Hope for the best; prepare for the worst

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August 31, 2007

3:05 PM

Walking home from the activities fair, I take in the last of that unseen summer breeze — sizing things up, assessing the campus grounds through the lens of an upperclassman. Feels good. Having stuck it out for two years, I now hold rank among the upper echelon of the undergraduate hierarchy. I’ve earned the right to carry myself with the vaunted effect of a venerated general, smirking in self-congratulation, evaluating with impersonal pride the Class of 2011, to whom this column is addressed.

p. With disorientation week out of the way, freshmen now stand with a promising year before them. But there’s a trick, they won’t know this just yet — not until they’ve suffered a little. In the scheme of things, I doubt half these freshmen know where they stand, where they should stand or whether they’re standing at all.
We all remember our first semesters. It was an overly self-conscious semester of finding your comfort zone in an unfamiliar environment. You almost wished you had a notepad to take down those many names you couldn’t remember. Even with a campus this small, we managed to get lost. And then there were those elemental tasks of eating right, sleeping on time, doing laundry, etc.

p. Some freshmen can’t help but look like lost tourists, struggling beyond agitation to walk around with their overbearingly inflated expectations of “finding themselves,” getting laid or a combination of both heaped above their heads. I guess everyone is expecting something out of this place, expecting something to magically pop out and grab them by the heartstrings. This isn’t going to happen.
I don’t think there’s anything else the College can do to prepare you for your freshman year. They can offer all the mixers in the world, prepare hundreds of warm, welcoming speeches and it won’t help. Not until you’ve lived here long enough will you get an idea of how things work.

p. Don’t worry about grades your first semester. Or at least don’t expect any immaculate report cards like they gave away back in high school. Instead, expect to have your asses served to you on a silver platter. That’s as good an expectation as anyone can have, at this point. Worry more about branching out from your freshman hall. Don’t get me wrong, your freshman hall will always be your family, but they can also hold you back. The thing with freshmen is that they tend to wander in large packs, like muddled geese. Your vulnerability betrays you when you roam in a bunch — you’ll find yourself mindlessly moving to the rule of the mob, making easy prey for frats.

p. Things aren’t as neatly tied together as they were in high school. Here, you have to apply a hands-on approach — discover the extracurriculars yourself. The seminar is silent, seemingly unfriendly, nothing like the eight-hour social sessions you enjoyed through high school. Make a conscious effort to look for fun yourself.

p. The students are very approachable. We’re not as intimidating as we make ourselves out to be, we were all freshmen, too. Most of us get a kick out of helping underclassmen out, readily dispatching whatever words of wisdom we’ve picked up along the college way, assuming the role of the experienced older brother, explaining how things work, giving you a hand and sweating for you.

p. The best thing to do is to consider yourselves without options, to see yourselves in the worst possible light and stick it out. Once you get over that first semester hump of average grades and deflated expectations, you’ll be well broken in. Eventually you’ll move up, looking back on your first year with the same self-satisfied smirk all ex-freshmen share.

p. When I look at this eager class of fresh faces, it feels like yesterday I was in their tough position, and all I can express is the relief and joy in how good it feels to be out of their miserable, little shoes. But I get ahead of myself. Just remember that everything’s in your hands: You decide your level of involvement, you determine your degree of success and your level of happiness.

p. __Sherif Abdelkarim is a junior at the College.__

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