O-week 2004 gave pleasant surprises

By Christian Mitchell

“Well, this isn’t what I was expecting…” I think I can safely say I was not the only one thinking along the lines of that phrase when I stopped to consider my Orientation Week experience here at the University of Chicago. All of us arrived with preconceived notions, conjectures based on the reputation of the school and on our own beliefs about the world. I’m sure many arrived with a sort of pariah mindset, feeling as if their own personal eccentricities would be the reason for some sort of exclusion or adherence to a select group of persons. Maybe for many that remains true.

But I can certainly say that I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. The first thing that struck my senses was the myriad of different cultures and ethnic groups present on the campus. I somehow expected the University to be much like other universities that, come pamphlet production time, would run to group together their scant supply of minorities in order to drape a veil on a less-than-diverse populace, but happily I was proven wrong. I was amazed, to be quite honest, with the amount of effort that the University put into raising the awareness of diversity.

There were more surprises, of course. The sex signals presentation was informative, and a lot more frank than most people seemed to expect. It was a good example of how humor is often interwoven with topics of a more serious nature here at the university. And—let’s be frank—most of us certainly did not expect to find attractive persons of the appropriate gender here, but for the first-years anyway, we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Some of the most intense moments of O-Week occurred during the discussions following the provided presentations. They were perfect paradigms of the sort of heated conversations I expected from the University. Though some of the discussions digressed into liberal exchanging of diatribes, most of the commentary showed the inveterate tolerance and love for horizon expansion shared by all who attend this prestigious university.

Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from O-Week was that we all have something very much in common. Whether we’re speaking of the fact that most of our I.D. pictures look as if we’re enduring some form of Chinese water torture or other O-Week memories, we share a common soul. It may not be a common house—as, of course, not everyone can be fortunate enough to live in Alper house—but we do indeed share a common ebullience for learning. What is important to remember is that learning is not only the acquiring of academic knowledge, but also the expanding of our experiences, integrating into our own persons a variety of cultures and ideas, and helping to facilitate the learning of others as well.

The Aims of Education speech was quite cogent in setting forth what the University expects of us. For myself, it was a refreshing challenge of excellence, a call to think and not simply act, a call to question rather than regurgitate, and that is what I’m sure we all expect out of the University.