3: Freshman Orientation

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

By Lauren Nevins

Freshman Orientation

Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.

~Brendan Francis

“At this time, we ask that parents and students separate into two groups for the remainder of the day. Parents and students will be reunited at the conclusion of the campus tour.”

Flocks of incoming freshmen happily abandon their parents upon hearing this announcement. I am less than thrilled at the prospect of starting college, let alone leaving my mother’s side to tour the campus with the rest of the wide-eyed incoming freshmen.

“Okay Laur, I’ll see you in a few hours, and remember, this is going to be a great experience for you!” Mom says, her big brown eyes alive with enthusiasm. I am amazed by my mother’s resilience, considering what my family and I have been through during the past four years.

My mother disappears into a sea of overzealous parents who look as if they have ransacked the campus bookstore; many of the parents, to the embarrassment of their teenagers, are proudly sporting university attire with slogans like, “I’m a Sunny Brook University Dad.”

We follow our senior tour guide. The other incoming students chatter and make casual introductions. I drag behind. How could I have believed I was ready for this? After all, it has only been a few months since I was discharged from the hospital. I am feeling better for the first time in years... but college?

My brooding is interrupted by a peppy voice. “Hi, I’m Jennifer.”

The voice is attached to a freckle-faced blond girl dressed in what can only be described as hippy-like sports attire. For some strange reason, I like her immediately.

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“I’m Lauren,” I reply.

“Commuting or dorming?”

I fumble for my words, still caught up in my own thoughts. I would dorm, but I have spent the last four years overcoming a major depressive disorder that nearly claimed my life. I am still readjusting to living back home, in a place where I can come and go without asking for a “pass” or for a staff member to unlock the door to let me outside. I’m not quite sure I’m ready for this right now.

“I, uh, I don’t know yet. My parents think I should dorm, but I don’t really want to,” I say in my most confident voice.

“You should definitely dorm! I’m going to, and I think it will be a lot of fun!”

I can’t decide if Jennifer’s enthusiasm is annoying or refreshing, but I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt. Before I can utter my less than enthusiastic reply, the tour guide announces that it is time to create our schedules.

We crowd into the Student Activity Center, or as the true, full-blown university students call it, the Sac, a nickname that immediately reminds me of the warm, safe bed at home I wish I were nestled in. We are ushered towards stiff, metal-backed chairs that hungrily await our freshman flesh. Three seniors hand out course bulletins as thick as textbooks, and slap registration forms down on the tables in front of us. All around me, papers crinkle and pencils scribble furiously. These sounds blare like an alarm clock, screaming “Wake up, Lauren!” Students seem to be moving through the process at rapid speed and I have not even opened my course catalog.

Focus, I tell myself. You can do this. Just read through the catalog and find the courses you like and a schedule that works. No big deal.

Intro to Psychology A or B, Foundations of Biology 2, Calculus, Geology 101, English, History, sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,6,7... the list goes on, and on, and on.

I begin to panic. How am I supposed to know what to do? I’m just relearning how to live in the real world again, and they want me to make a schedule?!

Other freshmen are handing in their materials, grinning as they rush out to meet their parents.

I cannot breathe, anxiety is coursing through my veins, and my head is pounding.

In moments, I am sobbing.

Other students abandon their tasks to stare at me, making me wish that the earth would open up and swallow me whole. One of the seniors in charge walks over to my table.

“What’s the matter?” she asks gruffly.

“I... I can’t do this!” I cry.

“All you have to do is make your schedule, just like everybody else,” she says, clearly annoyed.

I cry harder. Then, a warm hand on my shoulder... Jennifer.

“Everything is alright,” she tells the senior. “I’ll help her.”

The insensitive upperclassman walks away, and I feel the weight of the dozens of staring eyes lift. The other students quickly lose interest in the spectacle I’ve created and I can breathe again.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Jennifer asks.

I am touched by this near stranger’s concern. She hardly knows me, but seems to genuinely care.

Jennifer’s kindness gives way to new tears. If crying were a major, I would have earned my doctorate in it by now.

“It is just too much; it is just too overwhelming,” I say. “I... I have depression and I take medication.”

Why did I say that? She probably thinks I am a freak now. But Jennifer puts her arm around me and her words reach out and wrap warmly around my soul.

“I know all about that sort of thing,” she says. “My mother has depression. Besides, I think it’s pretty normal to feel overwhelmed right now.”

And with these words, just like that, the stigma of my mental illness is lifted for a moment and I am just a normal teenage girl with real fears about this exciting but frightening new adventure called “College.”

The room is nearly empty now, and I still have no schedule. The pages before me are watermarked with tears.

Jennifer reaches out and gently places her hand on my arm. “Okay, so you said earlier you wanted to be a Psych major, right?”

And with that, this girl who was a stranger to me before this day guides me through the process, step-by-step, until I have everything in place and my schedule is complete. I am amazed at how much more clearly I can see now that the veil of anxiety and tears has lifted. “See,” Jennifer tells me softly, “you knew exactly what to do — you just needed to believe in yourself.”

That was the beginning of what would blossom into a powerful friendship. With a hug goodbye and a promise to keep in touch, we left Freshman Orientation with much more than our schedules. As I went to meet my mother, I decided that I would give living on campus a try... after all, I had come this far, and with a little help from a new friend, I had been reminded of the strength that existed in me. Four years later, as I graduated from the university with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude, I looked back on Freshman Orientation, on all of my fears and insecurities, and smiled.

~Lauren Nevins

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