Introducing new students to the IC experience brings camaraderie, exasperation, worry, and joy.
by Zachary Ford '07
I can still remember July 9, 2003. It felt like the longest car ride I'd ever experienced, trumped only by the same drive a month later. Four hours in a car is nothing, but when you're as excited as I was to be on my way to my college orientation, it seems endless. Two years later, I look back and note that some of my best friends -- including my roommate -- are people that I met during those two July days. They have helped to shape how I've grown as a student, as a citizen, and as a friend.
Over the past two summers I've experienced orientation from a different perspective: orientation leader. I've seen the same look of excitement in the eyes of incoming freshmen. Some are scared to death, while others are anxious or nervous. If my 19 coworkers and I do our job correctly, they all leave two days later feeling confident and comfortable about their decision to come to Ithaca College. I often ponder whether the next four years of their lives will be shaped by those two days of orientation, as mine were.
In the six weeks of work each summer, orientation leaders (OLs) experience the full range of emotions. There is a special kind of love, a team camaraderie, among the 20 OLs that knits us all as tight as family in an astonishingly short amount of time. There is exasperation that at the end of each pair of 16-hour days we can't really rest and let it all sink in, because with new students arriving for back-to-back sessions, our next day starts at 6:45 a.m. and we get to do it all again. There is worry in judging how candidly to convey what life at IC is really like while IC is still, to an extent, trying to market itself to these students and their families. But at the end of the day there is pure joy, knowing that we have eased fears and answered questions so that by the end of the summer 1,500 new students are ready to begin their studies.
Recently I've heard claims that Ithaca College is lacking in traditions, that the only true shared experiences students have are Convocation and Commencement. Not true! For more than 25 years our incoming freshmen have dramatically interpreted "Ithaca Forever" and have run relays like "dizzy bat" in an attempt to win the coveted Ithaca College orientation T-shirt. And every summer there has been a new team of OLs there to guide them through the process, answering every question along the way, from how to develop good study habits to how to schedule classes to how to be responsible citizens of the campus and the greater community.
This tradition is alive and well. In just two days 20 of us convince the hundreds of them to overcome their anxieties and look forward to an exciting four years at Ithaca College. Some have suggested that the main focus of orientation should be strictly academic preparation, but I fear such a shift would sacrifice some of the most vital social components of the experience. Of course students have concerns about their studies, but they need the opportunities to bond with their classmates and with us, their OLs, so that they can begin to feel comfortable at their new home.
When it's over, we OLs celebrate our six weeks of success and enjoy the last few weeks of summer before returning to classes. Then we sort of blend back into the student body, except that we maintain to an extent our role as mentors to the freshmen. We smile, knowing that we have passed our own Ithaca College pride on to a new generation of students.
Zachary Ford is a junior music education major and author of the E-vents weekly newsletter for first-year students at IC.
Photos: top -- George Sapio; line dance --Sheryl D. Sinkow