Orientating Post-Orientation

Evelyn Levine

Illustration by Eddy Vazquez.
Illustration by Eddy Vazquez.

I didn’t want to be at Whitman when I first arrived. Was I ready for college? Wasn’t I a city girl? What was this place called Walla Walla, Wash., and why was there so much alliteration?

I love the “w” alliteration now, and I get a little too defensive when people ask me if Walla Walla “is a real place.” You’re right – I made that up. I go to college at Disneyland and Pluto is much smarter than he lets on and teaches a killer physics class.

For some, the first weeks at college are an idyllic, exciting and fun time to remember fondly for the rest of life. Some students make tons of friends, play get-to-know-you games with complete sincerity and thrive in the campiness. If you loved orientation, go you! If not, you are not alone. My first weeks at Whitman were by far my worst because of orientation.

In my stereotypical introverted and cynical nature, I could not stand the campiness of the orientation week(s) that never seemed to end. Why couldn’t we adjust to our surroundings by getting ahead on new Encounters reading or sitting with a few new people and playing cards or drinking tea? The school wants a seamless transition to a completely new environment with new people, new food, new living quarters, new social dynamics and new, multi-toileted places to poop (RA’s should own a copy of the book “Everybody Poops”). The school tries to help new students jump right into everything and distract them from the many college anxieties. While successful for many Whitman students, it is not a “one-size-fits-all” orientation.

I worried about Bon Appétit food and about getting along with my roommate, who wore a neon hat and a trendy asymmetrical haircut (her first words to me were something like “Hey, bro”). I freaked out; every person seemed more accomplished and intelligent than the next (You did what in high school? You speak how many languages? Your SAT score was…?). My identity crisis/battle of self-worth worsened when I went to our first section meeting and couldn’t tell all of the Caucasian girls in solid colors apart. I was just another Caucasian girl, but a less intelligent one. I know now that I was not the only one, regardless of skin color, who panicked at our section meeting. White girls like me, with dirty blond hair, are alike until you get to know us beyond our name, which is quite likely a variation on Sara, Alex or Katie.

At convocation, former ASWC President Matt Dittrich ’12 gave us his phone number, told us to “unclench” our butt cheeks, as many of us were over-achiever grade-focused types in high school, and “prepare to get C’s” (it happens, chill out). We were asked to raise our hands if we were National Merit Scholars, and he then compared the percentage of National Merit Scholars in the room to the percentage in China. Almost the entire class but me was a National Merit Scholar, and so was the entirety of China. Clearly, my nervous mind was playing tricks.

After that rash devaluing of achievements, another faculty member asked us to recall how many of us attended Whitman regardless of our doubtful college counselors, family members and friends. I felt a little better because Whitman helped me stick it to my high school college counselor.

Things started getting better. My roommate and I bonded over our hatred for Cheez-Whiz, discovered we had similar music tastes and a few weeks later referred to ourselves in private company as our room number. We made a list of things F301 hated and number one was the word “swag.” When classes began, I had a regular schedule, and I was my silly self, galloping around and making contorted faces. I jokingly told everyone in my section that they would all fall on to my menstrual cycle as I was the Alpha-female, I tried out for the first stage production of the year and made the cut and I joined Hillel-Shalom to explore my on-again-off-again Judaism.

So, if you are fretting about orientation-week hoopla being a representation of your overall college experience and real adjustment after, reflect so you can figure out what you need. Maybe that includes doing everything –– all the auditions, clubs and activities you signed up for at the Activities Fair. Maybe that means calling home or watching “Aristocats.” They say we’re all different, like snowflakes. The only two things we all have in common is that we are at Whitman College, and everybody poops.