Originally published 4/8/2014 on Isolated Pixels
I wouldn’t be a very good orientation leader.
Spring is in the air and that means the college visits for incoming freshman and those still deciding on where they’re going to to school are in full swing. It’s nice seeing fresh faces around campus and you always know who they are because they’re more full of life, less tired and anxiety-riddled. People wear those things on their face and after a year, two, three or more years of struggle the features become permanently ingrained. There’s an innocence about them, a purity in their eyes that hasn’t been tainted yet. That innocence makes the pain they will face even more difficult to deal with. Because you know that they’re all going to struggle with one thing or another.
I couldn’t look those kids in the eye and say “The next four years are going to be the greatest times of your life.” I couldn’t tell them that things are going to be rosy and paint this picture of college as this great place where you’ll be a free thinker and surrounded by people who think the same way you do. I wouldn’t let myself deceive them by telling them that making friends is easy and that they’ll have so many opportunities, that they’ll enjoy their classes and feel like they’re accomplishing something meaningful. I won’t try to convince them that they’ll feel at home soon enough because that would be lying and lying is something I won’t do.
If I were an orientation leader I’d look at all those fresh faces and I’d know that some of them won’t make it through their first year. Some of them will fall in to the drinking crowd and watch their grades slip away. Some of them will be consistently homesick and not be able to take the pressure. Some of them won’t be able to keep up with college coursework and some of them will fall through the cracks and fail a few classes. Some of them will sit in their dorm rooms each weekend with nothing to do. Some of them will develop social anxiety and will be too afraid to make new friends and some of them will let their problems define them. Some of them will get depressed and wake up every morning with no initiative to do anything and some of them will think about killing themselves. Some of them will struggle with their sexuality, others with their beliefs. Some of them will be at odds with themselves and will be forced to redefine who they are and some of them will realize that this college wasn’t the right decision for them in the first place, that they should have gone somewhere smaller or maybe they shouldn’t have gone to college at all. All of them will struggle with something at one point or another. And some of them won’t be able to get through it. The pressure will be too great and they’ll have no choice but to drop out and start over somewhere else.
Granted a lot of them will get through their problems and have a lot of fun. They’ll keep up with classes and have friends to go to and be involved and accomplish something meaningful. But I know that won’t apply to everyone.
Maybe I’d find that kid hovering in the back, the one standing by himself trying so desperately to fit in but dealing with the fact that over the 2 day orientation he couldn’t make a single friend, not one person who he thinks is worth his time. Maybe they’re beginning to figure out that things are going to be tough for them, the cogs already overrunning in their mind, trying to figure out what the problem is and hatching plans to fix it. And maybe I’ll pull them aside and say, “Hey, things are gonna suck. They’re going to get difficult and all you’ll want is to have things the way they are now. To go back in time and change your mind and go back home. I’ve been there. I’m still there. But there’s good in little moments and as you get older and grow into this community, those little moments become more frequent and more lasting. You have to have faith that things will get better, because they will and you’ll know it when it happens. But when things get bad, and they will, always know that you can talk to me and I’ll listen and I’ll try to help you and make things better. I’ll promise you that much.”
I wish someone would have said that to me. Instead of building up this experience as the pinnacle of existence I wish someone would have been real with me. I wish someone would have told me how things were going to go and at least give me some expectations of the mess I was throwing myself in to. I had no idea. I won’t let that happen to someone else. Maybe I’ll scare them away but maybe that’s what’s best for them and it’s better for them to see that sooner rather than later.