Art by Peau Porotesano
Pepperdine’s New Student Orientation is, for some, a social nightmare. With its dance parties, song and dance routines, small talk and the onslaught of names forgotten seconds after they’re heard, the experience can be overwhelming. I was recently struck with a sense of horrified nostalgia as I watched the class of 2020 navigate its way through hordes of orange-clad, screaming and smiling upperclassmen on Aug. 23.
But for all its pomp and extravagance, NSO is designed with good intentions. The NSO Mission Statement explains that the week is meant to “facilitate a successful college transition” and provide “a welcoming atmosphere conducive to building new relationships.” As uncomfortable as I was at the beginning of my freshman year, I admit that the week opened opportunities I might not have had otherwise. Some of the people I met through NSO-related activities would become some of my best friends.
But perhaps the worst thing about NSO is that it appears to promise a vision of college life that Pepperdine can’t possibly fulfill. The screams and overly enthusiastic handshakes have been conspicuously absent this past week, as have the mandatory bonding activities. For most of the year, they’ll remain that way. The NSO student volunteers who spent most of their first week engaging with freshmen will now turn to schoolwork and old routines and new students are now fully responsible for their social lives.
It is especially important to remember that Pepperdine can also be a lonely campus. Jessica L. Rhodes, in her paper on Loneliness in the Pepperdine Journal of Communication Research, links the formation of “superficial relationships” to strong feelings of loneliness among Pepperdine students, freshman in particular. NSO’s blitzkrieg approach to meeting people and making friends undoubtedly contributes to these artificial social connections.
The rallies, chants and campus-wide dances are not regular parts of the school year for most students. Neither is the presence of volunteers whose job it is to make everyone feel comfortable. College life can be extraordinarily difficult and friendships at Pepperdine are just as difficult to forge as at any other institution, and NSO, for all its good intentions, provides an artificial view of college life. But it’s somewhat comforting to know that NSO is an impossible standard to live up to; when these expectations are dropped, students won’t feel they’ve “failed” if they haven’t already found their life-long friends or vocation. These, like all good things, will take time.
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