Sporting their neon crew neck t-shirts and black Nike sneakers, I recall the upperclassmen herding groups of skittish freshmen into the Student Health and Athletics Center. There, we took our ID photos, memorabilia which we could throw away. I saw a sophomore that I recognized from middle school, which strangely agitated my nerves instead of calming them. I spent my first night in Wheeler, rooming in the triple directly adjacent to the road, on the top-bunk which looks up at the sewage pipe from which you can hear all the midnight flushes. That night, we watched Thor: Ragnarok in the common room, silently snacking on brownie bits and pretzels.
I heard a lot about square dancing, an infamous orientation tradition, in the preceding hours. Knowing all but three people going into orientation, I cannot say I was particularly looking forward to it. To my surprise, it was a fun experience. Everyone gathered on the Chapel Lawn, laughing and embarrassing themselves.
However, my fondest memory of orientation was the gathering in the SHAC. It was decorated like any other SHAC night. String lights and posters ambiguously strewn about the atrium. Students gathered around circular tables, playing and spectating games of Apples to Apples. Different orientation cliques were talking in the dance studio, on the floor of the squash courts, or on the marble steps outside. A medley of pop and rap radio songs blasting through someone’s dingy speaker. The most lively of these vignettes was in the basketball courts.
The lights were bright and I had just been adopted by a junior. We were playing 3v3 pickup games, our teams having been decided by whoever had exchanged early pleasantries. My team consisted of another freshman and a junior who was very clearly carrying our squad. That night, we played for over an hour, each one of us too scared to find something else to do. The games were played first to eleven. I would bet I scored fewer points than the number of games I played. The junior could only carry us so far, and we soon became perennial losers. Gunk and sweat quickly collected on my face, so I decided to leave for a minute and wash my face in the downstairs locker rooms.
Despite my default disposition, I must have left the gym with my head hanging low, because I was promptly greeted by my team’s junior as I exited the bathroom. He asked me how I was, and quickly moved the subject along when I told him I was doing well. The conversation moved from school, to the NBA, to general gossip of which I could understand none of. We only spoke for about 5 minutes before working our way back to the pickup line.
I will always consider that surface-level conversation to be the first moment I truly felt at ease at CA. Someone I had barely known, who dealt with my clumsy passes and weak screens, had taken the time to check up on me. I think orientation is a great event not for the schoolwide ceremonies, but rather for those small moments of happenstance that connect two people on two different axes of their CA careers.