Redos don’t happen often. However, after the disconnectedness of online learning, people who started at the University of Michigan during the pandemic were introduced in fractured moments spread out over a few years. Now, many have been introduced to campus for the first time, and almost everyone is in the process of being introduced to each other and the student body.
After the chaos of last year, I’m hopeful for my sophomore year at the University. It’s coming up fast; the streets of Ann Arbor are crowded with parked cars and the residence halls are full. Classes have just started picking up.
As a second-year student, I don’t know much about the university’s campus. I spent a few months in the dorms last fall, but I wasn’t exactly able to do the wandering around and acclimating to campus that usually comes with a default first-year experience. So, even though I feel cautious about getting hopes up, I can’t help but be excited about the prospects of something new: browsing libraries, exploring Nichols Arboretum, hearing classmates converse in a Michigan classroom. I know I’ll roll my eyes at myself in a few months when the novelty will undoubtedly wear off. As someone who knows the University through online school, I’ve only seen some of the bigger parts of the “Michigan Experience” warped in a digital space. But I’m curious to see Michigan in its everyday moments.
Even if those moments involve introducing myself to a large group. In discussion sections and smaller classes, there’s the standard practice of entering class (in-person or online) and commencing introductions. One by one, you all share the basics: name, pronouns, year, major.
Then you answer The Question. There is no guarantee for specifics of The Question, except that it normally asks for lighthearted answers. Examples include the playful, “If you were a [common noun], what kind would you be?”, the cultured, “Tell me about a [book/movie/TV show/video game] you encountered recently” and the ever-present, “Tell us a fun fact about yourself!” Personally, my favorite ice-breaker I’ve encountered was in English 223, where our instructor asked us to lie about ourselves.
I suppose the questions don’t matter as much as the answers, and I suppose the answers don’t matter as much as the fact that people are saying anything at all. During online school, icebreakers — like everything else — felt like a performance. Still, it felt better than silence: It allowed me to view my peers as people instead of rectangles on a screen. Many despise icebreakers in general, but I like listening to everyone’s answers in the same way I like people-watching or reading The Daily’s Love Notes.
Asking people questions about themselves can do a lot of things: highlight the different personalities within a group, open the floor for discussion casually and possibly even cut the tension with a goofy question. My love of icebreakers is exacerbated by the fact that my world has gotten as small as possible in the past year and a half; hearing new stories and seeing new people is almost dizzyingly exciting.
The only problem is speaking for myself. When I move my shaking hands to unmute on Zoom, I hear my heart pounding and my voice wavering. Immediately, I go into autopilot, staring at the tabs at the top of my window. Additionally, many with social anxiety could find speaking in a large group of new people a frustrating experience. Maybe it’s only fair then that introductions aren’t mandatory; students should be able to volunteer to introduce themselves instead of needing to ask to be left out.
What makes me excited about introductions this year are the second chances. I struggled (like many) last year, especially in the dorms. Hopefully, we can start fresh when we move to campus. In between all of the introductions in the last year or so, I changed all my answers: I have the chance to start my in-person college experience as a different person than I was in my freshman year.
When I walk past the dorms and see silhouettes in the windows, I’ll wonder: Is someone like me-from-a-year-ago in there? Roommate-less, anxious, lonely? Will they be getting the same series of introductions? I hope not. I hope they know how many chances they will get to start over.
So here we go. Bring on the questions. Normally, the idea of having to introduce myself over and over sounds exhausting. But, after this year, it’s reassuring to know that in school and beyond, there will always be endless rooms of new people, most of whom I will probably never see again, who will say outrageous things and tell ridiculous stories and maybe ask me if I would rather have fingers for toes or toes for fingers. To know that once more we’ll be surrounded, just a speck in a crowd full of lives unfolding.
Meera Kumar is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.