A plushie of K.K. Slider, some bedding, a Beastie Boys poster, a bag of Cheetos and a Griffin-adorned hat stolen from my father to show my school spirit. These are the things I entered my first year at the College of William and Mary with. Somehow, by the end of my first day on campus, I had already returned to my room with much more.
Earlier that day, my entire back was damp with sweat, caused by a mix of excitement, nerves and the sizable jump in temperature from New York. I was walking to Kaplan Arena with my hall, surrounded by tidal waves of fellow new students. Leading our group were my Orientation Aides, neon-clad supernovas of indescribable energy, bursting into chants about such foreign things as “tribe” and “Yates” pride. Amidst the confusion, I couldn’t help but find a surreal, chaotic joy to it all. After a couple of seconds of careful listening, I joined my hall’s chant, throwing my voice into the elated chorus surrounding me.
There, thanks to this orientation experience, my voice has remained. That one walk helped form so much of my attitude toward the College, setting the tone for not only the rest of my orientation, but my remaining time freshman year.
It’s easy to lose confidence during the first couple of weeks of college, as rejection comes quick and easy. Prior to enrollment, I was struck by the bevy of performing arts opportunities at the College, but my first few auditions all resulted in “no’s.” After a lead role-laden senior year of high school, I couldn’t help but be discouraged. Instead of giving up, however, I thought back to that fateful walk, recalling how my first experience at the College emanated pure encouragement and acceptance. Eventually, that initial rejection led to not only opportunities in non-performing environments, but to a greater appreciation for performing success when I did find it. The College rewards those who keep at it, and that walk helped give me the confidence to do so.
The walk also helped guide and define my social experiences. Early collegiate rejection doesn’t just come in extracurricular activities, but in social contexts as well. Throughout orientation, I met some of my best friends, but also some people I’ll likely never talk to again. During that first walk, I got a startling visual confirmation of my class’s size. I realized that there was no possible way I could maintain relationships with all of them, and you know what? That was fine. Orientation encouraged tight bonds between myself and those in my hall I most connected with, forging a social bedrock that anchored me as I branched out on my own. Most importantly, the journey to Kaplan emphasized the importance of community at the College. Those chants were breathed to life by hundreds of unique, individual voices. Though some of them may have been conflicting, they still came together to form a whole, with each voice playing its own unique part in the beautiful song surrounding me. The chants encouraged acknowledgment, acceptance and response to those different from yourself, promoting a positive mindset that an exceptional majority of students at the College exhibit.
This year, I’ll arrive to school with my K.K. Slider plushie still in tow. I’ll have new bedding, a slightly bent Beastie Boys poster and likely more Cheetos. Instead of that hat, however, I’ll be wearing something different to show my Tribe Pride: the very neon shirt that guided me to Kaplan in the first place. I’ll make that walk once again, with my very own batch of excited, nervous, sweaty freshmen following close behind, and will beckon them to join that same elated, tremendous, rewarding chorus. Let’s sing it.
Email Anthony Madalone at firstname.lastname@example.org.