Friday, June 19, 2009

Good times at Orientation

I'm sitting at my desk in Thompson Hall 233, with a new student on her laptop listening to her iPod sitting across from me. She's waiting for her friend, also a new student, who is taking the French placement test on a computer across the hall. I'm glad for the quiet, since there have already been six other students taking placement tests today, some with anxious, over-involved parents in tow.

Yep, it's that time of year: Orientation.

And I have to admit it: as tired as I am by the end of my shift, and as cheesy as this probably sounds, I love this season.

I love beginnings. There is openness, promise, possibility. I love being a part of that for people.

Yes, helicopter parents are annoying. Some even piss me off when they answer for their student, incorporating their student's success into their own self-image. But even in the midst of that I love how I get to look their student in the eye and talk to them like an adult. Like they're able to make their own decisions. Because that’s part of what college is about: for better, or sometimes for worse, we learn how to make our own decisions. Let me tell you: interrupting parental control dynamics can feel great.

A lot of memories from my freshman orientation are coming up, stories that I can tell the anxious parents in the office waiting for their daughter or son. Stories about how hectic my orientation was and how in hindsight it's better to take care of ourselves than to stress out ourselves and our loved ones. Stories about how my parents were baffled by the notion of a Parent and Family Orientation, that when they were my age they just showed up on the first day of classes and winged it.

And a lot of memories from my summer as an Orientation Leader (as in, old-school Patriot Leader, circa 2006) wash over me, too. I remember helping people register for classes, especially that one girl who was the last person left in the room, who just needed to hear that it wasn’t the end of the world that so many sections were closed and that she could change things later at home. I remember proctoring the math placement test and telling students once they had finished the exam, "Go do something fun.” Because I sit at a desk in an academic department—and because I give people the time of day—I’m answering a lot of the same questions that people directed at me when I wore the green polo, and it feels good to be helpful in such a rudimentary way.

(Also, who could forget the interpretive dance about drugs and alcohol set to Bonnie Tyler's "Total Ecplipse of the Heart"? That right there is orientation gold.)

It also feels a little weird. I’m the guy at the desk. I’m not there to project my experiences on people; I’m there to explain the Spanish placement test for the billionth time. I’m not there to comfort parents; I’m there to make sure that they don’t walk into the freaking testing area (“Sir? SIR! CAN I HELP YOU???”). And I’m well aware that I’m on my way out, and that my job is to get myself to Minnesota in one piece, and that these folks are going to have their own experiences and make their own choices. So maybe it helps if I’m not a total jerk. But no one is going to remember me fondly (hell, the people in my small group probably don’t remember me). (Tangentially, I ended up living with my OL for the summer, years after my freshman orientation. Weird…)

At least these folks are taking the placement test now, when they’ve retained a little more French, than in the summer before their senior year. Really, if you need to take the test, just do it. Call me or one of my good looking co-workers at 703-993-1220. Peace.

OFPS 2006! I can't believe I found this picture! From left to right there are: me, Scott Picone, Byron Edwards, Javon Thompson (even though you can't see his face, I'm pretty sure it's him), Marc Moore, and Matt Berlejung. HT to Monica Block for taking the photo, and to the Mason Gazette for keeping it floating around the Internet.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you were doing a little bit of pastoral care while being "the guy at the desk".

    My orientation was so awful I almost didn't show up at college. I'm glad to see George Mason is getting that right :).

    Funny enough, George Mason is on my sister's short list of schools to look at.