Keeping up with the Freshmen
By Molly Petrilla | It was sometime during the late-night orientation party known as PennFest 2005 that my efforts to fly backwards in time came crashing down. I was in mid-air courtesy of the giant inflatable Moon Bounce set up in Wynn Commons. With each jump, as the red, blue, and yellow of the bounceable ceiling and walls swirled around me, I grew giddy. Then, after a few more jumps, the floor began to feel a little squishy. Bounce. It was definitely squishy. Bounce. My right foot folded under me as I hit the stone beneath the Moon Bounce, and the entire apparatus caved in. Defeated and mildly injured, I dragged myself to the small slit that remained to escape from and crawled out.
Minutes later, the Bounce was up and running again. But it was too late for me. I’d already realized I was too old for New Student Orientation.
The Moon Bounce Collapse of ’05 only confirmed the feelings I’d developed weeks earlier, when the Gazette asked me to attend some of the orientation events in order to write an article. I knew it would be challenging to keep up with the Class of 2009, I just didn’t know how challenging. My attitude can be gleaned from the fact that, on the first day of NSO, I skipped all the events I deemed unimportantthe deans’ reception, the President’s welcome, and the student services expoin favor of watching TV in bed all day. Day two began with sleeping in and shopping downtown, and ended with the Moon Bounce fiasco. That’s when I knew NSO and I just weren’t meant to be reunited.
It wasn’t always thus. During my own orientation I was what some might consider a model freshman. I attended every event and bought all my booksalong with posters, Penn apparel, and school suppliesover a week before classes started. This year, by the second week of classes I still hadn’t purchased all the texts I needed. I’d tacked up the tattered posters I’ve been using for four years now, and I didn’t even pick up new notebookswhy bother if the old ones weren’t entirely full yet?
It’s safe to say I was more social in a single week of events my freshman year than I’ve been in the three years since. Like most freshmen, I’d meet people for about 40 seconds, then practically jump out of my pants with excitement when I’d happen to see them at another orientation event. Clearly, these were deep, meaningful friendships. I remember my desperate attempts to squeeze through the crush of freshmen that formed at every single event to get to the one or two people I actually knew and could then attach myself to. There’s nothing more comforting than seeing a familiar face in a sea of over 1,000except for knowing that you won’t have to give your I’m-from-New-Jersey-and-I’m-undeclared speech for the 37th time that day.
Once I’d identified a small gang of people on my floor of English College House who I considered “friends”and most of whom I never see anymoreI was ready for some of the optional orientation events. These included movies projected on big screens at Annenberg, usually with three choices each night. It was a great way to mingle with these new friends in a relaxed environment without the stress of forced conversation. I was disappointed to discover that these movies had been cut from this year’s orientation lineup.
Otherwise, little else had changed since my orientation. The new students still traveled in packs wearing brand new jeans, making them easy to spot from my thirteenth-floor high rise bedroom. There were still the girls who wore their tiniest skirts, sexiest tops, and highest heels to every eventeven on sweaty walking tours of campus. There were still the new “best friends forever” shouting Ohmigod! whenever they saw each other. And there was still an itinerary so full of forced togetherness that it would make even a cruise director cringe.
The University could save quite a bit of moneyofficials declined to comment on exactly how much is spent every year on NSOif freshmen were allowed to mingle in a more natural way. When I was a freshman, it wasn’t the mandatory events that brought us closer together, it was the smoky frat parties we attended as an entire floor, the subpar meals we picked at in the dining hall, the tours we gave each other of our room configurations. Though I think we all appreciated a little forced socializing, I would have preferred having more unscheduled time to casually mingle with my future friends.
In the three years since my own orientation, the biggest change that has occurred is in me. I’m more relaxed about classes, and I’m somewhat more sure of myself socially. I wouldn’t say that I’m jaded or lack enthusiasmthat’s not it at all. I’ve just learned, during my years here, not to be intimidated by new classes, places, or people, and I imagine that in three years the 2009ers will feel the same way. I just hope they go easy on the Moon Bounce.
Molly Petrilla is a senior creative writing major from New Jersey. She enjoys playing tennis and juggling, and plans to pursue a career in journalism.
©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette