After I graduated high school, I in no way felt like I had my life together. I took a year off before coming to Clemson. I got a job at Moe’s rolling burritos for my former classmates and their parents, who asked me, “Oh, what are you doing?” and tried really hard to keep a polite face when I told them I wasn’t in school.
One way or another, I found my way to Clemson. I touched on the weird transition my family was going through at move-in time in the inservice. Due to a lot of those things, Orientation was totally terrifying. I was hanging on to sufficient financial aid by my fingernails, and I felt like a loser surrounded by what seemed like exclusively students straight out of high school. My year off started off scary, but I’d gotten comfortable in new friends (I didn’t see my high school friends much because all of them moved for college), hobbies, and a job, and now I was being ripped out of that and stuck in yet another new situation. My Ambassador was as friendly as she could be, but I was completely overwhelmed and kept to myself pretty much the whole time.
I’m sharing all of this because you genuinely never know what a student is going through at Orientation. You couldn’t identify the things running through my mind just by looking at me — for one thing, one year isn’t that much and it’s not like I looked older than any other freshman. But one year felt like a lifetime and I thought about it constantly throughout my first semester. Nor did I look like someone who went through the motions of Orientation so certain that I’d never actually make it here because my Pell Grant would get reduced or something — whatever that person looks like.
"...you genuinely never know what a student is going through at Orientation."
It was a lot more of the same my first semester. It was like there was so much pressure to go out and get involved in things, but I couldn’t seem to competently take the first step. I went to meetings and events but clung to my best friend or kept to myself. On my year off, I’d established myself as an outgoing person who easily made friends with the people I met. But now I retreated back into my shell: it was overwhelming enough when I first got here and only knew a handful of people, and only one that was a friend. After my best friend transferred, I was basically marooned.
December of my first semester, I took two big steps forward: I joined the exec board for the Gay-Straight Alliance and I accepted an offer to be an Orientation Ambassador. Both of these steps were a result of people reaching out and encouraging me. It wasn’t until a month or so into the OA program that I felt like I had friends. It got so much easier after that. Clemson is really big on encouraging first-year students to get involved, and I think they’re completely right. But taking that first step can be terrifying. It was through those first steps that I learned how to be comfortable taking risks here — in other words, I needed a support system first.
Reflection Question: Considering how scary it can be to start getting involved on a campus where you don’t know anyone, how might you encourage a student to get involved? What could you do to make them feel better about taking risks?