The Best Orientation Weekend Ever: Treasure Your Village

I graduated high school when I was pretty young: 16. That July, the school I chose, Adelphi University, had a “college orientation weekend,” where we would have an opportunity to meet other incoming freshmen and begin to make friends, so that when we returned for the school year in August, we’d feel less intimidated and, I imagine, the school believed we’d be more likely to succeed.

Of course, despite the fact that I was so young, I had the typical 16-year-old “know it all” attitude. I thought I was so grown up already! I was sure that I knew exactly what to do with my life, and where it was going. Naturally, I was wrong.

Arriving on Campus

I’ll never forget arriving on the campus for college orientation on that glorious July day, excited and full of hope for the future. We participated in some typical icebreaker activities – what’s your favorite music, most exotic place you’ve ever been, etc. – and we all began to make friends right away.

What I distinctly remember is the shocking realization that hit me within a few hours of my arrival – “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “I am SO YOUNG.” To this day, I don’t know what prompted that realization, but it changed the course of my life.

Upon arriving home from College Orientation three days later, I was sure of a couple of things: 1. I’d chosen the right school and 2. The boyfriend I’d dated all through high school was not the one for me. That’s a typical story, isn’t it?  Few people end up marrying their childhood sweethearts. The breakup was wrenching all around, but I’ve never regretted it.  As to “I’d chosen the right school,” well, remember how young I was?  I had a couple of simultaneously great and tumultuous years there before transferring elsewhere.

It Was the Right School for Me

However, it was absolutely the right school for me at the time. Incredibly, I’m still in touch with several of the people I met that orientation weekend; we’ve now seen each other through decades of life, love, loss, and triumphs. Even though we rarely see each other, the magic of social media has allowed us to keep and in some cases re-establish our bonds; whatever it was that drew us together that fateful weekend has remained the same. Back in 2014, several of us got together for dinner; it was as if we’d seen each other yesterday. In the words of my first college roommate, “Great night catching up with–time sure flies, but it was effortless getting back in that groove with y’all. I felt almost 19 again. Almost!”

Ahh, the glory days of our youth!

In early adulthood, we saw each other through the typical and not-so-typical life events: marriage. Heartbreak. Careers. And, in my case, the sudden death of my father when I was 20. That year, on my 21st birthday, I received a card from one of the Orientation Friends. All it said was, “Believe in Yourself.” More than 30 years later, I still have that card. It’s a reminder of the power of connection, the longevity of our friendship, and the importance of the belief in yourself, which is probably the most important thing to remember. Life is hard, and filled with unexpected twists and turns, but if you believe in yourself, you can hang on for the ride. Recently, she and her husband came to visit us and once again, we picked right back up where we left off.

By now, we’re scattered all over the country, of course. And even though we haven’t lived near each other in a long time, somehow, I still feel like these are the people who, in some ways, know me best.  We didn’t grow up together; we didn’t settle in the same places, work at the same companies, or even talk regularly on the phone. But the one thing that I have with this group that I don’t have with anyone else is this: they witnessed my transformation from who I thought I’d be into who I really am.

For those of you just leaving for college, remember this: cherish these days, and these people. It’s your first village after leaving home, and villages will make a big difference in your life; they’ll mean more to you than you can possibly imagine. If you’ve got memories of your first days at college, and your village, feel free to share them in the comments.

Here’s to the alumni of College Orientation Weekend. I’ll never forget you.⧉

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