August 29, 2013

GERSON: Honoring O-Week

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Orientation week evokes a particular brand of excitement for most upperclassman. More so than any other event at Cornell, O-week has the same quality as a good wine — it only gets better and better with age.  Our second, third or quite unfortunate fourth fall return to Cornell marks the beginning of another year of friendship, hard work and adventure. In between unpacking bags and organizing rooms, many students spend all day and night reconnecting with old friends (and making new ones) in a temporary state of alcoholism. .

Regardless of how you choose to spend it, O-week is always a blast. In that sense, this year was no different for me.  One thing, however, did set this O-week apart — my complete and utter sobriety. I was, yes, happily sober during O-week. While many Cornell students were reveling in the charade of drink-party-sleep-eat-repeat, I was working with the Orientation Steering Committee and the 650 volunteers who help the 3,500 new students feel welcome at their new home.

For some reason I can’t quite understand, freshman orientation events have a generally bad rap with the rest of the undergraduate student body. Yes, all of the events are super sober and somewhat contrived but, if we can all look past the hateful speech directed against the admittedly summer-camp-like events, magic is happening.

For this new class of students and transfers, O-week was likely an uncomfortable mix of delight, fear and confusion. Take thousands of recent high school graduates, stick them on North Campus for a week without upperclassmen volunteers and free events to ensure their smooth transition? It would be absolute madness (read: Lord of the Flies-esque madness). This school is way too big and much too complicated for new students to adjust without some guidance.

Let’s be real though: I’ll admit I only attended two orientation events my freshman year. My younger, less-enlightened self was just too damn cool for Freshman Orientation but, like many of you, I eventually turned out okay. I made friends outside of orientation and found my way just fine. However, I didn’t get to participate in that once in a lifetime experience: A week full of free events aimed solely at making me feel comfortable, meeting others and celebrating the future four years of college life ahead. I missed the ice skating, the free Pinesburgers, and the enormous game of capture the flag on Appel fields. Instead, I slept in till 2 p.m., felt hungover and — if I was lucky — vaguely remembered two bogus conversations about … drinking, I’m sure (yeah, I was cool). Little did I know, I had the rest of freshman year to do that. I sincerely wish I had attended the very sober events and had very sober wonderfully exhausting small talk with my new peers. But I didn’t.

Yet, during this O-Week — two years after my own — I witnessed new students forming tons of new relationships and exploring the new place they will call home through sober, “contrived” events. Whether they all stay friends past this month or not, all that matters is the comfort a familiar face can bring. It was beautiful to see.

Okay, you can quit your eye-rolling for a hot second there, bud. I’m not trying to be self-indulgent here. I just am trying to share with you, my fellow upperclassman, my fresh perspective on O-Week. We need to respect the intentionally innocent nature that is Freshman Orientation. Freshman have all year to rush fraternities, drink their hearts away and make out with strange people in strange places. So, whether you think freshman orientation is awesome, stupid, boring or honestly not for you: Respect it.

Call the events childish if you want, but there will be very few opportunities in our upperclassman years when the University will dole out such a fat stack of change for the sole benefit of undergraduate students.  Well, save for Slope Day, but we all know “happily sober” on Slope Day is just plain ridiculous.

Rudy Gerson is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached a rgerson@cornellsun.com. Rooting Around column runs alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Rudy Gerson