The o-week plunge

Claire Conarroe

You may have heard whispered rumors about its greatness as a prospective student or been blown away as a very disoriented first year, but, no matter what, your first orientation week was definitely an experience. As someone who enjoyed my first immersion into the Washington and Lee community as a prospective student, I spent the past summer eagerly awaiting the arrival of that hallowed week before classes. After months spent sorely missing my college friends and independence, nothing seemed to compare to the promise of another o-week.

Designed to introduce first years to Washington and Lee, orientation week emphasizes some of the best aspects of life as a student. A friendly atmosphere pervades every interaction on campus as first years scramble to meet each other and find their future best friends.

The smiles are a little brighter, the admittedly awkward hellos to that person you know but forgot the name of are a little more genuine, and the tendency to introduce yourself to random people is a little stronger. First years are required to attend different meetings and activities to acquaint themselves with everything from the Honor System and the meaning of a liberal arts education, to Traveller routes and the shops downtown.

Because of my participation in the First Year Orientation Committee and University Big program, I had the opportunity to interact with and observe the freshmen experience life at Washington and Lee for the first time. While watching them uphold the Speaking Tradition, go out of their way to befriend someone, or participate in a thoughtful discussion, I could not have been happier to see the newest members of our community embrace the traditions that have been an integral part of my college experience.

Although I was able to witness how o-week emphasizes some of Washington and Lee’s best aspects, I also noticed how it is a precursor to one of the most commonly critiqued characteristics of our campus culture. The very nature of orientation week encourages and arguably forces students to jump from activity to activity, without allowing for time to relax.

The schedule for first years is quite literally full of meetings, panels, placement tests, auditions, dinners, games and meetings. And after required events, more exciting opportunities to socialize are offered into the early morning hours. Even as a sophomore, I found it nearly impossible to carve out a little time to read amidst a constant stream of reunions and other obligations. I will concede, however,  that spending too much time with friends is a pretty good problem to have.

As we transition into the school year, let’s look back on o-week as a reminder to take a break every so often, in order to better appreciate the finer traditions and friendships that make Washington and Lee such a beloved and transformative time in our lives.