shaun-85It is incredible how long we dream of and prepare ourselves for college. By the end of our senior year, it seems as though after four years of blood, sweat, and tears, we have made it to the end of a grueling race and are now ready to receive the greatest award of all: our matriculation into a place of higher education, which has been a beacon of hope, freedom, and success for as long as we can remember.

This romanticized notion of college all but deserted me as I twiddled my thumbs and wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans the bright morning in September that my father drove me to the Washington and Lee University campus. All of my dorm room designing and course selecting did nothing to quell the nagging fear that all college freshmen—no matter the level of their mental preparation—inevitably feel the first day of their college orientation. Did I bring everything I needed? Will I even be able to make new friends? What if I don’t get the classes that I want? My nerves skyrocketed as my residence hall came into view.

I was immensely relieved when four upper-classmen immediately offered to help carry my two-ton load of personal belongings to the fourth floor. With their help, I was moved in within minutes, and had completed the check-in process within an hour. I realized that Washington and Lee had indeed successfully completed the move-in process with two hundred and seventy-some classes before mine, so there was no need to worry. It’s important to trust that during orientation week, the university as a whole will achieve their goal, which is exclusively to take care of new students.

With a small student body of less than 2,000 undergraduates, 450 of which are freshmen, it was instantly apparent that I had entered a community that knows and cares for each other well. Within an hour of my arrival, I was already told about and encouraged to participate in W&L’s “Speaking Tradition,” in which all members of the community are expected to greet each other on campus. This made me feel welcome, and gave me several chances to meet new people right away.

It’s comforting to know that everyone here is in the same boat, and we will all be working together in beginning classes next week, making new friends, and creating new routines. Though I still view college as an icon of freedom and success, I realize that the most valuable experiences of these four years will be the relationships that we form within the community, and our efforts to shape a more conscientious and independent lifestyle.