For a few Septembers now, it's been a Maroon tradition to greet the incoming class with an Orientation Issue, and for some staffer, usually the editor in chief, to lend the newbies the benefit of his experience in a "welcome letter" imparting pearls of wisdom, lessons learned, advice on sneaking into Jimmy's while underage, etc.
With 2010's version of the Orientation Issue still a work in progress, I decided to farm out some of the content-creating process to editors-in-chief past and dig out of our archives excerpts of advice they offered to the first-years of their day.
The letters quoted here cover (with some sizable gaps) more than 70 years of our 108-year existence, but they manage to be pretty consistent in their concerns. Almost all are impressed with the latest matriculants' academic bona fides; not a one advises locking yourself away in your single and concentrating in Call of Duty, or Space Invaders, or Pachinko and tiddlywinks (or whatever quaint ways people killed the time prior to microprocessors). This year's welcome letter isn't written yet, but I suspect it'll once again hit on these same themes.
This is the first entry in a new Maroon series we've dubbed "Collected Wisdom," which will re-publish classic pieces from previous Orientation Issues. The articles chosen will sometimes be outdated in their facts, but as with these excerpts, they'll all be on-point in spirit. Hopefully they'll make for good summer reading while you look forward to move-in day. Check back tomorrow for more.
Any typos below are mine, not the original authors'.
September 28, 1984
In this Orientation Issue you will find what's going on—on campus, in Hyde Park, and downtown. When you finish this issue, you should realize that the U of C is not a 24-hour-a-day study session. Find a way to take advantage of everything Chicago offers.
Signed, "The Chicago Maroon"; Cliff Grammich, editor in chief
September 28, 1994
Everyone here is smarter than you are. Whatever your favorite poem is, someone else has memorized it in the original French. Think you're the first guy in Hitchcock to build a VCR out of a roll of dimes, a paperback copy of Finnegan's Wake, and a Habitrail? Think again, pal; the last guy's had surround sound and picture-in-picture. I think a guy in Upper Flint had his screenplay bought by Tri-Star last year.
For a lot of you, coming to the U of C will be your first experience in dealing with a lot of people smarter than you. Don't try to be anyone other than who you are; don't say you've read books you haven't, and admit that you just don't understand some things.
Joshua Lucas, editor in chief
September 18, 1970
To be a student is to attempt to meld the classroom and the life outside in the dormitories, apartments, and streets of the neighborhood. Bridging the gap between "academia" and "relevance" is a challenge which finally leads many students to leave this place. The emphasis on theory and thought over action in the classroom, which is typical of this school, makes that gap more difficult to cross, yet every student here is confronted with the problems of urban America—racism, crime, police insensitivity, poverty.
"Life of the mind," "mission of the university," and "value-free U of C" have become catchwords among students here. They see academia attempting to isolate itself from the problems around it, making it more difficult for the institution and the individuals within it to deal with those problems.
Steve Cook, editor in chief
September 29, 1993
I transferred here in 1991, and I got advice that I now regret ever hearing. Among other things, I was told that schoolwork would be my life, and that extracurriculars and fun were for lesser schools (upperclassmen took pleasure in citing Harvard and Stanford as examples).
Finally, at the end of my first year, I took a break from my study schedule and joined the Maroon. Surprisingly, some people at the U of C did more than study, had fun, and even had better GPAs than I did.
That's just my story; you don't have to listen to it, and in fact, I'd be quite happy if you didn't. In a column about independence, asking you to accept every word would be hypocritical.
Don't blindly listen to anyone, myself included. Upperclassmen, advisors, and teachers are helpful in your first few moments at the U of C, and in acclimating you to Hyde Park.
Among upperclassmen and administrators, however, there are plenty of nay-sayers who will tell you what not to do, listen to, read, and participate in on campus. Before you decide not to join WHPK, or try out for a University Theater play, or write for the Maroon, or do anything at all, give yourself—and give us—a chance.
David Rodnitzky, editor in chief
September 14, 1938
Dear Freshman Class,
You are a strange conglomeration of persons and things. To be frank, you look like nothing less than a hydra-headed zebra, if the neat file in the Office of Admission does not lie, which it never does.
You defy all respectable classification. It is utterly impossible to print for instance that the Freshman class is going to be Joe College or Chic or Rich or a bunch of Clean, Fun-Loving Boys and Girls or Bolsheviki, for it would be nothing but a dirty editorial lie, impossible in the Maroon.
Ten out of ten entering freshmen have been big shots of the first water. There are bunches and bunches of high school paper editors and presidents of dramatic clubs and the vice-captain of a cricket team in Chefoo Shangtung, China. Here and there are found an occasional golf champ, a chap who wants to be an ichthyologist, and fewer football heroes. There is a precocious male who would give August 15, 1938, as his birthday, a girl who has ambitions to do nothing but get married, another who wants merely to get away from home.
Such, my friends, are the stuff of which your classmates are made. Won't college be fun?
Laura Bergquist, Board of Control member
September 16, 2006
I can't stress enough that staying in love with this place is an active process. While you're here, get caught up—be it in an activity, a cause, friendships, or your work. While a place like this can be initially daunting, relegating oneself to the 1-2-3-4 of (1) class, (2) the Reg, (3) meals, and (4) sleep will only prove disastrous.
Tara Kadioglu, editor in chief
September 15, 1999
Once again, (we hope) the University of Chicago has brought the best and brightest to Hyde Park to study, complain about studying, and play—in that order.
But that's the only cycle the University of Chicago will throw at you: your classes will let you down; you'll move around; you'll be up at 5 a.m. and nothing will seem to come full circle. So look around today, and take note of the people you're surrounded by. Do the same thing when you graduate. Count familiar faces in your favor.
Joshua Morgenstern, editor in chief
September 23, 1946
To stimulate your intellectual advancement, the University offers you excellent survey courses, well-written textbooks, top-flight equipment, and one of the most capable and interesting faculties in the world.
The University offers you more than this. It offers a wide range of extra-curricular activities: a full sports program, a social schedule, and a variety of student activities...Participation is not required, but the Maroon believes strongly that it is an important factor in developing well-rounded citizens and leaders, and as such is a part that should not be overlooked.
Some of you will overlook it, and for you college education will mean only books, professors, dialectic, Profound Thought, and Serious Study. You will report in for work at 9:00, and check out for the day with the closing of the College library. You will lose much that is important in a college education.
Ray Poplett, editor in chief
September 15, 2007
Figure out what you don't like around here. What did you expect the University to do better? How should the campus be run differently? Surely there have been some disappointments, even during this honeymoon phase with the U of C. Your core classes will start teaching you to apply a critical eye to everything you read and a critical ear to everything you hear. Now apply that to the campus around you.
Kat Glass, editor in chief
September 29, 1967
So maybe (heaven forfend) the Class of '71 is really not the "brightest ever." If this is the case, then they form the most unusual class in the University's long history. And if they have succeeded in ending the seemingly endless string of cliches that have greeted freshmen since time immemorial, then they deserve our heartiest welcome and congratulations.
Unsigned; Jeffrey Kuta, editor in chief
September 27, 1995
(In preface to a pictorial feature about a day in the life of a Chicago student)
Please notice that there are no photos of classes. This is because the secret of the University of Chicago is that it is only a front. We're not actually the "Teachers of teachers," we're the teachers of rockers. Sure, there are a few "students" who serve as fronts just in case the IRS was to investigate, but in reality, the vast majority of people here spend their days with Barry "The Dean of Thrash Metal" Nelson in underground bunkers practicing the power chords to "Freebird."
Duncan Brown, editor in chief
September 19, 2003
Welcome to the place that you will love as violently as you will hate. Welcome to the place that you will complain about incessantly—whether it's the workload, the Core, the social life, or Max Palevsky—yet defend to any outside who could never really understand its dynamic.
Carolina Bolado, editor in chief
September 27, 1968
Certainly students at the University of Chicago have grievances. The housing situation is impossible. The neighborhood is unsafe. The bureaucracy is thick and callous. The community is atomized. Students have little voice and no vote in the decision-making even in the areas that affect only them.
But as we look at our University we should be thinking not "Rebellion is the way students are changing their universities, so let us rebel," but "There are certain, numerous irksome problems at this University; how can we solve them?"
Unsigned; Roger Black, editor in chief
September 19, 2001
(From a list of things not to do before graduation)
No one has said it better than Steve Perry and Journey. Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues. Shadows searching in the night. Don't. Stop. Believin'.
Unsigned; Eugene Ford, editor in chief
September 28, 1962
You will steal ideas, party with your friends, plagiarize the Great Books, fly off on wild tangents—political, aesthetic, and scientific—drink, go to plays, concerts, and exhibitions, and stay up all night discussing religion. Fine!
And you will study, which is best of all.
It will be some time before you are fully acclimated to the University. It will be a few months before you are sure whether it's Gordon's or the T-Hut that's closed on Mondays, whether it's Goodspeed or Eckhart that has the math library, whether it's Ida Noyes or the Reynolds Club that has the bowling alley, but nevertheless, even now, each of you is already one of us.
Unsigned; Laura Godofsky, editor in chief
September 27, 1989
One of the more absurd concerns in recent years has been the "better dressed, better looking" syndrome, in which the type of clothing worn has been used to raise doubts concerning the quality of a U of C student.
Meanwhile, the suspicion that the quality of a U of C education has deteriorated and continues to deteriorate lurks in the shadows and gets comparatively little airplay. Which says something about the University of Chicago, and those of us who work and study here. Apparently, we're much more concerned over appearances than we are over substantive maintenance, fretting about our makeup and ignoring the sag underneath. Fortunately, we've got a lot of places we can point our fingers at for that:
The administration, of course, for being uncooperatively silent; the faculty, for concentrating too much on their intramural squabbles and not enough on the University as a whole; the students, because most are apathetic and those who aren't are too hysterical to be taken seriously; the university newspaper, which in the last few years seems to have been intent on destroying itself and its credibility with its community through infighting, lack of ethics, and sloppiness.
Everyone's got someone to pin the blame on and the buck keeps getting passed in a circular path.
Here's a fact that may interest you. What the University of Chicago is has nothing to do with what it's supposed to be. What it is is what you are and what you decide to do with your time here.
The University of Chicago is great, not for what it is, but for what it can be; those who've understood this are those who've given the University its greatest achievements and its biggest headaches. Sometimes simultaneously. Robert Maynard Hutchins, who gave the U of C plenty of both, summed it up in 1930 when he wrote to Mortimer Adler, "There's going to be no University in the world like Chicago, and besides we could have a hell of a good time."
John Scalzi, editor in chief
September 20, 2002
(More of a recruiting pitch for the Maroon than a welcome letter)
The Maroon is financially and editorially independent from the University. We are not subsidized by University funds. In fact, we aren't subsidized by much of anything at this point.
The Maroon is produced with state-of-the-art equipment. Computers also have Snood. We had 4500 mp3s. We had to reformat a hard drive or something like that so now we only have 2500 or so, but they're really good mp3s, generally speaking.
Pete Beatty, editor in chief, and Whet Moser, managing editor