During 2007 and 2008 there was increasingly more talk about expanding the opportunities of private students at the University of Stellenbosch. The improved learning environment for private students was, in fact, one of the main points highlighted in the rector’s success plan. The general feeling was that there weren’t enough private students taking part in extramural activities or enough involved in the leadership structures of the University. In order to have a greater private ward voice on campus, expand the opportunities for involvement among private students and build a more balanced private student community, four new private wards were formed in October 2008. Three new women’s wards were formed to pair up with the three existing men’s wards and Vesta was born as the brother ward of Aristea and the men’s ward in Wimbledon College Cluster.
The cluster initiative was started the previous year, in 2007, as another initiative aimed at promoting private student success. The clusters are “groups” of residences and wards that work towards the common goal of making successful Maties of all their members. The initial idea was that the private wards could make use of the facilities and long-term partnerships that the residences offered. This did turn out to be the case during the course of the following years, but the true value of the cluster initiative was rather what the residences could learn from the private students… This would only be realised at a later stage…
The Vesta group of 2008 was six men strong – the very first house committee of Vesta. These men did not have any experience in starting a new private ward and, obviously, had an immense amount of work ahead of them. What they lacked in experience and manpower they made up for with unrivalled enthusiasm, passion and dedication. Their biggest strength, however, laid in the fact that Vesta was an unshaped entity – one that was free of baggage and one that had a frictionless interaction with sensible change. In many other environments at the time this was not the case. Everything that would be done, from the first day that Vesta was started, was going to be from the standpoint of being “Proudly PSO”. The ward would expect no favours from anyone and would not attempt to emulate the residences – they were private students and proud of it. There was no talk of trying to give a Vesta a Stellenbosch experience “equal” to that of a residence student, because it was like comparing apples and pears. There was only talk of packaging the best of what makes being a private student at Stellenbosch University so great.
Vesta paired up with the three newly created women’s wards, Equite, Silene and Venustia, to take part in RAG (now known as MAD2) and assist each other to welcome the first year students of 2009 to the best of their abilities. With only limited resources at their disposal the fact that they had to compete with already established private wards was a daunting prospect. After a titanic effort from all parties involved, both these ventures exceeded all expectations – the partnership won the award for best Vensters stall and Vesta received its first group of first year students. Winning a prize in RAG was something that no one on Stellenbosch campus expected and it received widespread attention.
The first year group in 2009 was an extremely enthusiastic group that bought into the idea of creating something new from the first day. Vesta was very fortunate to have been given such a sound foundation. The first Vesta first years’ committee was formed shortly after the completion of Vesta’s welcoming programme and RAG participation. The members of the first years’ committeewere mentored by the house committee like the future leaders of the ward that they were and they sat along the house committee as they dreamt of what the future holds for the ward – this is a tradition that stands to this day. These men, who encompassed the whole of Vesta, bonded like brothers and enjoyed the best that Stellenbosch had to offer – Huisfonds Dances, Rooftop Parties, House Dances, sport, culture, successful studies and meeting new and exciting people. Some of the wonderful opportunities that Stellenbosch held still eluded them, since many cultural activites and sporting teams required larger numbers and greater participation.
However, the main focus of Vesta was not to measure its success by the amount of trophies that were racked up, but rather by the quality of friendships that were formed and the quality of the student life that all its members enjoyed. Ironically, this was precisely the key to success in all the projects that followed over the years. Success seemed to be more a product of the people than the people were a product of their success. Vesta climbed the league ladders in all the sporting codes it participated in, went on to form immensely successful partnerships with Lydia and HuisFrancie during the final two RAGs of 2010 and 2011, win many awards during the Toneelfees of 2010 and 2011 (including the overall victory in 2011 along with Oude Molen), steal the hearts of the Stellenbosch ladies during Kleinsêr and Molassesêr in 2011 and host countless successful parties, dances and skakelings.
None of these would have been possible if the committee structures of Vesta did not truly serve their members. Everyone from the first years’ committee, the seniors’ committee, the mentors, the house committee and the prim, try to remind themselves constantly that everything they do is not for the glory of Vesta, but for the glory or rather the success of Vesta’s members. For years the thinking revolved around a service-based approach – the committee structures present a service to the members that needs to be of the highest quality. It was only during the latter part of 2010 through 2011 that the Vesta leadership realised that the thinking should revolve around a community-based approach. A community works not for clientele, but for each other. Each member in the community helps to define the community. The building block of the community is the member himself.
The biggest lesson that can be learned on a cluster level is the value and strength of such a community. In fact, the cluster functions as an extended community where everyone can interact closely with people who have a completely different experience of Stellenbosch University than themselves. The private wards of today have realised this and are communicating this message more and more strongly. In 2011 Vesta started thinking of formalising the Vesta Honorary Society. This is a group that includes all former house committee members as well as people within the ward who embodied the spirit of Vesta. The Society will aim to educate all who choose in the history of the ward and the wonderful lessons that were learned along the way. This will be done so that the broader Vesta community never forgets its roots.
The Vesta community is open to all and aims to welcome every individual no matter what his background, interests or dreams may be. The Vesta community also hopes that all its members will uphold the core values of Respect, Loyalty and Chivalry in everything that they undertake. Within the many communities that exist within Stellenbosch University, these values not only define Vesta for what it is, but if applied consistently, will allow it to continue to build on its great reputation and honour.