a potent weapon against the virus.”

Thursday, the university welcomed incoming students to campus with a freshman class photo, followed by a march to from the Campus Center to the convocation with staff, faculty and returning students lining the street for the annual “clap-in.”

“It’s pretty exciting getting to see all of the new freshmen. I like it,” said London Parrish, an incoming freshman.

His classmate Brian Yomokoski added, “It feels good to be in-person. Last year we were all online in high school. So being able to actually go to class and get to do this — it’s huge.”

The campus will allow full capacity activities, athletics and in-person learning at the beginning of the term. Masks will be required in indoor spaces and optional, but encouraged for unvaccinated individuals, outdoors.

“It’s critical that we be as in-person as we can be safely because that’s what small campus communities like Otterbein are all about,” Dr. Comerford said.

He explained the university is abiding by state and federal recommendations and working closely with Franklin County Public Health to develop health and safety guidelines.

“We’ll watch how things evolve,” he said of the surging COVID-19 case numbers and high transmission rate in Central Ohio.

The university is strongly recommending everyone in the campus community to get vaccinated. Dr. Comerford said early survey results show about 65 percent of students and more than 90 percent of faculty and staff have received the shot.

The president called vaccinations a high priority, explaining a vaccination clinic will offer the shot during the first day of classes. As an incentive, any students who are fully vaccinated will be eligible to win a $250 credit or a full tuition-free semester in spring 2022.

Unvaccinated students will be required to take a COVID-19 test no more than 3 days before their arrival on campus. They will also be subject to random weekly testing.

“I think the restrictions they have are good with everybody wearing the masks, the social distancing and stuff. So I think it will be OK,” said incoming freshman Abbey May.

Many students told NBC4 they agreed and hoped others would follow the guidelines to ensure in-person learning and activities can continue through the year.

“I think it really is part of the college experience — being able to go to games, being able to meet people, talk to people,” May said.

Returning students will move back to campus over the weekend. Classes resume Monday.