Freshman Orientation is an experience
we’d all surely love to forget. Living for three days in a
room with two people I’ll probably never see again, going on
a long and arduous campus tour for the eighth time and getting up
at seven in the morning so that I can learn how to use the library
are all parts of my life I’d prefer to block out. However, it
is impossible to do so with swarms of the yellow-folder-toting
youth roving around Ann Arbor all summer. Orientation does nothing
to actually orient one to real college life, and at best serves as
a surreal escape from anything resembling reality.

Elliott Mallen

Orientees are always easy to pick out. By day, they’re
distinguishable by their signature brightly-colored name tags. By
night, they’re the only people traipsing about Ann Arbor in
groups of 17. These kids are afraid to do anything alone. They are
told right away that the focus of orientation is to make new
friends by any means necessary. The result is the formation of
massive groups of incoming freshmen that have known one another for
only a couple hours. They all understand that traveling in groups
of less than five or (God forbid) alone will result in being a
social outcast throughout the entire four-year college stint. Being
in these groups does little to yield actual friendships, let alone
any kind of meaningful conversation. The orientees latch onto one
another, hoping that safety in numbers will protect them from
becoming pariahs at age 18.

I’m under the impression that many incoming freshmen lack
the practical skills needed if one is to live somewhat
independently of one’s parents. For example, I work at the
deli bar in the cafeteria of East Quad, where orientation kids
stay. This bar contains all kinds of delicious sandwich
ingredients. However, it is strictly forbidden to use these
ingredients on hamburgers, as there are hamburger toppings in the
dining room and a sign explicitly stating just that right in front
of the deli bar. I strategically placed this sign directly in front
of the ingredients, blocking them from those who would dare use
them on their hamburgers. This was apparently too much to handle.
One girl read the sign carefully, gazed longingly at the forbidden
sliced cheese behind it, then woefully at her cheeseless hamburger,
then at the cheese again, then at the sign. She consulted another
girl as to what course of action she should take. This girl then
read the sign, looked at the cheese, looked at her burger, back to
the cheese, back to the sign. A third girl did the same. Somewhere
in the distance, a cell phone rang. The three finally decided that
the most reasonable thing to do would be to move the sign out of
the way in order to take the cheese. These are the future leaders
of the free world.

Orientees seize the Diag at night, as it is the only Ann Arbor
landmark they are even remotely familiar with. It is a place that
defines college, and they’ll be damned if they don’t
squeeze as much college into their three days here as they can. A
common fixture on the Diag at night is a young male orientee with
an acoustic guitar surrounded by his 17 person cluster. The girls
fawn over his off-key renditions of Goo Goo Dolls and Dave Matthews
songs, occasionally trying to sing along when their swooning
subsides enough. This is what college is: sensitive boys with
acoustic guitars playing heartfelt covers under the shadows of
ridiculously aristocratic buildings. He’s the type of guy who
will one day be the frat brother whose hair is a little bit longer
and a bit more tousled (deliberately and painstakingly tousled, but
tousled nonetheless), who has Bob Marley posters on his wall, who
unbuttons his polo shirt an extra button, who occasionally smokes
the cheapest weed he can find in order to maintain his rebellious
image. “He’s different from the others,” the
naïve girls will say. “He likes Phish.” This
spectacle on the Diag does not last, however, as the
musician’s repertoire is exhausted after five songs.

Orientation gives a false impression of college life to a group
of kids still deeply rooted in high school. Nobody starts college
in the fall prepared for anything except being registered for a few
100-level classes they didn’t really want to take in the
first place. Orientation is a bizarre limbo somewhere between high
school and the imaginary, unattainable ideal of college life. The
rough descent back into reality comes in the fall.

Mallen can be reached at
“mailto:emmallen@umich.edu”>emmallen@umich.edu.

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