Welcome to the University
Things I wish I could tell first-year me
A crowd of buzzing nerves and cargo shorts fills into lined chairs for a convocation of honor, tradition, buzzwords and ideals.
I watch them from the edge of the Lawn. They sit arranged by hall or with silent roommates — sweet, forgotten, transient relationships with people who they won’t know how to address by name a month from now. First years, welcome.
A recent Cavalier Daily column listed the ways to spot a first year. This new generation of students at the University will define its flavor and complicate its traditions, will sweat and chill and worship in this place after we have gone.
I don’t claim I have the answer key to teach these students how to love their new home. My experiences are not representative of other people’s friendships and unique paths here. Rather, here are words I wish someone had told me in those precious and tender and nervous first weeks of school.
I encourage our incoming class to read the textbooks, to go to office hours. Cherish the learning that happens on the sunrise hike up Humpback, your legs and knees cramping with no end in sight and the soft labored breaths bonding two strangers.
Say yes. Say yes to your RA, to the boy down the hall who wants to study together, to sorority and fraternity rush, to streaking, to brunch.
Ask your professor for an extension on the problem set or take-home exam and apologize for the seven collab posts you missed while in bed nursing a combination of the flu and heartache and homesickness.
I came across similar advice in my furious search for advice my summer before first year. “Breathe,” they said. “Stay up late and meet new people!” they said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” they said. I didn’t listen.
So here’s my own welcome address: feel the white-washed and shadowed columns of the school and hate the endless gleaming and dirty snow that drags across every carpeted surface in your apartment during a freezing winter. Fall asleep in the last row of large lecture classes and beg the line for the dumpling cart to be shorter. Cry or laugh or get drunk on Schnapps and far-away a cappella at Lighting of the Lawn. Thank your bus drivers and your SafeRide picker-uppers and clap loudly on the last day of class. Marvel at the newness of Nau and the warbled light in Gilmer and the discordant songs of tradition and winning. Be thankful.
Grace’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.