Imagining Impending Reality: A Freshman Pre-Orientation

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Imagining the precise details of the future: events that haven’t happened, places I haven’t seen and nuances I can’t yet grasp, is impossible. So naturally, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing all summer.

It’s the mental equivalent of impulsive packing. Packing storage containers? That’s practical, like planning out what classes I will take this semester. But trying to picture exactly what I will be doing on a given Swarthmore Saturday night? That’s like the three different kinds of green tea I stuffed into my duffel bag: indulgent and unnecessary, but somehow inevitable.

Last August, my thoughts about the future were abstract and harmless, changing easily and regularly. Swarthmore was among the favorite schools I’d visited, but it played a minor role in my thoughts. And when I happened to schedule my interview for last year’s freshman-move-in-day, instead of exploring campus alone as I had intended, I found myself watching families saying goodbye and roommates becoming acquainted.

The fact that this would be me in a year was uncomfortable. It wasn’t my turn. I began to feel like an intruder and a fraud. I didn’t deserve to eat my picnic lunch on the lawn in front of Sharples when I’d yet to write my common app essay.

After the interview, as I walked between groups of new students in circles on the lawn, I felt that excruciating mixture of embarrassment and awkwardness that I’m hoping only exists in high school. It wasn’t just that I imagined everyone was staring, I was rattled by the fact that this could be me. There, in front of me, was the exact course of events that I might follow. Nothing hypothetical about it.

For a long time, college is merely the vague result that will come at the end of many, many steps. You lose sight of what the four years will actually mean. When I filled in my answers on the SATs or wrote an essay supplement, I didn’t see sitting in a circle of fellow freshmen on a beautiful day at my new school. I couldn’t. And then finally, I made my choice and still didn’t immediately understand it all meant. The process obscured the excitement I should have been feeling all along.

Now that I’m down to worrying that my pillows are too big for my pillowcases, my imagination is in overdrive. I try to see what my life will look like at school, and no reminders to “just be patient” clear the images I create. But I’m determined for these thoughts not to interfere with the moment at hand. At long last, my mental preparation will be swept away by something much more compelling: reality.

Cecilia Paasche ’16 is arriving at Orientation, today!

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