Friday, August 13, 2004
That Back To School Vibe is in the Air
At the community college where I work, we marked the start of the semester with several nights of New Student Orientations this week. With all the speeches by college dignitaries, the "get to know you" ice breakers, the workshops and wrap-up sessions, I have a sense that New Student Orientation is a sort of initiation ceremony. We've lost the ceremony and the ritual, but it is still a way of saying, yes, this is a crossroads, this is a new step, this is the door you need to walk through--and you can do it.

Some ivy-league colleges welcome the freshmen to the fold with the time-honored Campus Processional. Professors, dressed in their archaic dress, parade across campus carrying campus pennants. The scared freshmen follow along, not certain that they aren't be led into a pagan blood-letting ceremony. Instead, they are herded into the center of the campus quad where the university president greets the freshmen with a rousing speech. I like this kind of ceremony. Makes you feel part of a chain of tradition that leads back into the deep depths of history. Wish we had that kind of legacy at the college where I work. It's just my college was founded in 1968, so our roots do not go so deep.

Instead, we served chocolate chip cookies and lemonade during the Question and Answer session (which is really a lip-puckering combination, let me tell you). Most of our freshman sat through this session in a zoned, bored kinda way. You could tell that they are dying to plug in their I-pods, but their parents were forcing them to follow along. "Yeah, it's just a community college. What's the big deal?"

Sigh. Just a community college. This is the excuse every community college instructor hears a million times. We can tell a group of 18-year-olds all about the free tutoring and the Career Center, the importance of going to class on time, the need to ask for help before the last drop date of the semester. At a community college, it's difficult to make this stuff resonate. The students know we're an open enrollment school. With a pulse and an application, they can be admitted. It's just what happens after they're admitted that is up to them. Whether they finish the degree, transfer to Big U, or start that cutting-edge career. I don't think our New Student Orientation impresses our students with the gravity of the moment. We're not communicating the tide-changing, earthquack-starting potential of the next two years.

What we need is a little more pomp and circumstance. I think I'll bring this idea up with the orientation planning committee at our upcoming meeting. Next year, let's nix the perky theme, the color-coordinated handouts, and the matching T-shirts. Instead, let's add some ceremony to the mix. A Campus Processional--that's the ticket.


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