Orientation was a blast! Orientation at CMU is one of national acclaim; a nine-day convention of events, community discussions, lessons from older students as well as tons of fun programs such as Casino Night, Greek Gala and the Class Photo on the Cut.
I was able to meet so many new people.
I arrived at CMU on Monday of Orientation Week. Yugesh, my RA, was waiting for me at the Forbes and Morewood Avenue bus stop in front of Carnegie Mellon University and led me to Wiegand Gym, where meals for the rest of Orientation would be hosted. We sauntered to Hamerschlag House so I could quickly drop my belongings, only a heavy duffle bag and the backpack I bought for sale at Marshall’s. I noticed my floor was empty, but when I asked, Yugesh replied that everyone was going to have dinner at Wiegand Gym. As a person who enjoys a wide variety of cuisine, I wasn’t focused on what was on the menu; rather, I was thrilled there was lots on the menu. Tons of pasta, chicken breast, and salad to boot, I knew I was having at least thirds.
Shortly after seating myself with some First-years, the center of the gym flushed with rainbow color. All the RA’s were wearing their special color shirts, with a color of the rainbow specifying which housing community they were from. Living in Hamerschlag in the Hill neighborhood, Yugesh and his team all wore red. There were RA’s in yellow, others green, a lot wearing blue and still others in purple; orange (I learned just last week) was reserved for RA’s serving exclusively upper-class dorms and apartments.
And then, the rainbow moved! AB Tech started a song on the speakers and the 110 RA’s began to dance, as if on cue. Fleur East’s Sax blared from the loudspeakers and the floor beneath me shook as the RA’s slid, shimmied, leaped and performed an energetic choreograph in front of my class, the Class of 2020+. We were shocked by this sudden surge of energy stirring; the gym became a dance floor; I was exhilarated that I almost leapt off my seat to join the dancers.
During Convocation, I and another student were selected to stand on stage. That meant, we were literally a couple feet from the deans of CMU’s 7 colleges, the Provost and then-CMU President Subra Suresh himself! It was amazing to be adjacent such renowned leaders. And to be cheered by my entire class? I’m sure this was no dream!
I know of only one other event that was more intense than that first dance at dinner: House Wars. The Hill neighborhood was buzzing with excitement. On a sweltering Friday afternoon, Hill residents gathered all the cardboard discarded from Move-In Day and cut out shields and signs out of the cardboard. Whether someone made a cutout of a crab, or a lifesize ketchup bottle, everything created was coated with many layers of red paint. Everyone painted red paint on their faces, their arms, their chests and backs. I accidentally smeared some on my glasses, on the part that rests on my left ear. That’s devotion! The theme that year was the Hill was a brigade of pirates and no one looked the part better than Aaron George, one of the Housefellows of the Hill. He displayed his beard with pride, one that was blanketed with red sparkly glitter. If a beard could shine, Aaron’s could. He WAS Redbeard, the saltiest pirate captain of all the seven seas!
The Orientation Counselors and Orientation Leaders hyped the entire Hill neighborhood with Hill Chants. We assembled in front of Scobell House, which overlooks our rival, Donner House across the street. The energy in the air was palpable, screams swelled from our lungs to our mouths. Once we started chanting, we didn’t stop. I can remember some of them, others were lost from the sheer heat of the moment where excitement filled my mind.
“The Hill is WHAT? The Hill is ILL!”
“R-E! R-E-D! R-E-D-H-O-T-T! Who’s hot? Red’s hot! How hot? Red hot!”
“(Go! Go get ‘em! Go, go, go get ‘em, get ‘em!) GooooooOOOOOO….RED TEAM GO!!”
After our chant off with Donner House, the Blue Ocean from across the street, we stepped over to the Cut for House War field games. One game was Cup Stacks, where six cups had to be rapidly stacked into a 1-2-3 pyramid and then stacked back into six cups. I sadly took 17 seconds to do this task. Another task was only impossible if people forgot about personal space. Orange Pass was a game where teams passed an orange (a rarity in Pittsburgh) without their hands, but with their chins. People did get quite close during those minutes. The last game I competed in involved trying to fill in a bucket with a sponge. A team stood in line passing a soaking wet sponge from the front to the back of the line. This was difficult, because how do you pass something quickly without clutching it with an iron grip? I struggled with this conundrum to my team’s dismay; my shirt was wet at the end of the game. Sorry, team. I felt I had let my team down. I let the Hill down.
If the only deciding factor for victory was the volume of a community’s chants, then the Hill, in my most unbiased opinion, would have been the undeniable victors. But considering the points tallied from the House Wars field games, Stever House, a housing community all of its own, was the victor of Orientation 2016. I felt stung with defeat, but the Orientation Counselors and Orientation Leaders led more cheers to shake the loss away. As the Hill returned to our dorms, many hanged out at Hamerschlag Lounge to unwind after a day full of cheering and running. But, the only thing anyone wanted to do that day was party; I just stayed at the Lounge, savoring the fleeting moments of the most fun day of my life.
When the semester began, I got to meet my floormates. Hamerschlag was an all-male dorm, so they were all men in my floor. I slowly learned that they spanned different majors. Two floormates, like Atticus and his roommate were Drama majors. Roly, the Rubik’s Cube genius and devoted Star Wars aficionado was an Information Systems major. As a First-Generation college student, I hadn’t heard of a good deal of majors before. I didn’t even know what Information Systems was until I met Roly, who told me it was a whole lot of computer science. That means a lot of coding.
I also got to learn where my floormates were from. Many hailed from the Northeast. One guy, Chris, was an alum from Thomas Jefferson, which I had never heard of before. I learned that Thomas Jefferson is a private school that feeds high-achieving students to top-tier universities across the US. Other floormates graduated from highly selective schools; it was conversations like these where I found the trouble in paradise. Sure I enjoyed meeting new people in my floor, but I flushed with shame when I realized that it would be hard to connect with my floor because many of my floormates hailed from privileged backgrounds. Their schools offered courses taught by leading professionals. I felt inferior. Me taking AP Calculus and AP Literature was not enough to match the caliber of courses in the prestigious academies my floormates graduated from.
Soon as a result, imposter syndrome subsumed me and I felt I was always missing out on something. Or, I felt unincluded; I wasn’t in the know. Conversations often involved memes, which I learned was the standard vocabulary for college-aged students. Every prestigious university had its own meme Facebook group. And in my early days at Carnegie Mellon University, I learned there were students who made time out of their incredibly busy schedules to make memes and share them with many others. There seemed to be this whole community where I always felt apart from. I could see it, but I didn’t know how to join.
Like every night before the first year of classes, I couldn’t sleep. I enjoyed Orientation so much; it set the tone for what fun at college was. Fun at college isn’t just what you see in the movies, where people burn couches outside of frat houses and everyone reclines on living room walls drunk in wild Friday night parties. While there is no couch burning at CMU, there are parties where students can drink themselves drunk. There are parties for those who like to have a blast. But I’m not like that. Orientation was all about alternatives that are safe for everyone. Having fun doesn’t have to mean getting drunk. I was glad to have found fun in my terms during Orientation, and so I knew whenever I wanted to have fun, I could be confident there were spaces for having fun without alcohol.
But the other thought in my head was how harsh professors would be. Would they call me only by my last name expecting me to answer a difficult problem in class only to fail in front of the class and lose points from my grade? Would they have arbitrary rules for homework? Grey staples only? No blue pen for homework? Essays only left justified or else the term paper fails? I had heard ridiculous rules for homework at my eldest brother’s university when he was in college. He once failed a paper because the professor didn’t see her name on the paper. She emphasized that her name has to be on papers or else she wouldn’t bother reading it. Would my grade be at the mercy of a professor’s idiosyncrasies? I really did have a bad time sleeping that night.