Before I came to the College of William and Mary, many of the adults in my life — including my parents, teachers and dentist — told me that I would meet some of my lifelong friends in college. “You’ll meet the girls who will become your bridesmaids one day,” some said. It has always seemed that a mandatory part of the “college experience” is making the absolute best friends ever.
This can be an incredibly daunting idea. Many students entering the College went to school with the same group of people for up to 13 years. My circle expanded as school went on and I gradually made a few new friends each year, but there were few times in my life when I felt that I needed to make an entirely new group of friends.
Upon entering college, this changed drastically. In-state students such as myself generally know other students at the College from high school, but even then, it is unlikely that you are attending the same university as your high school best friend. On move-in day, each new student was introduced to both a new home and a potential new group of best friends. New students participate in the whirlwind of pep and excitement of Orientation with their freshman hall, and for this first week without classes, everyone seems to be intensely focused on developing a stable friend group.
For more extroverted students, this can be incredibly easy and even fun to do. Some people are easily able to go up to people they don’t know and say, “Hi! I’m Emily and I like reading. What’s your favorite book?” and their friendships start smoothly, taking off from that conversation. For more introverted students, the prospect of having to go up to strangers and introduce oneself is overwhelming and terrifying. Playing ice-breaker games can be stressful. You have to decide which facts and personal details to reveal to these potential new friends and which to keep to yourself for a while. Orientation, and coming to college in general, puts many students out of their comfort zones, making introverts put on their extrovert hats for the whole week in a desperate effort to join a friend group while everyone is still in the same situation of not knowing anyone.
I am not against Orientation. Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone in this way is incredibly important. While I don’t think that the point of going to college is to find your bridesmaids and I don’t think that you necessarily have to lose touch with all of your best friends from high school, I do believe friendship is an incredibly essential part of college.
Students attending the College aren’t simply going to classes and then returning home. We are living in a community of students who all live, work and study together. College is the best time to find people who share one’s interests and values. Obviously, this can be done by joining clubs and organizations, but it can also be done by socializing with one’s hallmates. Just by nature of attending the College, there are some common interests among the vast majority of students here. Above all, we value academics and we value other people, especially other members of the Tribe.
We are “One Tribe, One Family,” but we’re a big, extended family. The close friends that we make are our immediate family at the College. They are the ones to whom we can turn in times of crisis, and that is why they are so important to have. Even the most shy, introverted and private people shouldn’t have to deal with crises themselves, unless they want to. Solitude is undeniably important, but the opportunity to break that solitude is just as essential. Even those of us who hate the process of meeting new people shouldn’t overlook the vital benefits close friends provide.
Email Emily Chaumont at firstname.lastname@example.org.