Viewpoints: They Even Love Us in New York!
When The New York Times sits up and takes notice, we know were doing something right. So, we wanted our alumni to know, too.
Especially since GW orientation has changed a great deal in the last decade. Once upon a time, it was nothing to write home aboutmuch less to write in The New York Times about! But times have changed. Our president saw this rave review by Hubert B. Herring in the Aug. 22 edition and thought we should share it with you. We thought so too. Enjoy!
Orientation Is Given the Old College Try
By Hubert B. Herring
The New York Times NATIONAL
Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2001
Parents and students enjoy an opening session of GWs Colonial Inauguration freshman orientation program.
As our son neared the end of high school, my wife and I pondered deep and hard, soaked up reams of printed wisdom and decided that the ideal college for him would be small, rural and liberal arts.
So, naturally, he chose a large urban universityto be precise, George Washington University, a Frisbees throw from the White House. It was an abrupt lesson that our influence on him is shrinking to the vanishing pointthat it is, after all, his life.
But with the decision made, what next? The summer before college is a notoriously anxious time for students. Theyre on the cusp of bursting out into the giddy, rattling world of unknown roommates, no curfews and the demons of uncertainty, but as summer begins its all an unsettling blur.
It was an anxious blur for us, too. Not only had we reached that pivotal moment when our parental role was to be reduced, basically, to writing (large) checks, when wed merely be waiting for letters (well, e-mail) rather than car doors at midnight (well, 1 a.m.). Since our son had gone firmly his own way in his choice of college, we visualized him lost in an urban jungle, clawing his way into every course, a faceless number in a grindingly large school.
The university, I have to say, rode magnificently to the rescue.
Many universities have buffed up their orientations for parents and students, and if George Washingtons is any guide, there is much to be grateful for. Four of the five sessionsit could not accommodate a class of 2,500 in one gulpare held in June and early July, presumably with the goal of sweeping away that early-summer anxiety. And that they do.
Where to start in giving the flavor of that two-and-a-half day whirlwind? Heres as good a place as any: We were sitting in a lecture hall on the final day, with a panel on stage discussing how hard it is for some parents to let go of their babies. The official leading the discussion spied a mother getting teary, and he yelled: Quick! A teddy bear over here on the left! Within seconds, a student, to joyous applause, bounded down the aisle to award the prize.
This was typical of the high energy, the good spirits, the overwhelming sense of concern that enveloped students and parents alike the whole weekend.
That student was one of a team of 30 who joined various deans and other officials in running the orientation, and they popped up everywhere, ready to answer questions or offer adviceat your breakfast table, at various information sessions, on the street.
The opening session set the tone by concluding with an exuberant laser-light show. The students put on skits the first night on all manner of college issues, like homesickness, alcohol, parents separation, openness about being gay. This was followed by separate parent and student discussion groups and, for those parents with energy left (not us), late-night Washington tours.
Incoming students got a taste of college life by staying in the dorms, and our son happily reported that 15 of them wound up in his room talking till 3 a.m.even though he had to register for classes at 7 (a taste of sleep deprivation to come). The topics at the multitude of information sessionssome just for students or for parents, some open to bothranged from depressing matters like paying bills to intriguing ones like the options for studying abroad. But the seminars also yielded numerous offbeat, but equally valuable, nuggets.
One father of a current student told of his dismay when his daughter acquired a nose ring. His response: He showed up at parents weekend in an outlandish outfit, complete with fake tattoos and ponytail. Why, he asked when she looked at him in horror, did he not also have the right to wear his inner eccentric on his sleeve? After he added mischievously that he planned to keep the outfit on the entire weekend, the nose ring, he reported, came out with breathtaking speed.
Or this priceless bit of advice: If you cant get your son or daughter to write home, not even a two-line email message, write a letter saying, Heres a check for $50. I just wanted you to go out and have a good time. Then send the letterbut leave out the check. Your phone will ring instantly. Guaranteed.
But I wont steal all the good lines, just as you wouldnt give away all the jokes in a funny show. And the orientation did indeed have the qualities of a polished, entertaining show even as it dispensed mounds of wisdom and massaged any runaway anxiety.
It was a show that, quite frankly, left me feeling not What has my son gotten himself into? but Do you suppose I could go here?
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company.
Reprinted by permission.