First Years: It is time to prepare for war


Napoleon Bonaparte after a particularly enjoyable conversation at the orientation ice cream social, ca. 1812.

Listen up, First-Years.

As you arrive on campus you will be greeted with good wishes and encouragement. I was in your shoes only last year, so I remember those heady days well. But take my warning, friends, and do not let yourself be lulled into complacency, for hidden between the happy team-building activities lies the greatest battle of your life: The ice cream social.

“The Ice Cream Social?” You ask. “But that sounds like so much fun! Surely you are mistaken.”

I am not. To survive the evening of mingling and make-your-own-sundaes you must become a social warrior, raising a shield of vague responses as you charge through barrages of small-talk.

Agamemnon did not sail for Troy alone, and you should not show up at the social without a buddy. Pair up with your roommate, or anyone else that you already know a little bit. You and your roommate can cover for each other in group conversations by laughing at your own lame jokes and making references to your room (or any other commonality that you’ve already discussed). Battling through the social together is also a great way to bond with your roommate. Just ask the guys from Band of Brothers. [Ed. This might be a borderline exaggeration, but you’ll have to see for yourself!]

Even with the buddy system, you’re gonna have to think on your feet and be ready to fire off repetitive answers at a moment’s notice.

Where are you from? What are you studying? Where do you live? No, I mean like where do you live on campus? What classes are you shopping? How often do you problematize things?

You’ve gotta hit the answers fast and turn the questions right around to counterattack. Then leave the conversation as soon as you sense a lag. Your roommate or wing-person will come in handy here as well, as one of you can create a diversion to get out of the conversation before it implodes. Hit ’em hard, walk away.

As you fight through chit-chat after chit-chat, the orientation staff will be broadcasting orders from HQ: Speed-friending here, board games there, etc. If one of the options appeals to you, go for it. But be careful. It’s harder to ditch a game of Twister than it is to leave a conversation on the quad. So if you’re in one of the special events and you run out of things to talk about, you’ll just have to dig a foxhole and hunker down.

There are, of course, some folks who decide to skip the ice cream social. These draft-dodgers prefer getting to know their classmates over time so they can appreciate their new friends as unique individuals. Their approach is unhurried, peaceful, and agreeable.

But those kids don’t get ice cream.

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